FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 18, 2008 PRESS ADVISORY
Seth Miller, Esq.: 202.341.2127
David Menschel, Esq.: 203.671.3792
Melissa Montle, Esq.: 561.843.9304
WILLIAM DILLON TO BE RELEASED
PRESS CONFERENCE TODAY
Today at approximately 5:00 p.m., William Dillon will walk out of the Brevard County Jail (860 Camp Rd. in Cocoa, Florida) a free man for the first time in 27 years, proved innocent through DNA testing.
The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) and the Dillon family will hold a press conference at the jail immediately following Mr. Dillon's release. Mr. Dillon will make a statement. IPF will also hand out written information on the case.
Innocence Project of Florida, Inc.
1100 East Park Avenue, Tallahassee, FL 32301
For Immediate Release PRESS RELEASE
November 18, 2008
Seth Miller, Esq.: 202.341.2127
David Menschel, Esq.: 203.671.3792
Melissa Montle, Esq.: 561.843.9304
Innocent Man Released After 27 Years
DNA Reveals Widespread Corruption in Brevard County
Today, at approximately 5 p.m., William Dillon will walk out of Brevard County Jail after being freed pending trial. Last Friday, the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court vacated his murder conviction after DNA testing proved his innocence. The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) paid for the DNA testing and drafted the post-conviction pleadings in Dillon's case.
Dillon's 27 years of wrongful incarceration equals the longest time served by any of the 223 DNA exonerees nationwide. He will be the third man to be exonerated in Brevard County in recent years.
The State Attorney's Office asserts that it plans to retry Mr. Dillon, though if it could or will do so remains to be seen. "I don't see how they could re-try this case. All they have is a fraud, an admitted perjurer, a snitch, and a half-blind eyewitness," said Melissa Montle, Staff Attorney with IPF.
At today's bail hearing, the State asserted that at re-trial it planned to rely heavily on the testimony of Donna Parrish, Dillon's sometime sexual partner, who, at trial, suggested that she saw Dillon at the scene of the crime hours after the murder. During the investigation, Parrish was both threatened by and had a sexual liaison with the Sherriff's Office lead investigator. Parrish recanted her trial testimony, in full, under oath, less than a month after trial. "After changing her story so many times, Donna Parrish's testimony has no credibility," said David Menschel, Legal Director of IPF. "Rather than putting Parrish back on the stand, the State should prosecute her for perjury." Most disturbingly, it appears that the State continues its efforts to manipulate Parrish's testimony to this day .
Dillon's case is also troubling because it involved the now-discredited testimony of dog handler John Preston, a man who has been exposed as a fraud by both courts and the national media. But, as Menschel explained, "This is not just a case about a corrupt dog handler. There was a conspiracy between that dog handler and the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. There is a culture of corruption in Brevard County. They care more about convicting the suspect than convicting the right person - and they're willing to manufacture evidence in order to do it."
Both Wilton Dedge and Juan Ramos were also wrongfully convicted on the basis of Preston's testimony. Seth Miller, Executive Director of the IPF, called for an investigation into the conduct of the Brevard County State Attorney's Office and Sheriff's Office as well as a comprehensive review of the dozens of cases in which John Preston testified: "Governor Crist needs to take a hard look at what's been going on in Brevard County and restore public confidence in Florida's criminal justice system. Our organization would be happy to assist the Governor in these efforts."
The Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding and freeing innocent people in Florida prisons.
Statement of Facts: State of Florida v. William Dillon
On December 4, 1981, William Dillon was convicted of first degree felony murder and was sentenced to life in prison by the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Brevard County, Florida. 27 years later, on November 14, 2008, that same Court vacated Dillon's conviction and ordered a new trial based on DNA evidence which demonstrated his actual innocence. Dillon's 27 years equals the longest time served by any of the 223 DNA exonorees nationwide. He will be the third man to be exonerated in BrevardCounty in recent years.
