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July 30th, 2009
11:28 PM ET

Fake scent-tracking dog sends man to prison for 26 years

Randi Kaye | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

A Florida man who was convicted of murder in part because of the work of an allegedly infallible scent-tracking dog, was freed from jail eight months ago because DNA testing confirmed that the dog and the dog’s owner were a fraud. Unfortunately for Bill Dillon he had to spend 26 years in prison before the error in his case was rectified.

Bill Dillon, was 22 when he was sentenced to life in prison in 1981, for killing a man in Canova Beach on the eastern coast of the state.

During the trial, Dillon was adamant that he had not committed the crime. But a man named John Preston testified in court that he and his scent-tracking German-Shepherd connected Dillon to the killer’s bloody t-shirt. Preston said his dog, “Harrass 2,” even tracked Dillon’s scent repeatedly in later tests.

Dillon expected to remain in prison for the rest of his life – all because of “Harrass 2,” and his handler, Preston, who billed himself around the country as a so-called scent -tracking expert.

But nearly three decades later, in 2007, DNA testing proved that Dillon’s DNA did not match the DNA on the killer’s shirt. The dog was wrong. Just eight months ago, after 26 years behind bars, Bill Dillon walked out of prison a free man.

“Supposedly the dog got my scent three times,” Dillon told CNN, “and I never saw freedom again.” Dillon also said he remembers the dog’s “huge” head from the trial and that he looked like a “bear.”

In 1981, DNA testing wasn’t used in criminal investigations so authorities relied simply on the presumed legendary nose of Preston’s German Shepherd. Preston testified that his dog had tracked Dillon’s scent to a piece of paper he had touched, and had even tracked Dillon to a room he was in at the courthouse.

Preston and his dog had a track-record – he had convinced juries more than a hundred times of his dog’s miraculous talents. In Dillon’s case, Preston even told the court his dog had the ability to track a scent under water; to actually smell below the water. CNN consulted tracking dog experts in Florida about this. They told us “no way, that’s not possible.”

In 1984, before Preston was exposed as a fraud, he told ABC News that he believed he was never wrong. Tim McGuire, a dog-tracking expert with Florida’s Volusia County Sheriff’s Department, said it was implausible that a dog could have picked up Dillon’s scent back in 1981 eight days after the murder, and just after a massive hurricane had blown through the area.

McGuire viewed videotapes of Preston’s dog, Harrass 2, at work. In the tapes, there are multiple times when the dog urinates on evidence. “The dog should work methodically.” But McGuire said he did not consider what Harrass 2 was doing, “work.”

Preston was exposed by a Florida judge in 1984, who became suspicious of Preston and set up his own test for Harrass 2. The dog failed terribly.

Documents obtained by CNN show he could not even follow a scent for one-hundred feet. The judge determined the dog could only track successfully when his handler had advance knowledge of the case.

Dillon thinks Preston and his scent-tracking dog were part of a larger conspiracy.

“Preston could lead the dog to the suspect or the evidence,” alleges Dillon, but “any cases that were weak, not good enough to go to the jury, they [the prosecution] fed Preston information, paid him good money to come and lie.”

Florida’s Attorney General told CNN it is not aware of any evidence of a conspiracy involving John Preston and his dog.

Preston and his four-legged so-called expert were discredited in 1987. But the state of Florida never reviewed cases on which he’d testified . And nobody ever told Bill Dillon – who sat in prison another 20 years before he ever knew a thing about it. It wasn’t until 2006 that he heard Preston was a fake.

Florida’s Innocence Project believes dozens of inmates around the country may have been wrongly convicted as a result of John Preston and his dog. It is calling for an investigation of those cases. Meanwhile, Preston, the dog’s handler, died last year. He was never charged with perjury or convicted of a crime.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment • Randi Kaye
soundoff (229 Responses)
  1. Cheryl

    Annie: Way to miss the point. And out yourself as a racist.

    I am flabbergasted that Preston's cases were not reviewed. And he was never charged! How does that work, exactly? Does the Attorney General just say "oh well, those cases have been tried, so we might as well not ess with them."?

    What a travesty. I hope Mr. Dillon gets PAID. It's the least he can receive in the way of restitution.

    August 1, 2009 at 1:51 pm |
  2. The Monster

    A.J., by calling Annie's view "racist", you just proved her point.

    August 1, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  3. Jim G.

