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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. Pete

    America's justice system. What a country!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:32 am |
  2. Billhook

    AJ,

    Could you be more full of excrement?

    First, it is our Judicial system DOESN'T work, not "don't." Mostly this is because of the incestuous nature of having attorneys make the laws in the legislature and then they and their buddies get to profit off what they've made back in private practice.

    Second, I believe you've misrepresented Annie's opinion – perhaps if your command of the language was better, your comprehension would follow. None of this gets in the way of a good, indignant liberal screed, however. Annie never claimed justice worked in this case, only that she's glad no lefty gets to toss out the red herring of racism, probably to obfuscate the fact that most states that had Jim Crow laws can thank the "Democratic" party for that.

    I believe the Conservative position is that so-called liberals would like to see very few people convicted (unless they've committed a thought...er...hate crime, and then only against those they classify as a minority group) of crimes because they'd rather blame circumstance than personal choice as the dominant determinant in criminal behavior. I can't recall any Conservatives jumping up and down about foisting injustice on the accused or otherwise condoning the conviction of a party based on fabricated evidence. I know I've never believed witness testimony unless corroborated by hard evidence and very few circumstantial cases sway me.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:32 am |
  3. Mobius

    Amazing we would ever rely on a friggin ANIMAL's "testimony" for anything. Only in Omerika.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:31 am |
  4. dave

    Larissa: you need more paying work. This isn't the forum to "correct" the author. Please, that's silly.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:30 am |
  5. Fernando

    disgusting. Something similar happened in Canada with a Dr. Smith that called himself an expert in infants death, and was sending innocent people to prison for a long time. But in this case, all his cases are under investigation. I hope the best for this guy. I hope he gets a big paycheck from these people that didn't re-investigate all those cases.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:30 am |
  6. Jim

    Another example of our judicial system being corrupt. Cops run around with a chip on their shoulder tasing and beating people who won't kiss their ass, and prosecutors make up evidence, withhold evidence and pay so called 'experts' to perjure themselves so they can convict who they want to convict. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:30 am |
  7. Steven

    This is another appalling travesty, and it's become too common. It's not just sniffing dogs. It's fingerprint evidence (which is far more subjective than the CSI audience is lead to believe). It's hair and other trace evidence analysis.

    The problem is compounded by some prosecutors, who are more concerned about keeping their win record than doing justice. Any doubts about that? After Harrass 2 was exposed, the prosecutor apparently did nothing to inform the previous criminal defendants of the dog's questionable talent. That prosecutor was not alone. Read Grisham's recent "An Innocent Man".

    People cloaked with the credibility of "science" are frequently analyzing the evidence with their thumb on one of the scales of justice. And let's not forget the prosecutors who encourage that testimony.

    Of course, none of this should be shocking (unless you're the criminal defendant or his family). We live at a time when actual innocence is considered a technicality.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:29 am |
  8. Nancy

    This case is indeed disgusting. Unfortunately the fraud and coercion elements of it are not isolated.

    Our whole attitude toward 'errors in judgment, mistakes and crime' is extremely punitive in the US evidenced by being the country with the most people in prison in the world. This is truly a national shame.

    Lobbyists for companies supplying the prison industry are part of the problem, perpetuating a system that is very flawed, is very costly and does not work to rehabilitate anyone. The Obama administration has an opportunity to take a hard look at the data and analyze the so called 'criminal justice' system on its own merits and relative to the rest of the world and begin to make some serious changes so that justice is truly done, without throwing people's lives away for the sake a false security.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:29 am |
  9. Cliff Coultas

    Wow. That's the American judicial system. I was just in Daviess County Jail in Indiana for two months for an alleged rape. Of course I did no such thing and all the charges were dropped. But I still had to spend to months in jail which is long enough fo ryour life to be ripped away from you. I only had to do two months. I can't imagine what this guy had to go through and how he felt. He should get a huge amount of money from the state or whoever for this screw up. 26 six years!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:28 am |
  10. Francesko

    Such a shame,I feel bad for the guy who spent years in prison for a crime that he did not commit.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:27 am |
  11. Miguelito

    Lead Detective: "This is an obvious set-up."

