Thursday, 27 November 2008

Exonerated Wilton Dedge inspired Dillon

Exonerated Wilton Dedge inspired Dillon

BY JOHN A. TORRES • FLORIDA TODAY • November 20, 2008

As William Dillon hugged family members seconds after being released from jail on bond Tuesday night, an unassuming and unexpected visitor showed up to join the celebration

Wilton Dedge drove down from Titusville and arrived seconds before Dillon strolled out of the Brevard County Detention Center.

"Goodness gracious, I get one from you, too?" Dillon asked Dedge as their handshake became a hug. "Now I know this is magical."

Dedge was exonerated in 2004 after spending 22 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. He met Dillon in prison years ago at Sumter Correctional Institution when the two inmates played ball together.

It was Dedge's exoneration that inspired Dillon to try to get his own case back into court, Dillon said.

Dillon was released after Circuit Judge David Dugan vacated Dillon's life sentence and granted him a new trial based on DNA evidence. He had spent the last 27 years in prison. In 1981, Dillon was sentenced to life in prison in the murder of James Dvorak of Indian Harbour Beach.

The Innocence Project of Florida played a pivotal role in both cases.

"It was cool meeting him again," Dillon said Wednesday afternoon. "I didn't recognize him at first with that long hair."

Dedge asked Dillon on Tuesday how he was doing.

"I don't know how I'm doing, but I feel great," Dillon said with a smile. Then he asked Dedge a question.

"Is the air any different out there?" Dillon said.

Though the crimes were different, the Dedge and Dillon cases share many similarities:

  • 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.

    Unlike in Dedge's case, Dillon's freedom could be only temporary. The state said it planned to move forward and retry him on the murder charges shortly after the new year.

    The 49-year-old spent his first night of freedom eating lasagna, playing the guitar and singing songs for his family. On Wednesday, he drove past the park where Dvorak was killed. Dillon said he nearly got sick.

    "I felt like my heart was about to split," he said. "It brought back a sadness inside me. That was the start of all my sadness."

    Seth Miller of the Innocence Project of Florida said he hoped the brief encounter between Dedge and Dillon would lay the groundwork for a mutual support system.

    "These guys have a shared experience," Miller said. "It's important for them to share this solidarity together."

    Dillon's father, Joe Dillon, said it was nice meeting Dedge and his mother.

    "They spoke to us about what to look for and what to expect," he said. "Wasn't that nice?"

    Contact Torres at 242-3649 or

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