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Innocence Project staff attorney Nina Morrison and exoneree Alan Newton to speak at Culture Project in New York
Posted: June 29, 2007 2:30 pm
Innocence Project attorney Nina Morrison and Alan Newton, exonerated in July 2006, will speak at the Culture Project in New York on Sunday, July 1st, following a screening of After Innocence. The documentary follows seven wrongfully convicted men after their release and features Morrison in her struggle to win exoneration for her client, Wilton Dedge. After the screening, Morrison and Newton will answer questions from the audience.
Get tickets and find out more about the event:
To view a trailer of the movie:
Tags: New York, Wilton Dedge, Alan Newton
Celebrating freedom: Three exonerees mark anniversaries
Posted: August 8, 2007 7:00 am
Seven years ago today, Larry Youngblood walked out of an Arizona prison after serving nine years for a crime he didn’t commit. Eyewitness misidentification contributed to Youngblood’s conviction and it has been involved in more than 75 percent of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.
Read more about Youngblood’s case and proposed reforms to identification procedures nationwide.
Also celebrating exoneration anniversaries this week:
Thursday: Ryan Matthews, Louisiana (Exonerated 8/9/2004)
Saturday: Wilton Dedge, Florida (Exonerated 8/11/2004)
Tags: Wilton Dedge, Ryan Matthews, Larry Youngblood, Eyewitness Identification
Editorial: Fair, straightforward compensation needed in Florida
Posted: April 29, 2008 2:10 pm
Florida is one of 27 states with no law compensating the wrongfully convicted upon their exoneration. Last month, lawmakers approved a bill compensated Alan Crotzer $1.25 million for the 24 years he spent in prison for a rape he didn’t commit, but the bill was for him only, making him the second Floridian to receive state compensation after exoneration. Another Florida exoneree, Wilton Dedge, received a similar state compensation package.
The state desperately needs a universal compensation law, and lawmakers are considering one right now. But there are serious problems with the Florida bill in its current state, and an editorial in today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal details some of these problems:
Both House and Senate versions deny compensation to anyone with another felony conviction -- even if the other conviction is relatively minor. This so-called "clean hands" provision is a cruel excuse to perpetrate injustice.
The fact that someone has a prior conviction does not make a wrongful conviction any less wrong. In fact, the existence of a prior conviction increases the possibility of injustice: Police sometimes focus an investigation on someone who's already been in trouble with the law, to the exclusion of other more likely suspects.
Crotzer's case provides a perfect example of how unfair this provision can be. Before he was wrongfully convicted of robbery and rape, he stole beer from a store. While in prison, he was convicted of a drug offense. Both crimes were relatively minor and would draw relatively short prison terms -- if any. Yet under this proposal, he would be barred from compensation for his 24 years behind bars.
Read the full editorial here. (Daytona Beach News-Journal, 04/29/08)
Tags: Florida, Alan Crotzer, Wilton Dedge, Exoneree Compensation
Fourth anniversary of Florida exoneration
Posted: August 12, 2008 4:05 pm
When Wilton Dedge was arrested for a December 1981 rape, he weighed 125 pounds and stood at 5’5” — not at all like the tall, muscular, 160-pound man the victim had originally described to the police. Despite the mismatched between her description and Dedge, she identified him as her attacker. Due to the misidentification and other unreliable evidence, Dedge would serve 22 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Finally exonerated on August 11, 2004, he marks the fourth anniversary of his exoneration today.
Dedge’s case underscores not only the fallibility of eyewitness identification, but also the importance of granting access to DNA testing when it can prove innocence and overturn a wrongful conviction. Once the tests are conducted, state laws must also ensure that the new evidence can be heard in court.
It took Dedge five years to obtain access to the DNA testing that proved his innocence, but then It took three more years for his release. Prosecutors argued that the test results were not permissible in court because they had been obtained before a new DNA access law was in place. According to the law, they argued, he had proven his innocence too early.
Seven states still don’t have a law guaranteeing inmate access to postconviction DNA testing—meaning more inmates could suffer the same injustices as Dedge. Click here to learn if your state allows access to testing.
Help us ensure DNA access for inmates across the country by signing our petition for DNA testing access today.
Dedge’s case is featured in the award-winning documentary “After Innocence.” Buy a copy of the film today from Amazon.com (a portion of proceeds benefits the Innocence Project) or rent it from Netflix.