    Prosecuting Attonery: "C'mon man, I can win this! "

    ........and the band played on....?

    July 31, 2009 at 2:27 am |
  12. jeremy burrows

    i just cant beleve that is nuts i hope he is rotting in hell lol i hope he gets a lot of money 🙂

    July 31, 2009 at 2:27 am |
  13. Money's in the bank

    I hate to say this but it sure was a hard way for Mr. Dillon to earn his retirement account, 26 years of hard time. With the money he wins through litigation, I hope he buys his own island with one stipulation "No Dogs Allowed".

    July 31, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  14. Nic

    The dog owner should be sentenced to life imprisonment.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  15. Kevin Smith

    The dog would be long gone by now, they only live to about 15 for a big dog. The case was 1981, so the dog would be about 30 now. Rest assured, he's resting in peace somewhere.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  16. haley

    "Tami July 30th, 2009 7:27 pm ET

    uh, Donna, I think the dog is dead….probably a good 10 years ago or more"

    Hahaha...ditto!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:22 am |
  17. paul

    what really hurt is that dillon didn't find about the mistake for another 20 years.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:22 am |
  18. jake

    Bottom line:

    If prosecutors are overturned on DNA evidence, the prosecutor, AND the judge should be fined and sanctioned. If it happens twice, the fine and sanction should double, and if it happens a third time to either a prosecutor or a judge, they should be charged with a felony. Too much power in the hands of too few idiots with career aspirations and self centered motives. If they were actual RISKS to prosecuting someone, it would be done more carefully. Just as if there were risks to suing someone, it would be done less often and more carefully. Loser of the lawsuit pays winner's legal fees, simple. Sue me, and if your case is garbage, enjoy paying my legal fees. Simple.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:21 am |
  19. SKF

    They have no shame!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:21 am |
  20. Nathan

    Annie,

    You are a conservative, snobby narcissist who thinks they know it all when they don't. The story had nothing to do with race till your "reasoning" brought it into play.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:20 am |
  21. James

    I suppose the war on crime is a lot like wars with other countries with acceptable losses in the process. I dont believe any justice system is without flaws, but if you can get it to about 98 percent, it much better than most third world countries. I for one would rather be judged here than abroad. My chances are so much better even if I am african american.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:19 am |
  22. Andrew NYC

    Dear Freelance Copy Editor,

    You sign off your post with, "A freelance copy editor who wishes she could have made her suggestions in a more private forum". Implicit herein is that you had to make these statements. If you wish you could have done it privately, then upon realizing this was not possible, why was it requisite that you post them? While the errors to which you allude are, indeed, errors, I find your post trite. Your suggested sentence, furthermore, would be trashed by Strunk & White for its usage of a transitional word to begin a sentence. S&W is moot to many, agreed, yet prose is a malleable art. My response is as inappropriate as your original post. For this – I apologize.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:18 am |
  23. Ricky

    No common sense whatsoever on the parts of the the authorities. No one thought to review ANY of the cases that this charlatan was involved with. Not a single person had the slightest inkling to maybe investigate to see that justice be served. Talk about a justice system run amok. This is why so many people distrust the government and rightly so.

    Am I wrong in thinking that if a police officer or "expert witness" commits perjury during a trial and is eventually convicted of it, does it not automatically throw dirt on all their past testimonies and therefore all cases they were involved with would have to be reevaluated? I'm not a lawyer, but wouldn't you think that would be the "common sense" thing to do? Yet nobody bothered or cared. Just despicable.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:17 am |
  24. Stephen Falk

    "I’m almost relieved the poor guy is white, had he been black all the liberal victimologists would be screaming bloody racism."