The DNA: DNA evidence that demonstrates Dillon's innocence came as a result of a 2007 motion filed by Dillon's attorneys, Mike Pirolo and the Innocence Project of Florida ("IPF"). The testing was paid for by IPF and performed at Orchid Cellmark, a lab in Farmer's Branch, Texas. It revealed that DNA from sweat on the State's key piece of evidence at trial, a bloody yellow t-shirt worn by the killer, came from someone other than Dillon, thus confirming that someone other than Dillon committed the murder.
The Crime: On the morning of August 17, 1981, James Dvorak was found murdered at CanovaBeach. He had been brutally beaten to death and left in a wooded area, an apparent homosexual meeting place near the beach.
Dillon became a suspect because several days after the murder, he was hanging out at CanovaBeach and was approached by police who were questioning people about the crime. Dillon had read about the murder in the newspaper and had seen the yellow police tape in a wooded area near the beach. He told police that he assumed the taped area was where the crime occurred. Perhaps because they had no other suspects, police inferred from this that Dillon had further information about the crime and subsequently brought him in for questioning. After several days and multiple interrogations, police arrested Dillon.
The Trial: The State's case was based largely on the testimony of four key witnesses-an admitted perjurer, a fraudulent dog scent expert, a snitch whose charges were dropped in return for his testimony, and a half-blind eyewitness-as well as a t-shirt worn by the killer, which now reveals that Dillon was not the murderer.
(1) Donna Parrish: the Admitted Perjurer: Parrish, Dillon's sometime sexual partner, was the only witness to testify that she saw Dillon at the crime scene. However, she did not witness the murder itself. She gave inconsistent statements to police throughout the investigation and gave implausible, confused testimony at trial, which seemed to suggest that she had stumbled upon the already-dead body independent of Dillon, told no one, and later followed him back to the body. She also claimed that on the night in question, Dillon was wearing the yellow t-shirt.
Less than a month after trial, Parrish recanted her trial testimony in its entirety, under oath, stating that she had been pressured by the Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office and threatened with 25 years in prison. In particular, she said that she had lied about following Dillon to the body and had lied when she said that he had worn or even owned the yellow t-shirt. In fact, she said that she and Dillon had spent the night in question at a motel room with acquaintances, and her entire trial testimony regarding their whereabouts was a fabrication. Furthermore, Florida Today newspaper reported that, during the investigation, Parrish and the lead investigator, Sgt. Charles Slaughter, had a sexual li aison. Slaughter was suspended and eventually resigned as a result.
(2) John Preston: the Fraud: Preston, a purported expert in scent tracking hired by the State, testified that his dog, Harass II, had, prior to trial, linked Dillon to the crime scene and the yellow t-shirt. Preston's claims have been thoroughly discredited by experts in the field of scent tracking, media reports (including an expose on the tv show 20/20), multiple state supreme courts (including the Arizona Supreme Court, which called him a "charlatan"), police training manuals, and law review articles. Even the current elected State Attorney in BrevardCounty, Norman Wolfinger, knows Preston is a fraud. In 1984, when he was a capital defense attorney, Wo lfinger said, "I wouldn't want my life to depend on what [Preston's] dog says."
More disturbingly, it now appears that Preston was engaged in a conspiracy with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office wherein they fed him information in order to produce false evidence that would help convict whomever was the suspect. Furthermore, it appears that the State Attorney's Office believed that Preston's testimony was false and the result of such a conspiracy, and presented him as a witness nevertheless.
(3) Roger Dale Chapman: the Snitch: According to the Justice Project, jailhouse snitch testimony is regarded as "the least reliable type of testimony" and at trial he was the State's least convincing witness. Chapman's testimony was suspect from the outset. He said that Dillon confessed to the murder and reenacted it in the middle of the jail dining hall. Despite the presence of other inmates, however, there were no other witnesses to t his alleged confession. Furthermore, Chapman's report of the confession included numerous details that were at odds with the facts of the case. For example, Chapman said that Dillon had told him that the crime occurred on a beach miles away from the beach where it actually occurred, CanovaBeach.