Other exoneration anniversaries this week:
Thursday: Gary Dotson, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/14/89 )
Roy Criner, Texas (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/15/2000)
Friday: Eduardo Velasquez, Massachusetts (Served 12.5 years, Exonerated 08/15/01)
Tags: Roy Criner, Wilton Dedge, Gary Dotson, Eduardo Velasquez
After 27 Years, Florida Man Walks Out of Prison
Posted: November 19, 2008 2:20 pm
After serving 27 years in Florida prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, William Dillon was freed last night in Florida on bond after a judge ordered a new trial in his case. He will wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and may face another trial in the case.
The Innocence Project of Florida has worked on the case with Dillon’s lawyers, who say DNA testing on a T-shirt from the crime scene proves Dillon’s innocence. We’ll post updates here on the Innocence Blog as the case develops.
“Well I’ll tell you what, we didn't think we'd be living to see him come home,” said Amy Dillon, William’s mother. Dillon said he's not at all bitter about spending a large portion of his life in prison.Dillon's conviction was based partly on the testimony of dog handler John Preston, a retired Pennsylvania State Trooper whose methods have since been discredited. Preston was also involved in the wrongful conviction of Wilton Dedge, an Innocence Project client who served 22 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA testing in 2004.
"I'm not going to sit here and dwell on anything that's missed or passed or anything. I'm just going to move ahead right now from this day forward," Dillon said.Watch video of Dillon’s release and press conference. (Channel 13, Central Florida)
Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon
A Dog’s Role in Wrongful Convictions
Posted: December 16, 2008 4:52 pm
Last week, Florida prosecutors dropped all charges against William Dillon, who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he has always said he didn’t commit. DNA test results and other evidence point to Dillon’s innocence in the 1981 murder, and among the evidence used to convict him was a tracking dog and its handler, both also involved in the wrongful conviction of Innocence Project client Wilton Dedge.
John Preston, the dog handler who testified that his dog connected Dillon to the crime scene in this murder, was discredited by a Florida state judge in 1984. The Arizona Supreme Court has called him a “charlatan.” In the wake of Dillon’s release, the Innocence Project of Florida is calling on Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to launch an investigation into every case on which Preston worked.
An editorial in the Orlando Sentinel yesterday agrees:
Given the circumstances, it's hard to conceive that Mr. Crist would not act. Messrs. Dedge and Dillon are walking, breathing examples of a decades-old injustice. The governor cannot tolerate the idea that this stink might linger over other cases.
Florida Today, 12/12/08: Defender demands investigation of Brevard Attorney’s Office
Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon
Growing Calls to Reopen Florida Cases
Posted: June 23, 2009 1:45 pm
Florida exonerees William Dillon and Wilton Dedge were both convicted based, in part, on the testimony of John Preston, a now-discredited dog handler. The Innocence Project of Florida is now working on another case involving Preston, and calls are increasing for officials to reexamine any possible wrongful convictions from the early 1980s – especially those involving Preston.
An editorial on Saturday in Florida Today listed some of the evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in Brevard County in the 1980s and called on Governor Charlie Crist to launch an official investigation into questionable convictions from the county.
-- Titusville attorney and former Brevard prosecutor Sam Bardwell, who encountered Preston in a 1981 rape case, says then-State Attorney Doug Cheshire … as well as the Brevard Sheriff’s Office and most law enforcement officers at the time knew Preston was a charlatan.
“I left the State Attorney’s Office because I could not abide by the fabrication of evidence,” Bardwell says.
-- Retired 18th Circuit and appellate Judge Gil Goshorn confirmed Cheshire relied heavily on Preston in a number of cases, along with questionable jailhouse snitches.
“Cheshire’s office often relied on such evidence of dubious reliability,” Goshorn said in a sworn affadavit in 2008.Dedge, an Innocence Project client, was exonerated in 2004. Dillon, represented by the Innocence Project of Florida, was cleared last year. The Innocence Project of Florida is now working on the case of Gary Bennett, who was convicted of murder based in part on Preston’s testimony. Preston, who testified in 60 cases in Brevard County and many more elsewhere in the U.S., is now deceased.