    What the hell is it with Americans.
    WHY make a point about mentioning his race.
    WHY make assumptions about what a liberal
    MIGHT say over a conservative,
    Thank god the guy is free..that's all you should really
    be saying,
    Hopefully he gets compensated for this travesty of justice.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:16 am |
  25. Jerad

    Pointing out a double standard isn't racist A.J.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:16 am |
  26. Nina

    Annie...you asked " How do people sleep at night knowing they’ve destroyed an innocent person’s life? I don’t get it.

    I would guess, the same way you do with statements like this"I’m almost relieved the poor guy is white, had he been black all the liberal victimologists would be screaming bloody racism.

    Actually, being a "poor white guy" who could not afford a decent attorney is one of reasons he was not treated fairly..However when anyone sit in jail for 26 years for a crime they did not committ, based upon the fraudulent intends of others...They are a victim...So, I fail to see what liberal of being Black have to do with it, nor should you want anyone White or Black to sit in jail for 26 years for a crime he did not commit, so you can feel "relieved"

    July 31, 2009 at 2:15 am |
  27. jack

    Makes you realize how dumb most jurors are.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:12 am |
  28. Paul W from Santa Clara

    This is evidence that Justice is not only blind, but smells pretty badly too, especially in Florida. The real question is, are there people who knowingly put innocent people away for their own gain or to avoid embarrassment?

    Uh, yeah.

    It is an evil thing to do, but then some people are serial killers. Why not have friends of the court of the same persuasion?

    July 31, 2009 at 2:12 am |
  29. Allen

    I dont' know what Flordia's compensation policy is.... assuming it even has one but I concur, this guy deserves hefty compensation. Anyone would after spending 26 years of their life in prison for something they didn't do. The prime of your life gone because of some hack. It is just amazing though how incompetant our justice system is that even after the handler is debunked, none of the cases are reviewed or the people convicted told of that. Common sense to me would dictate an automatic investigation after such a find.

    I guess common sense though has no place within the justice system.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:11 am |
  30. jonathan Shields

    We obviously owe it to the people this dog handler and the dog convicted to review evidence and convictions. How many more stories like this will we hear about innocent people being convicted based on flimsy evidence? It is shameful. We owe it to the convicted and their families to take another look at each case.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:11 am |
  31. Michael Johnson

    Injustice is injustice regardless of peace or gender. I would never hope false imprisonment on any person so, I could write a stereotypical attack on liberals; venting my feeling of victimization by a vast liberal conspiracy in the press. Next; we will get our conservative misspelling of Obama parroting some childish name they hear of propaganda radio. This conservative victimization has gotten old.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:10 am |
  32. JessSayin

    "If the dog can't pick up a scent,
    you must acquit!"

    Welcome to Florida.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:09 am |
  33. Phil

    I feel so sorry for the two dimensional people on here, that think everything in life is some kind of variation of "liberal" and conservative conflict. Whatever your agenda is, you're doing an excellent job of making people damn sick of it.

    Actually I feel sorry for the people who have to live with them.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:08 am |
  34. Nero062

    Here we go again. Another innocent person becomes a victim of our system. These kind of stories make me sick!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:01 am |
  35. John

    There was big time prosecutorial misconduct on this case. And anyone connected with it should be disbarred and/or prosecuted themselves. The other half of the story is that the blood on the t-shirt in question was of a DIFFERENT BLOOD TYPE than Dillon. The prosecution knew this at the time, but withheld that information from the defense.

    July 31, 2009 at 1:59 am |
  36. Felicia

    **WOW...I really hope that this gentleman has it in his heart to forgive what happened to him and this is an eye opener for the judicial system that you have to be thorough when dealing with peoples' lives! I hope that he will be able to forgive those who wronged him....so so sad...**

    July 31, 2009 at 1:45 am |
  37. Alpha

    There were people who knew / found out this man and his sniffing dog were a fake. After the exposure many would have surely wondered who among those sent to jail were innocent.

    It is in these moments you see, aside from the judicial system , other people around who KNEW and must have thought of those jailed victims were innocent are the ones also contributing to this societies ruin.

