Friday, November 28, 2008

Sucker Bet

The Brevard County state attorneys have decided John Preston's dog sniff evidence is not reliable enough to use at Bill Dillon's retrial. Makes sense. Preston was a fraud.

If Bill Dillon deserves a new trial -- this time without fraudulent evidence -- don't those dozens of other defendants convicted by Preston deserve a new, fraud-free trial too?

Anyone wanna take bets on what the state attorney's office is doing to remedy this injustice?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Activity in the Case of Chad Heins

In December 2007, in the face of DNA evidence pointing to Chad Heins' innocence, the State Attorney's Office in Duval County dropped the murder charge against Chad and set him free after almost 14 years in wrongful incarceration; reuniting him with his family in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, the State still has the opportunity to retry Chad and it appears that they may still have him in their sights. First Coast News in Jacksonville, FL is reporting that investigators for the State are talking to people who used to work at the Sea turtle Inn, where the victim Tina Heins worked, around the time of her murder. In these discussions, the State is asking these individuals to hand over samples of their DNA for comparison to the DNA found at the crime scene.

Now, there are a number of possible interpretations of these actions, some good others not so good:

1. The Good - The State is finally ready to admit that the semen, hair, and blood/skin cells under the victim's fingernails, which all belong to the same individual, are truly from the perpetrator. If this is the case, then it is clear that the focus of the case has shifted away from Chad Heins as the perpetrator and to some other person, possibly one of the victim's fellow co-workers.

2. The Not So Good - The State does believe that someone other than Chad, possibly one of the victim's co-workers, killed Tina Heins and this person's DNA matches that found at the scene. However, the State wants to invent a conspiracy between this person and Chad to murder the victim; thus being able to again try Chad for murder. Even before the State dropped the charges against Chad, this appeared to be their new angle, so it is one to watch out for.

3. The Bad - The State now believes that the victim was having an affair and the foreign male DNA found on and around her is that of a consensual sexual partner, possibly a hotel co-worker. Of course, there is absolutely no indication that she was having an affair, and this just appears to be another attempt to minimize clealy exculpatory evidence. Considering the State's track record for finding jailhouse snitches to provide erroneous testimony against Chad in his first trial, it would not be stretch to think that when confronted with evidence that their DNA was at the crime scene (and a possible murder charge), a former hotel co-worker would miraculously morph into the victim's on-the-side sexual partner. This would surely be convenient.

Whatever the reason is, let's hope that the State will opt to not retry Chad and find Tina Heins' true killer.

Visit IPF's Website here; sign up to volunteer here; contribute to our work here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Florida Today Calls for Investigation into Brevard County

On Sunday, the the editorial board of Florida Today called for Governor Crist to look into the actions of the Brevard County District Attorney's office, which reek of misconduct and corruption. They called for:

A state probe ordered by Gov. Charlie Crist into possible repeated miscarriages of justice at the State Attorney’s Office, including in the cases of Dillon and Wilton Dedge, convicted of rape in 1981 but freed in 2004 after DNA evidence proved the Port St. John man’s innocence... And of Juan Ramos, who was tried and sentenced to death for rape and murder in 1983 in Brevard, although no physical evidence linked him to the crime. Ramos was acquitted in 1987.

The editors added: "Prosecutors’ mishandling of the cases follows an ugly pattern of incompetence and impropriety that cries out for investigation." Florida Today correctly observes that there is "overwhelming justification" for a probe. But the evidence goes beyond justification to the creation of an imperative: It would be negligent at this point for the Governor to ignore his duty to the public to make sure that the laws and the Constitution are faithfully enforced.

Today, reasonable people are making the conclusion that Brevard county systemically engages in corruption and collusion. We previously called for an investigation when Dillon was granted a new trial. Governor Crist ought to step up and call for a thorough investigation of those practices that put Dillon and other innocent people behind bars. Justice demands it.

Visit IPF's Website here; sign up to volunteer here; contribute to our work here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bill Dillon hugs his father after his release...

Bill Dillon hugs his father after his release.

Dillon's attorney Mike Pirolo.

Innocence Project Executive Director Seth Miller.

Bill Dillon plays for his friends and family the night of his release.

The Innocence Project team with Dillon.

Where's Wayne?

Wayne Holmes was conspicuously absent from Tuesday's hearing. Almost felt bad for ASA Parker. Almost. Sent in to clean up the mess that his colleagues have made. Didn't even seem to have a handle of the facts of the case. 