After Chapman agreed to testify against Dillon, the State dropped pending charges against him for the rape of a sixteen-year-old girl. Despite arrests on more than twenty-five charges in BrevardCounty, Chapman appears to have served little or no prison time on a Brevard case. The State has even provided him assistance in cases beyond BrevardCounty; in a highly unusual gesture, in 1993, ASA Mike Hunt testified on Chapman's behalf in an Aggravated Assault and Stalking case in Indian RiverCounty.
(4) John Parker: the Half-Blind Eyewitness: Parker testified that on the night of the murder, he picked up a sweaty, bloody man hitchhiking near the scene of the crime and the two had oral sex. The man, who called himself "Jim," left behind a bloody yellow t-shirt that Parker later turned over to police. At trial, Parker identified that man as Dillon.
There has always been ample reason to doubt Parker's identification. He was legally blind in one eye and his description of the assailant differed markedly from Dillon's actual characteristics. Furthermore, at trial, Parker conceded that he wasn't sure that Dillon was, in fact, the man he picked up.
(5) The Yellow T-shirt: the State's Key Piece of Physical Evidence: At trial, the State's theory was clear: the killer wore the yellow t-shirt during the crime and later left it in Parker's truck. The State referenced the t-shirt dozens of times throughout trial. By repeatedly linking the t-shirt to the crime scene and Dillon to the t-shirt, the State was able to link Dillon to the crime scene. For example, Parker testified that he picked up the hitchhiker with the t-shirt near the scene of the crime and Parrish testified that Dillon was wearing the t-shirt on the ev ening of the murder. In addition, through a convoluted series of scent lineups and scent detections, Preston's dog was able to link Dillon to the t-shirt and to the crime scene.
Conclusion: In its closing statement at Dillon's trial, the State said "[i]n order to believe the Defendant . . . you must believe that all of [the witnesses] are either mistaken or lying and that the physical evidence is wrong." This statement was effective, because at the time, it seemed preposterous that the State's case was no more than a collection of lies, mistakes, and unreliable evidence. Now, the DNA evidence and other evidence that has emerged since trial reveals that Parrish was a liar who perjured herself at trial, Preston was a fraud masquerading as a scientist, Chapman was a snitch who gave false testimony, and Parker's identification was mistaken. Most importantly, DNA testing shows that the yellow t-shirt that the State used as the lynchpin of its case linking Dillon to the crime scene and corroborating the testimony of various witnesses was actually powerful, affirmative evidence of his innocence.
BrevardCounty: A Culture of Corruption
Bill Dillon's wrongful conviction is not an aberration; it is emblematic of a culture of corruption in BrevardCounty. Once the Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office develop a suspect, they appear willing to do just about anything-mischaracterize the facts, fabricate evidence, even engage in lawless conduct-in order to obtain and preserve a conviction.
The Innocence Project of Florida believes that the following should be investigated because of possible unethical and unlawful behavior by members of the BrevardCounty Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office:
Suborning Perjury: At trial, Donna Parrish, the State's star witness and Dillon's sometime sexual partner, repeatedly came undone and gave implausible testimony which she herself described as "confused." Tellingly, ten days later, she recanted her trial testimony in full and under oath. She admitted that she had lied at trial and fabricated the story about seeing Dillon at the crime scene and wearing the yellow t-shirt.
Her admitted perjury-to this day unprosecuted-resulted from the Brevard County Sheriff's Office threatening her with 25 years in prison if she failed to implicate Dillon. Furthermore, Sgt. Charles Slaughter, the lead investigator and 20 years her senior, had an affair with Parrish during the investigation. Most disturbingly, there is evidence that the State seeks to manipulate her testimony to this day.
Fraud and Conspiracy: For years, John Preston, now universally understood to be a fraud by his own colleagues, the national media, and the American judicial system, regularly provided investigative services for the Sheriff's Office and alleged neutral, scientific expert testimony for the State Attorney's Office. In the Dillon case, like in scores of other BrevardCounty cases, Preston used his dog's purported miraculous scent tracking abilities to connect suspects to evidence and convict them of crimes. As it turns out, Preston's dog wasn't following s cents at all, instead, Preston was directing the dog so as to implicate the suspect. In the case of one now-executed defendant, Preston obscenely claimed that his dog connected the defendant to a crime scene 8 years after the crime occurred.
