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.

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