Thursday, January 8, 2009

Westchester Guardian/Jeffrey Deskovic.

Jeff Deskovic

Updates Of Recent Columns

Update on William Dillon

In the recent article, Wrongful Convictions Just Keep Coming Out, Part 5, William Dillon’s case was reviewed at length. For those who may
have missed that issue, Dillon was convicted of murder, and served 27 years before DNA showed that he was innocent. He was convicted based upon the testimony of a jailhouse snitch, a sometime girlfriend who was sleeping with the lead detective, and who said she was at the crime scene with Dillon, the dog handler Preston, and a man who said he picked up a hitchiker who had bloody yellow t-shirt.

They had sex, and later he dropped him off at a bar. When he realized that the t-shirt was in his vehicle, he threw it out. When he later saw a news report about the crime, he informed authorities about the t-shirt and they recovered it. The t-shirt contained DNA from the victim and from the
perpetrator. Since that column, Dillon’s conviction has been overturned, and the prosecution has dismissed the charges against him.

There were similarities between the Dillon case, and that of Wilton Dedge, who had been convicted of sexual assault, sexual battery, and burglary, but had then been proven innocent by DNA. For those unfamiliar with the Dedge case, according to e Innocence Project’s website, the “proof ” against Dedge consisted of: “The victim’s initial description of her assailant, given at the hospital, was six feet tall and approximately 160
pounds. She had been able to compare their relative heights before and during the attack. She also stated that the perpetrator was big and muscular, able to throw her around easily. At the time of the crime, Wilton Dedge weighed 125 pounds and is 5’5” tall.

At the second trial, the investigating officer testified for the first time that Dedge was wearing boots with higher than normal heels to compensate for the difference between the victim’s description and Dedge’s appearance. The prosecution’s hair expert testified that two pubic hairs were found on the victim’s bed. One was similar to hairs taken from the victim. The other was from a male and Dedge could not be eliminated as a possible source of that hair. The hair proved to be the only physical evidence linking Dedge to the crime.

Sperm was found on a swab in the rape kit, but no blood typing results were ascertained. To complete their case, prosecutors relied on the testimony of Clarence Zacke, a jailhouse snitch, and John Preston, who presented dog-sniffing evidence. Zacke was a known snitch and, at the time of Dedge’s trial, received a drastic reduction in his sentences. He claimed that Dedge confessed to the crime while they were being transported together in a prison van. Preston’s dog allegedly, after sniffing an item with Dedge’s scent on it, alerted its owner to Dedge’s presence in the victim’s house.”

The similarities, taken from an article in Florida Today written by John Torres, involve: “Both suspects’ convictions were based on discredited dog handler John Preston’s expert testimony that his dog tied the men to the crime. Both cases involved the testimony of jailhouse informants. Both cases involved questionable testimony from witnesses.

Both original verdicts were overturned because of the discovery of DNA evidence. “As a result of the Dillon case, attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida wrote a letter to Florida Governor Charlie Crist asking him to appoint a special prosecutor with subpoena powers to investigate cases that the dog handler Preston testified in. If the governor agrees, Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project, said, then he expects to see many more exonerations. As support for that idea, he said there were more than 20 exonerations in Dallas after the governor
appointed a special prosecutor to look into DNA cases there.” Dillon’s case is just one piece of the corruption in Brevard County,” Miller said.

“We need to root out the bad actors. People have to pay for what they’ve done.” Backing up these claims is retired Brevard County Judge Gilbert
Goshorn, who said the only way the expert dog handler involved in the Dillon case could have tracked anything was if he was previously given the information.

In a sworn affidavit dated Aug. 14, 2008, the Judge said he believed Preston was used regularly by the State Attorney’s Office “to confirm the state’s preconceived notions. It is my belief that the only way Preston could achieve the results he achieved in numerous other cases was having obtained information about the case prior to the scent-tracking, so that Preston could lead the dog to the suspect or evidence in question.”

Preston regularly testified for the State Attorney’s Office during the early 1980s, before being disqualified by Judge Gilbert Goshorn in 1984. Preston later was exposed by television journalist Geraldo Rivera, and many of the cases he testified in nationally were overturned. The Arizona Supreme Court went as far as calling him a “charlatan.”

Russo said he was upset that State Attorney Norman Wolfinger’s office was not cooperating with calls for information regarding Preston and the
cases in which he testified. Wolfinger, he explained, was a public defender with him on the team that helped clear Juan Ramos and which discredited Preston’s dog testimony.

“Mr. Wolfinger is very well-versed in the quality of the dog testimony,” he said. “I’m surprised they are not going back to look at these cases.” But Wolfinger, who has served as state attorney since 1984, responded by saying defendants and their attorneys have been free to bring any motions they deem appropriate before the courts.

“Evidentiary challenges to the admissibility of the dog evidence by defense attorneys began and was well-publicized before I became state attorney,” Wolfinger said. The main target of derision was the repeated use in the early 1980s of since-disgraced expert dog handler John Preston.

Preston, proven to be a fraud, testified in hundreds of Florida cases, including three in Brevard County that have been overturned: Dillon, Wilton
Dedge and Juan Ramos. “This case is about a criminal conspiracy that exists in Brevard County,” said David Menschel, legal director for the Innocence Project of Florida. “This is not a secret. People know about it.”

