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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. Dennis

    Great article and a sad commentary on the pursuit of a prosecution for the sake of careers and not justice. Although Mr. Preston is dead, there are still others alive who knowingly helped him put innocent people in prison. I would hope that those individuals can be brought to justice for their part in this fraud.

    Donna, the dog may have had "magical" powers but living into his 30's probably wasn't one of them.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:16 am |
  2. Nate

    Annie is right. Just think about it; 1 random person making an somewhat racist statement over email has made the front page of CNN for the past 2 days. If this had been a black person we would have had Jesse Jackson preaching and riots in the streets. All this crap about race is making me tired and numb to the issue.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:16 am |
  3. TruthSetsFree

    Are you people in denial? What justice system? Do you live your lives in a cocoon?

    Quite honestly, putting a man way for 26 years on a so called expect testimony while having a day in court is a lot better than being denied harbes corpus for an undertermined period of time (potentially all live) all based in a simple allegation of terrorism (definition TBD...islamic, domestic, rightwing, leftwing, patriot, white power, black power, racists, founding fathers, constitution lovers, etc) without a day in court.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:13 am |
  4. Pablo

    I really hope that the state, who put him behind bars, make restitution to this man who lost the prime of his life. He has little chance at a career, retirement, family, and many other of the God given opportunities this great country provides. The state should stand up and make things right for him...I hope they do.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:13 am |
  5. Pood

    All prosecutors involved should be stripped of their jobs and posted on the front page of the news. Take this thing as far as it goes and keep these fake wannabees in check.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:13 am |
  6. simon

    Donna, dogs only live at most 17 years, it's been 26 years....

    July 31, 2009 at 7:08 am |
  7. Achmed

    Once Preston was exposed as a fraud, all cases that involved him should have been reviewed immediately. Dillon's life was ruined because of Preston and the State of Florida.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:07 am |
  8. steve

    Larissa,

    Thank you for pointing out the punctuation and grammar errors. It never ceases to amaze me how illiterate our culture really is!

    steve

    July 31, 2009 at 7:04 am |
  9. bbmcrae

    Hey, Annie, why do I get the feeling you like to post so inject your racist nonsense into every single story you read?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:01 am |
  10. woody hall

    I would never have sent a person to prison like that , but I had a very small Min-Pin dog , trained to growl or attack on signal . I talked to a " suspect " in my homes robbery ..... Asking the dog if this was the person ? on que , it would growl and the suspect walked over to cops , and turned himself in .

    July 31, 2009 at 6:59 am |
  11. SHS

    This was 20 years ago. That dog is surely dead.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:55 am |
  12. scooty

    Waaaaaaaaaaaah! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Waaaaaaaaaah! De' mean ol' librals is always pickin' on me! Waaaaaaaaaah! Waaaaaaaaahhh! Make 'em stop! Waaaaaaaaaah! Waaaaaaaaaah!

    July 31, 2009 at 6:51 am |
  13. Loggie

    ruh roh.

    Clearly, the right proceedure should be that when a systematic fraud is found in convictions, it is the DUTY of prosecuters to reopen those cases. If they do not, then they should be held accountable with criminal charges themselves. Not for the original conviction, but knowingly violating their duty to the accused, their country, and their god (if lawyers think they even have a higher authority). I am not a liberal, but you only need to have been wrongly accused of something once to feel the visceral outrage over something like this. I have no idea what a 22 years old kid did for his early prison time in a Florida State pennitentury for murdering a girl, but as Rodney Dangerfield once said , "I can tell you this, those guys aren't the boy scouts". The fact that this guy doesn't come out of jail and go postal and wipe out that prosecuter and his family with an assault rifle is a testament to human character. He is a better person than I am.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:49 am |
  14. Imelda Marcos

    Oh please, my elegant shoes should be the topic of conversation and not this mutt who idolizes Bernie Madoff.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:41 am |
  15. Leroy Biggins

    @Donna: How long do dogs live in Tennessee?

    July 31, 2009 at 6:40 am |
  16. Seriously?

    I heard the dog is on the run in Mexico. Let's get him!!

    July 31, 2009 at 6:37 am |
  17. Travis-

    How can an individual be compensated for 26 years. There is no dollar amount that can rectify this wrong doing. Bill will never be 22 again.

    Cases like this will always create skepticism within the justice system.

    How many more cases are fraud?

    July 31, 2009 at 6:33 am |
  18. Bob

    The system owes that guy at least 5 million dollars and a guarenteed job for life with full benefits.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:32 am |
  19. G.R.