    How can the cops and DA sleep at night knowing the real killer has been free since '81? The dog and its owner are only part of what when wrong with this conviction.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:36 am |
  4. wildman

    This appened years ago in Arizona, it may have been the same man, and dog. THe dog and his handler reconstruted the crime scene for the police and later all three of the murders, agreed they killed the person but not like the dog said. What happened to the Mr Sniff

    July 31, 2009 at 8:36 am |
  5. bops

    I heard the dog died when the owner sent him underwater to find a drowning victim???

    July 31, 2009 at 8:34 am |
  6. Secret

    I'm happy to hear of his release! But what a shame,he had to sit for another 20 yrs after they knew fraud was involved.To Annie, You have no clue what blacks have been through,and other ethnic people have endured.Being hung,dragged,beaten,murdered and convicted of crimes they haven't committed.So until you wake-up ethnic,you don't have to worry about needing a victimologist to scream bloody racism for you.That will never be a concern.By the way the justice system failed this man,whether he was black or white.The difference is he wasn't falsely accused bc he was white,but a person of color is sometimes falsely accused bc of their skin.It's a fact!!!! That's why we have and need victimologist today.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:31 am |
  7. WTF!?!?!?!?

    the words "W . T . F." can't even describe this situation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 31, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  8. mandee

    My husbands cousin (here in Mass) was arrested, convicted and spent 26 years in jail for a rape he did not committ...he was arrested walking down the street in the early 80's after the victim told the police her attacker was wearing a "Hooded sweatshirt and a blue jean jacket" well...guess what he was wearing...... Project Innocence helped free him too.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  9. Jeff Spirer

    First, let me qualify myself.

    I'm a Search Dog Handler and trainer.

    I hate to hear stories like this one, as it discredits and hurts all the good dogs and handlers.

    I remember another one like this with a female handler and her Doberman who also falsified evidence.

    I've watched alot of poor work (By both volunteers and professionals) and can only feel sorry for what has happened.

    I have slowly realized over time that the few dedicated and knowledgeable dog handlers have become fewer and fewer.

    After 9/11 I realized how badly the system has fallen apart.

    Maybe some smart reporter will do an expose, but I doubt it.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  10. CindySue

    Again we fall under the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer... My heart and prayers go to this man and his family!! To APRIL.... how do you generalize 26 years ??? He should of had a wife and family, be watching his children head to college. Once again we are shown our judicial system has major flaws. How many people are behind bars that don't belong there, maybe because someone just didn't do their job right, or feel like taking the time??? Compensation ?? who is he going to sue ?? Thanks to the Florida judge that was wise enough to call the scam of this fradulant man, otherwise how many others would be behind bars today??
    To LARISSA.... you must be young... yes you could of and should of found a different way to critique an article!!

    July 31, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  11. Sarah

    Annie....maybe you could understand if you where black! I apoligize if it is too much of a burden to hear of ethnic troubles. It's sad what happened to this guy, but it happens everyday where I live because of skin tone. So open your eyes..and close your mouth.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:28 am |
  12. Justin

    Annie,

    I'm not sure why you would want to bring into this discussion issues of racism in law enforcement, not to mention the fact that, for seemingly political reasons, you are glad that you don't have to argue with any charges that the court here or the fraudster are or were racist. I'm not sure why you would bring this into the discussion only to leave it and make an unrelated "i'm glad this turned out" comment. If you're going to try to score a political point by making an uninteresting platitude, then at least follow through with it.

    Regards,

    Justin

    July 31, 2009 at 8:26 am |
  13. Julie

    Unfortunately, we see this far too often – innocent men and women going to prison for something they did not do. How do we solve this problem? Read "The Innocent Man". Another horrific case of an innocent man being sent to prison for years only to be release many years later and die of cancer. I believe there is too much corruption within the system and unfortunately things like this will continue. If our congressmen can do anything about this, you have my vote!

    July 31, 2009 at 8:25 am |
  14. Frog Prince

    What about the 12 ass holes that sat on the poor guy's jury?

    July 31, 2009 at 8:25 am |
  15. Barbara

    WOW. It is a shame this man lost most of his life, or at least his prime, behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, and they waited almost 20 years to tell him that. WHY WAS HE STILL IN JAIL after Preston was discredited and outed?!?! That's ridiculous. I hope more people get re-reviewed, but if they did it, it's good that they are where they are.

    This has NOTHING to do with race people.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  16. RealVote

    How many people are in prisons serving time for the crime they didn't commit. We need serious review. You have no idea what is the reaction to the life lost or important time of your life lost or gone waste.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:23 am |
  17. DaChief

    Unfortunately, Dillon was recently denied compensation from the State under the "clean hands" law. The FL Wrongful Incarceration Act will not provide for payment if they had a prior nonrelated conviction. Dillion has a non violent drug conviction when he was 19 so he is not eligible.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:23 am |
  18. Mark

    Hey Annie – for my part I'm glad the guy is white too, otherwise the jack-booted, torture loveing, bill of rights hating, wrong country invading, BuschReich voting, conservatives would be bewailing the "soft on crime" commie lib system that lets a "dangerious criminal" go free merely becasue he was framed.