The Dillon Case: It's all about the Perjury

When most folks think of the Dillon case, they are immediately attracted to John Preston and his Magic Dog, Harrass II. Yes Preston testified in Dedge; he testified in Ramos; and he testified in Dillon. All three are clearly innocent. Of course Preston's dog couldn't have actually tracked an eight year old scent (shout out to IPF intern Kevin for making the astute point that a painted trail would not have survived 8 years in Florida, making it an absurd notion for a scent trail to do so). And yes, the only way for Preston to do these miraculous thngs with such astonishing accuracy was to have been fed the information by law enforcement folks at the Brevard Sheriff's office who knew the case.

But let's put that all aside for now since the State Attorney has unfortunately decided not to embarass themselves and use this testimony against Dillon retrial. The crux of their case is testimony by Donna "the Perjurer" Parrish. I don't ascribe that nickname to her in a figurative sense. Her actions meet the legal definition of perjury and yet the State insists on making her the centerpiece of it's efforts to save their sinking ship of a case against this innocent man.

Donna the Perjurer was Dillon's casual partner in 1981 at the time of the murder in this case. She gave testimony under oath against Dillon at trial indcating, not that he murdered anyone, but rather that she saw him standing over the victim's body after the victim wAs already dead. It just so happens that on her first interview with law enforcement The Perjurer, she was coerced into doing it with the lead investigator and was theeatene with a quarter century of incarceration if she did not implicate Dillon. It's no wonder she was the State's star witness as trial.

Soon after-a mere few weeks-The Perjurer got a conscience and recanted her trial testimony in full and under oath admitting her words at trial were a complete fabrication.

Now the State, trying to preserve a false conviction at all coats. wants to put her up anew and have her essentially recant her recantation. Look we know that she is a liar. But the big deal here is that whichever version of events you believe, both can't be true. This means that Donna knowingly gave false testimony, under oath, at some point. More troubling, however, is the fact that the State would rather put a known perjurer on the stand to revictimize and innocent man than just prosecute Donna the Perjurer and the individuals who knowingly let her perjurer herself. Even more disconcerting is that the Syate appears to be offering her some juice in exchange for her (we think false) testimony still this day.

It's time for the State to give up this charade and drop the charge against Dillon. It is the minimum justice demands.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dillon Released from Jail, Questions Remain

After spending nearly 28 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, William Dillon has been granted a new trial set for January 7. He was released on bail yesterday. The state's case against Dillon consisted of a nexus of ridiculous claims, the true absurdity of which have since come to light. Among the state's witness were an admitted perjurer who was threatened by police with jail time if she did not testify against Dillon, a jailhouse snitch whose charge was dropped after he testified, and an eyewitness legally blind in one eye. But the most troubling element of their case was the testimony of John Preston, a disgraced -- but prolific -- dog handler who has been exposed as a charlatan and a fraud since Dillon's trial.

The fact that Preston is an established fraud is one thing that strengthened Dillon's appeal. But it is troubling for two reasons. First of all, Preston was remarkably active on the trial circuit, and he estimated that he had testified in around 300 cases, and not just in Florida.

The second reason that Preston's involvement is troubling is that he had an uncannily "accurate" track record -- in the sense that his testimony always coincided with the state's case. This isn't remarkable, of course, because the state wouldn't call him if he weren't an asset to their efforts. But, as the video demonstrates, Preston's dog is not actually following a scent when he claims it is. Outrageous claims like being able to track a scent six months later through downtown traffic, or being able to smell a weapon through water show Preston to be an absolute quack. (We know in Dillon's case that, despite Preston's testimony that a key piece of physical evidence belonged to Dillon, his DNA was not there--and someone else's DNA was.) The only way that Preston could testify, then, that his dog had led him to the state's suspect in every case is if the state had been funneling him the information all along.

This logical conclusion is one fact among many that lead one to believe in a pattern of corruption and collusion in the Brevard County State Attorney's office. The fact that Preston's dog picked out Dillon and that a key witness admitted to being threatened with jail time if she did not comply indicate a culture of corruption that lead to Dillon's tainted prosecution and eventual conviction. The fact that invaluable physical evidence was lost by the state under suspicious circumstances -- including hairs allegedly from the murderer -- is a curiosity that should not go overlooked. Add to this the fact that a jailhouse snitch had his charges dropped after testifying -- a man who, coddled by Brevard County, had been picked up on more than 25 offenses but never seemed to serve time. Something is clearly rotten in Brevard County.

Indeed, Governor Crist needs to take a hard look at what has been going on there, including especially the cases involving John Preston. William Dillon's case represents a triumph of justice, but who knows how many other innocent people have been jailed because of this fraud.