    Right on, A.J., I agree 100 percent. The system did not work, a man's life was ruined. Also, when I read Annie's words, I thought she was saying the guy deserves compensation only because he is white. I hope she did not mean for it to seem that way.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:27 am |
  20. Jeb

    Hey donna, I am pretty sure that any dog alive in 1984 is dead now.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:24 am |
  21. Kwesi Y

    Donna Wood, Lil "Tennessee- You asked what has happened to the dog since the owner's death? This case is from 1981 sweetheart, I can pretty much guarantee you the dog died a long time ago...lol

    July 31, 2009 at 6:21 am |
  22. Derek

    The Orlando Sentinel has been working on this story for the last few months. They've asked the State of Florida to investigate the cases where the dog was used to convict the defendant and see if they were wrongly sent away. Thus far, the State Attorney General and Governor have done nothing.

    Thanks to Scott Maxwell of the Sentinel for keeping on this story, but thank you to Randi for giving it some national attention.

    July 31, 2009 at 6:21 am |
  23. Vicki

    Glad that this guy lived to see himself vindicated. What a horrible thing to have to go through. I hope he gets to do everything he has always dreamed of doing before this awful nightmare started.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:55 am |
  24. Barbara

    I have become very cynical about how citizens are supposed to be protected by our judicial system. I have worked in the judicial system, and I am saddened more and more by those who are in a position to enforce and interpret the law and become complacent in their role to uphold the law. There are many in an authoritive and respected role who have a "good ole boy" following and get away with destroying the laws they're meant to uphold. When those in that position don't uphold the law, there is no law. I don't know a lot about the Innocence Project, but I am grateful for them. Too bad they really don't have the funding to fully carry out their mission to the extent it deserves.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:47 am |
  25. Susan

    As a K9 handler and trainer working on training my own drug dog ..
    I can only tell you that there is alot of people out there who do this kind of thing.
    Security companies who say there dog are fully trained in scent training ,, First off Dogs cant track under water,, secondly scenting after so much time after a murder and hurricane is total ridiclious. and so far fetched ..
    Please dont blame the bred of the dog ,,,Shepards are intelligent.
    There never is a bad Dog only Bad handlers
    Sincerly yours
    Susan

    July 31, 2009 at 5:45 am |
  26. tellyou1nce

    In another dog handling case.. In 2004 Sandra M Anderson was prosecuted for planting evidence for her dog "Eagle" to find:
    [Prosecutors said Anderson faked evidence in several cases in Michigan and Ohio. They said she planted bones in search areas and used her own body fluids to stain a saw blade, coins and a piece of cloth. ]
    I'm wondering how many innocent people are still in prison because of her.
    here is a link to the article... http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-03-11-planted-evidence_x.htm
    by the way... she was facing 65 years.. she ended up getting 21 months..

    July 31, 2009 at 5:41 am |
  27. Michele

    Like SBS, MSbP. in Canada the province of Ont, held an inquest on MANY in jail for so called child abuse and murders. and the junk sceince in courts, opened up jury gate as well, how once accused has little chance against paid government crowns, and hired experts, that teach junk science. SBS now is NO longer to be used in Ontario, and Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy" de bunked, in the UK, down under, in Canada, still alive and well in the States. and injustice to one is an injustice to all,
    JUNK sceince MUST stop, and Judges need to be educated and be the gate keepers of the courts.
    for more, google Goudge inquest or charles smith blog, although it went far further then one Charles Smith, who I think took the fall for others errors.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:34 am |
  28. David

    A.J., you're a racist and Annie is absolutely right.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:31 am |
  29. Jackie Liew

    Really sounded like the movie "Shawshank Redemption". The injustice that have been done to this person for the 22 years more since the fraud has been uncovered is a huge crime. I really hope that the prosecutors are put to jail for framing an innocent man.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:30 am |
  30. WD

    Reopening "closed" cases means the original
    "do'er" is still out there. Which means a new cold investigation. Which means devoting additional expensive resources, or just let the (killer?) get away.

    So going back and digging into "solved" closed cases is not the highest priority of the prosecution. With limited resources they are often viewed as better used addressing current - and more "noisy" - cases.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:19 am |
  31. Korede Oludiran

    With the level of judicial sanity which the world admire the USA for, this is not good enough. I am of a very strong opinion that there are supposed to be some officials in the judicial ministry who are supposed to follow up on judicial/criminal cases of such individuals whose judgments/findings have been used as standards over time (in the judiciary); and pass their findings over to appropriate authorities for further scrutiny of the results arrived at based on the presumed professional methodologies of such individuals.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:17 am |
  32. Truth Be Known

    Wake up people..........America DOES NOT have a justice system. America has a legal system that has been destroyed by lawyers and judges who were lawyers previously. Common sense no longer prevails in the case of weak evidence and district attorneys who believe their job is to secure convictions and not seek justice. The system protects criminals, deadbeats and the irresponsible at the expense of honest and law abiding citizens....just try collecting from someone who has done something as simple as skipping out on rent. You have to pay your own court cost, legal fees and then good luck collecting the money once you do receive a judgment. Shameful, shameful shameful.