Some members of the Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney's Office knew Preston was a fraud, others suspected it, and yet they continued to use him as an expert witness. Furthermore, Preston was only able to do what he did because he was fed information by at least one officer whose identity is widely known. In other words, the Sheriff's Office was engaged in a criminal conspiracy with John Preston to manufacture false evidence. Though these facts are widely known in the county, to this day, no county or state agency has ever investigated these crimes or punished the officers involved.
Reckless Use of Snitches: In the Dillon case, Roger Dale Chapman, a jailhouse snitch, gave testimony about how Dillon had confessed to him and re-enacted the crime in the middle of a crowded jail dining hall, even though there are no other witnesses to this purported confession. In return for naming Dillon, the State Attorney's office dropped pending charges against Chapman for the rape of a sixteen-year-old girl. Despite arrests on more than twenty-five charges in BrevardCounty, Chapman appears to have served little or no prison time on a Brevard cas e. In 1993, in a highly unusual gesture, ASA Mike Hunt testified on Chapman's behalf in an Aggravated Assault and Stalking case in Indian RiverCounty.
BrevardCounty is notorious for its use of jailhouse snitches even though snitches are commonly understood to be among the least reliable witnesses. For example, in the case of Wilton Dedge, serial snitch Clarence Zacke claimed Dedge confessed to him and testified that he was motivated to cooperate with the State not because he received any special treatment, but merely because he hated men who mistreated women. Zacke did in fact receive a sentence reduction after testifying against Dedge and, all the while, Zacke had been raping his own daughters. DNA testing subsequently exonerated Wilton Dedge.
Shifting Theories: At trial, the State argued that the killer wore the yellow t-shirt and the State referenced the t-shirt dozens of times. Yet, when the Defense moved the Court to DNA test the t-shirt to prove that Dillon was not the killer, the State-afraid of what the DNA testing would show-claimed that the t-shirt was not relevant to the murder at all and opposed testing it. The State's willingness to invent an entirely new theory regarding its primary piece of physical evidence decades after the trial demonstrates a cavalier relationship with the facts of its own conviction and a naked oppo rtunism that is inconsistent with the ethical obligations of officers of the court.
Mischaracterizing Evidence: Even at the time of trial, there was evidence to suggest that the yellow t-shirt belonged to someone other than Dillon and that, therefore, Dillon was not the murderer. The State's own lab concluded that hair found on the t-shirt "did not originate" from Dillon, the victim, or any of the other characters in this case, thus suggesting that the t-shirt was worn by someone other than Dillon. Yet, in its closing statement at trial, the State mischaracterized that result as "inconclusive" and falsely stated that Dillon "could not be ruled out" as the source of that hair.
Losing Evidence: Several important pieces of evidence in the Dillon case were lost by the State under mysterious circumstances. According to an FDLE property receipt, an assistant state attorney and sheriff's investigator received numerous items of evidence, some of which were properly returned and some of which, including the victim's fingernail scrapings and hairs from the infamous yellow t-shirt, disappeared. To this day, the State has been unable to account for these items. Despite the fact that the Sta te lost this evidence, in statements to the Orlando Weekly,the State nevertheless publicly blamed the Defense for not testing it.
In short, in BrevardCounty, there is a pattern of behavior in which some law enforcement officers and prosecutors appear more concerned with getting convictions than convicting the right person. More disturbingly, this behavior is widely known, tolerated, and even rewarded.
Because BrevardCounty seems unwilling to police itself, Governor Crist needs to step in and do it for them. The Innocence Project of Florida calls on the Governor to initiate an investigation to determine whether crimes have been committed and punish the perpetrators. Furthermore, he should establish a commission, armed with subpoena power, to review all cases in which John Preston participated and any other case in which criminal defendants allege substantial wrongdoing by Brevard County officials. The Innocence Project of Florida would be happy to assist the Governor in these efforts.