    And people wonder way so many of us simply don't trust the criminal justice system anymore.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:21 am |
  19. Kelli

    It has to be said that the system does not work perfectly or all of the time. Further, us white folks get profiled all of the time, too. I get what Annie is TRYING to say, and to rephrase it where it didn't sound racist would be impossible due to the nature of her comment. An interesting point to be made here is that I thought we were trying to open the race discussion and speak frankly. One of the ways to do this is to lay off of all races in the way we express our stereotypes of each other. Personally, every time I hear of a non-white being vindicated in the above scenario, I don't think quite the same way as Annie. All I think about is pretty much the same as others: the police are frequently corrupted (based on numerous experiences and news reports), and that the system doesn't work. Annie inadverdantly added a log to the fire by bringing up the race issue, and thanks to her, it occurrs to me that she probably is right...if only because I see comments by non-whites in other forums that actually say such things...and I believe that they, too, are correct. I'm not racist, not by a long shot. What's more, having been a victim of stereotyping, and watching my friends be victims as well, has given me what I hope is an insight to share with my fellow Americans: you don't have to be a racist to stereotype people, and if we all quit being so sensitive to the ignorant comments by others, this discussion will proceed with more success. You've got to reach over and say, "I totally understand what you are saying, Annie. Keep in miind, however, if our wrongfully incarcerated victim had been black, race COULD have been a factor. It's unfair to say that it isn't".

    July 31, 2009 at 8:20 am |
  20. Joseph D

    Convictions at any price. That is what prosecutors do. They had no incentive to go back on old cases. This would discredit the system.

    Prosecutors say this time after time. Many don't care if someone is innocent as long as a jury convicts.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:18 am |
  21. cheekymonkey

    To Donna in Tennessee – C'mon, do you really think the dog is alive after 20 plus years?

    July 31, 2009 at 8:18 am |
  22. EcoPhD

    Larissa, you could have simply *not* made a suggestion if the publicity of this forum bothers you.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  23. MIKE

    I'd like to hear the other evidence in the case before declaring an innocent man has been in jail for 26 years and implying the state owes him a boat load of money. It's unlikely the prosecuters decided to bring in their sent tracking "ringer" unless they were pretty confident this guy was guiltly and just didn't have the evidence to make it stick.

    He may be innocent, in which case this is a tragedy... but like I said, I'd like to see the other evidence, as the last thing I wanna do is feel sorry for a murderer.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:16 am |
  24. Nathan

    "How do people sleep at night after convicting an innocent man?"

    Well, it's like this... they don't believe they HAVE convicted an innocent man. Police investigators often develop an "intuitive sense" of who the guilty person might be, and then set out to find the evidence to "prove" it. That's what happened in Dillon's case, apparently. No one lost sleep over this. The dog owner felt that his dog had proved what the police already knew. The police felt the dog proved what they already knew. The prosecutor believed the police and the "evidence." Done deal.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:15 am |
  25. rs

    I'm curious about the guys attorneys duruing that time where are they

    Scary that this could happen to anyone of us who stand by the law

    July 31, 2009 at 8:13 am |
  26. John Hix

    We only think we have the best justice system in the world because that is what we are told. Thank God for DNA but yet, we remain too reliant on so called proofs obtained from technology, or in this case, a fraud, instead of requiring collaborating evidence. Someday we can expect to see a conspiracy with doctored DNA results and fingerprint evidence. The justice system, not just the police, has the task of finding the truth and when they can"t they will make the evidence fit the suspect.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  27. Terrance Trent D'arby

    Donna,
    The dog would have bee full grown (2 yrs old) in 1981, which would make the dog 30. How many 30 year old dogs do you see around? It's obvious the dog has passed on.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  28. Kilroy

    The cops use fake dogs all the time. They watch for people fraking out then arrest them. They have been doing this for quite a while, and more so after 9/11. In the airport, the dogs just give a false sense of security so the num nuts think they are safe and the fanatics think they will get caught.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:11 am |
  29. BeE Bop

    Wow check this link on CNN about 4 cops on tape caught framing a White Woman http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/crime/2009/07/30/pn.cops.accused.framing.cnn

    July 31, 2009 at 8:10 am |
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