Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Dillon free on $100,000 bond

Dillon free on $100,000 bond

Sentenced to life in slaying, man, family reunite after 27 years


After nearly 28 years in prison, William Dillon hopes to spend the next few days making his first cell phone call, watching a DVD and eating some "real" food.

Then, he has to prepare for a trial.

His wish to go for a swim will have to wait for now, due to a GPS monitor attached around his leg.

"Golly, goodness gracious," an emotional Dillon said as he emerged from custody for the first time in nearly three decades to hug his parents, brothers and sister, and to meet nieces and nephews who were born after his incarceration. "This is a beautiful thing."

Circuit Judge David Dugan granted Dillon's request for bond on Tuesday morning, setting it at $100,000 -- or $25,000 in cash. The judge also added some stipulations, including global positioning system monitoring, a curfew, no alcohol and no contact with any witnesses in the case.

Dillon, a former Satellite Beach resident, has been in prison since 1981 for the beating death of James Dvorak of Indian Harbour Beach. The 49-year-old was granted a new trial on Friday because of new DNA evidence.

"We didn't think we'd be living to see him come home," said Dillon's mother, Amy. "The first thing I'm going to do is hold him."

The Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit organization that facilitated and paid for the DNA testing, helped the family come up with the bond amount needed. Dillon is staying in his brother's Palm Bay home.

Dugan set curfew for the hours between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. He did make an exception for Thanksgiving Day, in which Dillon will be allowed to be out from 6 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.

"It's been 28 years since we have all been together," said Dillon's teary-eyed brother, Joe. "We just want to love on him and show him that we are here for him and are going to support him. We're going to show him a DVD for the first time, let him use a cell phone, and he's probably going to jump in my cold pool that I told my dad I would turn the heat on for him, but I don't think it would matter to him."

During an interview in prison, William Dillon told FLORIDA TODAY that what he missed most was the feeling of swimming.

The swimming, it turns out, will have to wait, because of the GPS monitoring.

Moments after being released, Dillon said he felt overwhelmed and was not sure what he was going to do.

He also said that he let go of bitterness more than a decade ago in prison.

"I settled all this in my heart more than 10 years ago," Dillon said outside the jail, pausing momentarily to compose himself and keep back the tears. "This is something I've thought about and dreamed about for years and years. I don't care what anyone says. God made this happen through all these special people."

Retrial status

Lawyers for Dillon and those with Innocence Project of Florida said they did not believe the state would go forward with the planned January retrial, citing lack of evidence and witnesses in light of the newly discovered DNA findings.

But Assistant State Attorney Rob Parker said the state planned to call Dillon's ex-girlfriend, Donna Parrish, to the stand during the trial.

In 1981, Parrish testified that Dillon committed the crime, then recanted her testimony in court a few weeks later.

Judge Stanley Wolfman denied Dillon's motion for a new trial back then based on Parrish's recantation.

"She's a known perjurer," said David Menschel, legal director for the Innocence Project of Florida. "Why haven't they prosecuted her for perjury? Instead of putting her on the stand they should be prosecuting her perjury."

DNA results

Dillon's attorneys say DNA test results released during the summer exclude Dillon from the key piece of evidence used to convict him. His DNA could not be found -- and someone else's was -- on a bloody yellow T-shirt stained with Dvorak's blood.

During his trial, prosecutors said the killer wore the yellow shirt. Additionally, a since-discredited dog handler testified that his dog connected Dillon to the shirt.

On Tuesday, Dugan said he would grant bond, although the absence of Dillon's DNA from the yellow T-shirt did not automatically exonerate him. He suggested that Dillon's DNA may have once been on the shirt, 28 years ago.

"We do know that another male's DNA is on the shirt," Dugan said.

Assistant State Attorney Rob Parker questioned why only certain areas of the shirt -- the neckline and armpits -- were tested.

But Assistant Public Defender Mike Pirolo defended the evidence.

"To believe that some mysterious person's DNA survived these 28 years and Mr. Dillon's DNA has degraded is really a stretch," Pirolo said. "The armpit and neck areas are crucial. It's common sense. That's where people sweat during a hot, humid night when they are pummeling someone to death."

Dog handler

Pirolo has threatened to expose what he calls a conspiracy with the State Attorney's Office and Brevard County Sheriff's Office to pin convictions on innocent people like Wilton Dedge, Juan Ramos and now, Pirolo says, William Dillon.

This claim is supported by members of the Innocence Project of Florida, who claim to have sworn affidavits from people knowledgeable of the alleged fraud.

At issue is discredited expert witness and dog handler John Preston, who was exposed as a fraud in court and on national television.

Preston testified against Dedge, Ramos and Dillon, among others. Many convictions throughout the country that relied on testimony from Preston have been overturned.

Dedge, a Port St. John man, was exonerated of rape charges by DNA after spending more than 20 years in prison. He was at the jail to greet and hug Dillon.

"I know this is a magical moment now," Dillon exclaimed.

Parker told Dugan on Tuesday morning that the state had no plans to reintroduce the dog evidence during Dillon's retrial.

But Pirolo said Dillon's first conviction was due to Preston's testimony and how he tied Dillon to the bloody yellow T-shirt.

"We will open that door," Pirolo said. "At the end of the day, the witnesses canceled each other out during the trial. All that was left was John Preston's testimony. That's what convicted Dillon."

Call for investigation

Last week, Pirolo said he would call for a full investigation of this case and others by Gov. Charlie Crist of what he calls fraud and collusion committed by the State Attorney's Office.

The Innocence Project of Florida echoed those sentiments Tuesday.

"The fact they are entertaining a retrial is preposterous," said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. "It's high time the state drops the charges and sends Dillon home to his family."

The organization issued a statement calling Brevard County a "culture of corruption."

"Because Brevard County has been unwilling to police itself, Gov. Crist needs to step in and do it for them," the statement reads. "(We) call on the governor to initiate the investigation to determine whether crimes have been committed and punish the perpetrators."

The group also asked Crist to establish a commission to review all cases in which Preston participated.

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