Read more about Bennett’s case on the Innocence Project of Florida website. And set your DVR for a special report on Dillon’s case from CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 – scheduled to air tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 10 p.m. ET.
Read the Florida Today investigative article and editorial.
Tags: Florida, Wilton Dedge, William Dillon
Scent Lineups and Unvalidated Science
Posted: June 30, 2009 5:16 pm
Dog scent evidence has contributed to at least three wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing, and two new lawsuits in Texas allege that three police dogs working with the Fort Bend County’s Sheriff’s Department implicated innocent people in failed “scent lineups.” Both men have been cleared, but the controversy over the validity of dog scent evidence continues. A new USA Today article examines the Texas lawsuits and the controversy over whether dog scent evidence should be allowed in criminal trials:
The legal challenges are "a first for us," says Randall Morse, an assistant county attorney who is representing (dog handler Keith) Pikett. He says the hounds have worked about 2,000 cases across the country, including the search for Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph.Unvalidated forensic science such as dog scent evidence has been involved in about half of the 240 wrongful convictions overturned to date in the United States. A National Academy of Sciences report released this year calls for the creation of a federal agency to support and oversee forensics to prevent wrongful convictions and ensure public safety .
Defense lawyers say the (scent lineup) technique smacks of forensic voodoo and casts further suspicion on the broader use of scent dog evidence.
"It's a fraud on so many levels," says Jeffrey Weiner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Read the full story here. (USA Today, 06/30/09)
The Innocence Project supports the creation of a federal Office of Forensic Science Improvement and Support
and thousands of people have joined the campaign by signing the Just Science Coalition’s petition calling for federal forensic oversight. Add your name now.
Read more about the three men who were wrongfully convicted based in part on dog scent evidence and then exonerated by DNA testing:
Wilton Dedge, Florida
William Dillon, Florida
James Ochoa, California
Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon, James Ochoa, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics
Five Years Later: Wilton Dedge and Dog Scent Evidence
Posted: August 13, 2009 2:30 pm
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the day Wilton Dedge walked out of a Florida prison into the arms of his parents. In 1982, he was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit and sentenced to life in prison. He would serve 19 years before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project conclusively proved his innocence in 2001. The state then opposed Dedge’s release on procedural grounds and he was not freed for another three years.
In addition to an eyewitness misidentification and unreliable testimony by a forensic hair analyst, unvalidated dog-scent evidence played a large role in Dedge’s first conviction in 1982. At trial, a “scent-tracking expert” named John Preston testified that his dog, “Harass 2,” sniffed an item with Dedge's scent and then allegedly alerted Preston of the same scent in the victim's house. Although Dedge’s conviction was overturned in 1983, the appeals court nevertheless asserted that the dog’s scent identification was persuasive. Mainly based on the testimony of a known jailhouse snitch, Dedge was reconvicted after a second trial in 1984.
Despite not being a validated science, dog-scent identifications and lineups have continued to be permitted at trial and have been a contributing factor in other wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA testing. The case of another recent Florida exoneree, William Dillon, also hinged on the testimony of the same so-called expert, John Preston, who died in 2008. In the course of his career, Preston convinced over one hundred juries in Brevard County, Florida, and around the country of his dog’s ability to track scents, even if those scents were underwater or it had been more than a week since the crime had occurred. Other scent experts have countered that such scent identifications are impossible.
Responding last month to public outrage and concern that others are still wrongly jailed based on the fraudulent dog scent testimony, Florida State Attorney Norman Wolfinger ordered a review of murder and sexual battery cases in which Preston testified. Florida Today wrote that an in-house review of the cases won’t be reliable, and the Innocence Project of Florida has called for an independent investigation.
Unvalidated forensic science such as dog scent evidence has been involved in about half of the 241 wrongful convictions overturned to date. The Innocence Project supports the creation of the National Institute of Forensic Science, a federal agency to support and oversee forensics to prevent wrongful convictions and ensure public safety. Thousands of people have joined the campaign by signing the Just Science Coalition’s petition calling for federal forensic oversight. Add your name now.