    The indifference, the I'm-not-affected I-dont-care-attitude is what have made this man sitting there for 20 years more.

    There were people who thought of it, but did nothing.

    July 31, 2009 at 1:41 am |
  38. A.J.

    This is a prime example of how our Judicial system don't work.
    The most appalling thing is that they let the man sat in jail an additional 20 years after Mr. Preston was exposed. I know you conservative airheads like Annie would disagree and state the system worked, because Mr. Dillon was finally released from jail, proving the superiorness of the system. How do you compensate a man for 26 years of his life?

    By the way Annie, I'm sure Black men were convicted by Mr. Sniff and his amazing crime dog. I guest we have to wait for the judicial process to work its self out to satisfy your racist view.

    July 30, 2009 at 7:38 pm |
  39. Tami

    uh, Donna, I think the dog is dead....probably a good 10 years ago or more.

    July 30, 2009 at 7:27 pm |
  40. Aaron

    I think this is a testimony to the massive failures of our judicial system.

    July 30, 2009 at 7:24 pm |
  41. PadderdaySaint

    I think it is appalling that a man lost 26 years of his life over corruption in our justice system. I believe the prosecutors in those cases should be held accountable for their parts more than the Handler and his dog. I think this man is owed some sort of compensation!

    July 30, 2009 at 7:19 pm |
  42. Larissa

    Randi: Good article! I find it appalling that even after the dog and its owner were outed as frauds, the courts did not review cases in which the dog's nose was the primary factor in sentencing.

    On another note–your intro paragraph needs work. The very first comma in the article is unnecessary. You've listed two nouns exposed as frauds, therefore you should use "have" rather than "has." Also, the last sentence would read better if it were written as such:

    "Unfortunately, Bill Dillon had to spend 26 years in prison before the error in his case was rectified."

    In addition, the first comma in the second paragraph is unnecessary.

    Sincerely,
    A freelance copy editor who wishes she could have made her suggestions in a more private forum

    July 30, 2009 at 7:18 pm |
  43. DANNI

    Lol, donna the case happened in 81 so a good assumption is that the dog died a long time before the owner 🙂

    July 30, 2009 at 7:11 pm |
  44. Broken Hearted Mom

    This is an amazing story. My son was also given life without the possibility of parole at the age of 23, based on "Dog Sniff Evidence".This story gives hope to the millions of individuals locked in cages without compassion. God Bless AC360 for continuously keeping the nation informed. I believe that my son will be freed, Prayer changes thing, and the truth will set him free!!!

    July 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm |
  45. Brieanna

    How sad is this? Day after day too many innocent people are sitting in prison for no reason other than a mistake. Now what is this man supposed to do just go on with his life? Something is horribly wrong with the way i justice system works.

    July 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm |
  46. Annie Kate

    I hope no one was put to death on the basis of this dog's "work". That would be horrible – this is bad enough that this man was robbed of 28 years of his life for something he did not do.....I hope someone will go through the past cases and be sure there are no more people in jail because of this dog's "expert" talents.

    July 30, 2009 at 7:01 pm |
  47. Davetesh.com

    WOW this is shocking, I really feel bad for the guy who spent his years in prison for nothing! That's such a shame

    July 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  48. April

    Annie,

    Quit with the generalizations. You are making things worse.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  49. Annie

    I'm almost relieved the poor guy is white, had he been black all the liberal victimologists would be screaming bloody racism.

    I hope Dillon sues and gets some compensation for his troubles and his life being ruined by that fraudulent man. How do people sleep at night knowing they've destroyed an innocent person's life? I don't get it.

    July 30, 2009 at 6:52 pm |
  50. Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee

    Wow, that is truly amazing Randi. But, even though the dog handler has died, will these cases still be investigated? What happens now? And what happened to the dog since his owners death?

    Donna Wood
    Lexington, Tennessee

    July 30, 2009 at 6:47 pm |
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