Update On Bullet Lead Analysis

In a previous issue of The Westchester Guardian, I wrote about Bul-let Lead Analysis, and how it could have lead to thousands having been
wrongfully convicted. The article cited sources which stated that a comprehensive review of thousands of cases would be done in an effort to undo
any wrongful convictions which occurred as a result of it. I also revisited the subject when I wrote an article entitled “Lee Wayne Hunt Revisited”.

The Jimmy Ates case is the first case in the country in which a conviction has been overturned based upon it. Jimmy Ates was released from custody after serving 10 years for murder in Florida. According to The Lethal Injection blogspot The State’s case against Jimmy Ates has been suspect from the beginning. Initially, Okaloosa County State Attorney Curtis Golden refused to prosecute because the case lacked sufficient evidence.

In a highly unusual move, Gov. Lawton Chiles assigned the high-pro- file case to Duval County State Attorney Harry Shorstein, who also refused
to prosecute. Six years after the murder, armed with the FBI’s new Bullet Lead Analysis, a third State Attorney prosecuted Jimmy Ates. CBLA is a procedure by which scientists claim to be able to link bullets to a particular batch or box on the basis of their chemical composition.

In Ates’ trial, FBI Analyst Kathleen Lundy testified that the bullets retrieved from the victim’s body matched the bullets found in the Ates’
family utility room, and therefore they came from the same batch. This testimony had no scientific basis. “Lundy was a fraud peddling a junk science and without that testimony, Jimmy Ates would never have been convicted,” said David Menschel, Legal Director of IPF.

Lundy testified about CBLA in at least six other Florida cases. Based on the new evidence that has emerged since trial, William Cervone, the special prosecutor assigned to the case, conceded that Ates’ conviction cannot stand. According to the NWF Daily News, attorneys for the Innocence Project of Florida also said in a news release “Ates is the first person in the nation to have a conviction overturned based on the FBI’s disavowal” of what is known as comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA). “Jimmy Ates is one of just 1,500 individuals nationwide whose cases were tainted by CBLA,” the release said


The Barnes case reaffirms the need for legislation to improve the accuracy of identifications. Misidentification is the cause of wrongful convictions in 75% of the wrongful conviction cases. It also shows how junk science can help convict innocent people. Often, such junk science does not convict people in and of itself, but rather it has the illusory effect of seeming to shore up other shaky evidence.

I believe that the need for continued advances in DNA technology as a criminal justice tool is highlighted by this case. The DNA couldn’t yield
conclusive results initially in 1993, but later improvements to the technology led to him being able to get testing. There may be cases now where if the technology was further improved that result could be obtained whereas right now they can’t. The scientists who work in this field, to me, are heroes. The Roman case makes me wonder: how many other people remain incarcerated, having been convicted at trial even though DNA evidence did not match them? This situation is completely intolerable, and in view of what is universally known and recognized about DNA should not be permitted to go on. Whenever there is a negative DNA test in a case, we need to acknowledge that it means the defendant is innocent, just as clearly as we do when post-conviction testing shows innocence. The difference between a pre-conviction DNA test and a post-conviction test is, to me, a mere technicality; for all intents and purposes in reality it shows the same thing.This non-recognition happened in my case as well.

Another important point that I wish legislators would recognize in deciding to vote or not vote for changes to improve the accuracy of the criminal justice system is that every time the wrong person is convicted, it leaves the real offender free to strike again.

In the Ott case, the common theme of incentivized witnessing contributing to a wrongful conviction is clearly present. This case also illustrates how prosecutors often will go to all kinds of lengths in order to win their case no matter what. The Justice Department opposing Ott’s appeal by arguing that it was “speculative” that all three crimes were committed by the same person, and that the person could not have been Ott because he was in jail while two of them were committed, is ridiculous.

The mindset of the police as expressed by their spokeswoman that “all the DNA proves is that the same man was with all three females, and that
they still believe that Ott is guilty”, is an example of authorities rarely wanting to admit that they made a mistake. Often, once they make up their mind that someone is guilty, there is no turning back, and any evidence to the contrary is twisted and contorted in all kinds of illogical ways in order to try to maintain the conclusion of guilt.

The Ates case further shows that junk science leads to wrongful convictions. The fact that there are 1500 other people currently in prison based up bullet lead analysis offers a window, in my opinion, as to just how many people are wrongfully imprisoned throughout the country, regardless of
the reason. Every time it emerges that a science is proven to be junk, every effort must be made to find the cases so affected and then conduct a review.

The Richardo Rachell case leaves me flabbergasted. The guy was sending many people in authority news articles that another person was committing similar crimes, but nobody listened. I try to place myself in a position of authority of one of the people receiving a letter from him, which contains a news article about similar crimes. That surely would have set off many warning bells. Why did nobody react? Was it simply more convenient to leave an innocent man in prison? Is it that people are jaded? Is it that they are worn down? Whatever the cause, the failure to act in this case is inexcusable and egregious.

The Dillon case further shows how junk science can assist in wrongfully convicting people. That a court at any time ever credited “dog testimony” is something on the level of the Keystone Cops. I don’t understand how Preston was able to sleep at night, earning money through a means of
fraud that was at least in part costing people years of their lives.

Without a doubt, a special prosecutor should be appointed to review all cases involving Preston in order to see how many others he helped wrongfully convict. I don’t see why Florida Gov. Crist is hesitating. It is a no brainer that this needs to be done. At the same time, I would like to applaud Judge Goshorn for coming out publicly, both assisting Dillon and supporting the need for an inquiry.

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