Sunday: Ryan Matthews, Louisiana (Served 5 years, Exonerated 8/9/2004)
Friday: Gary Dotson, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/14/1989)
Saturday: Roy Criner, Texas (Served 10 years, Exonerated 08/15/2000)
Eduardo Velasquez, Massachusetts (Served 12.5 years, Exonerated 08/15/2001)
Tags: Florida, Wilton Dedge, Forensic Oversight
Jailhouse Snitch Recants in Florida Case
Posted: November 2, 2009 5:30 pm
A Florida man said today at a legislative hearing that he was coerced into testifying falsely against William Dillon 28 years ago, contributing to Dillon’s wrongful conviction for a murder he didn’t commit. The hearing was focused on state compensation for Dillon, who spent 27 years in prison before DNA testing obtained by the Innocence Project of Florida proved his innocence and led to his release one year ago this month.
Roger Dale Chapman, who was in jail on a drug charge when Dillon was arrested, said at the hearing that Brevard County law enforcement officers offered to set him free in exchange for his coached testimony against Dillon. Two officers sat with him during a recorded interview and wrote answers in a notebook for him to read on tape, he said. Chapman apologized to Dillon today for his role in the injustice, and Dillon forgave him, saying: "I know you were used. I know they pressured you."
Another Brevard County exoneree, Innocence Project client Wilton Dedge, was convicted based in part on the testimony of a notorious jailhouse snitch, who testified that Dedge confessed to him while the two men were in jail. Informant or snitch testimony has played a role in at least 15% of the 245 wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date.
Dillon is seeking $1.35 million in compensation for the 27 years he spent in prison.
Read the full story here. (Florida Today, 11/2/09)
Read more about Dillon’s case.
Read more about Dedge’s case.
Visit the Innocence Project of Florida website.
Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon, Informants/Snitches
One Year Free, New Questions Raised
Posted: December 10, 2009 6:13 pm
One year ago today, William Dillon was exonerated from a Florida prison after serving 27 years for a murder DNA proves he didn’t commit. Dillon was convicted in 1981 based in part on a dog-scent lineup conducted by a now-discredited dog handler.
On August 17, 1981, James Dvorak was found beaten to death in a wooded area near Canova Beach, FL. That same morning a driver picked up a hitchhiker near the beach wearing a bloody yellow T-shirt. Police recovered the T-shirt from a trash can and collected other evidence from the driver's truck.
John Preston, a purported expert in handling scent-tracking dogs, was hired for the investigation. Preston said his dog, “Harrass II,” linked a T-shirt allegedly worn by the perpetrator to the crime scene and to Dillon. Dillon was arrested and charged with the murder. At Dillon’s trial, a former girlfriend claimed to have seen him wearing the blood-stained shirt as he stood over the body and a jailhouse snitch testified that Dillon had confessed to the crime. With this evidence added to the testimony of the dog handler, Dillon was convicted and sentenced to life.
In 2007, after years of attempts at an appeal, Dillon was helped by public defenders and attorneys at the Innocence Project of Florida. Dillon’s advocates obtained access to DNA testing on the bloody shirt, which had been preserved. The results proved Dillon’s innocence and he was freed on November 18, 2008. His exoneration became official when charges were dropped three weeks later, on December 10.
Since Dillon's exoneration the use of dog-scent lineups and scent-tracking dogs to make identifications has come under intense questioning across the country. Two men are suing a Texas deputy because his dogs played a role in their wrongful arrests. Other states are reexamining the practice.
Preston also played a role in the case of Innocence Project client Wilton Dedge, who was exonerated in 2004 after 22 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Preston’s work was challenged as early as the 1980s when his dog failed an accuracy test conducted by a Brevard County judge. The Arizona Supreme Court later called him a “charlatan.” In 2008, a Brevard County judge said Preston was used by prosecutors “to confirm the state’s preconceived notions.”
Other Anniversaries This Week:
Dewey Davis, West Virginia (Served 7 years, Exonerated 12/7/1995)
Alejandro Hernandez, Illinois (Served 10.5 years, Exonerated 12/8/1995)
Marlon Pendleton, Illinois (Served 10 years, Exonerated 12/8/2006)
Robert Clark, Georgia (Served 23.5 years, Exonerated 12/8/2005)
Nicholas Yarris, Pennsylvania (Served 21.5 years, Exonerated 12/9/2003)
Timothy Durham, Oklahoma (Served 3.5 years, Exonerated 12/9/1997)
John Jerome White, Georgia (Served 22.5 years, Exonerated 12/10/2007)
Tags: Wilton Dedge, William Dillon