    July 31, 2009 at 5:10 am |
  33. ivan

    SHAME............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

    July 31, 2009 at 5:08 am |
  34. ivan

    SHAME!

    July 31, 2009 at 5:07 am |
  35. kyllenthyme

    hey donna, preston died last year
    i'm sure the dog died long before

    July 31, 2009 at 4:50 am |
  36. Fred

    AJ,

    "How do you compensate a man for 26 years of his lift?"

    C A S H

    And lots of it...

    July 31, 2009 at 4:49 am |
  37. Crigger

    There should have been an investigation immediately upon finding out this man was a fraud. There are several people in prison because of fraudulent evidence. I know of two right now. A youth minister in NC, met a young lady online that had lied about her age. He had been counciling her online for quite sometime. She ran away from home and showed up at his appartment. Meantime, her sister informed her parents that she had run away and where she was going. Thirty minutes after she arrived at the ministers appartment the cops showed up. This young lady was underage, a habitual run-away. Upon being confronted by the cops, she began to fabracate her story that the minister had came an picked her up accross state line and took her to his appartment, and had sexually abused her. DNA was taken; but not presented in the court. DFACS was not called and a single police officer transported the young woman back accross the state line (a DFACS worker should have been present). There was no rape kit presented in court and no other evidence. Just the young lady's testimony and that of the cop that arrestedd him. He is serving 40 yrs. in prison.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:34 am |
  38. Lew

    The judicial system is a contest between lawyers not a search for the truth. It's a like a game to them. The people are just game pieces. Often it's politcally motivated (especially for the prosecutors). Getting to the truth is no longer the focus of a court, even though it should be. Perception is everything! Why do you think the media gets information that is supposed to be secured? Duh!

    Police officers are no longer keepers of the peace. They have become agents of the prosecution. They no longer serve real justice or truth. They're just part of the game as well. Like all humans they are flawed and will do things wrong to stay on good terms with their bosses by getting convictions any way possible. Everyone has a price.

    By far, the jails are full of guilty men and women but the fact is mistakes will happen because the people running the system really don't care. They do the job they do because it makes money. They will lie, cheat, and manipulate the system to make sure they keep their jobs, just like anyone else. Until we start holding lazy prosecutors and police accountable for their mistakes, nothing will motivate them to change the way they play the game.

    Jail is a way for society to hide away it's failures. Frankly, the world is full of criminals. We all do things wrong. Everyone has skeletons in their closet. The people in jail are just the one's that got caught! We point fingers at other people's faults so we can ignore our own.

    Keep your receipts, always make sure someone knows where you are or can vouch for your whereabouts because ANYONE including YOU can be made to appear guilty, especially if you get the media involved. Oh, and take a look in the mirror before you go pointing fingers.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:28 am |
  39. BobB

    Far too often people who perjure themselves for the state and are later found out completely escape punishment.

    Those who sheltered the fraudulent dog handler from punishment should be tried and sentenced for obstruction of justice - with any public official's or police officer's breach of trust taken into account at their sentencing.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:28 am |
  40. Richard Smith

    I hope he sues for every day he was in Jail. He should get paid for every day he was locked up, as if he was free and working on a job. If he were free and makeing about $40,000 a year he should be paid $40,000 x 22 Years.

    If was the states fault for not fallowing up on all the cases that the dog was the #1 factor, and informing the inmates.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:27 am |
  41. Sherman

    Donna, the case was from 1981. The dog would have to be at least 30 to still be alive. Probably not the meat of the story here... (Good call Tami)

    On the subject of not thinking, who sits in jail for 24 years while innocent and doesn't bother looking into ways to get out? Something tells me society didn't really miss much of Mr. Dillon's contributions.

    Also, why does it take a year after new evidence proves someone innocent to get them released? Our system has more flaws than can be stomached... This whole story terrifies me.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:25 am |
  42. Andras

    "what happened to the dog since his owners death?"

    Dogs don't live for 26 years....

    July 31, 2009 at 4:20 am |
  43. Josette

    This article is so amazing. We are going through this exact situation. I knew that my son would be found innocent but with a twist of the police officers words, nothing factual (mostly emotion) and the sniffer dog, the entire case changed. We will see what happens. I’m hoping for the best..

    July 31, 2009 at 4:18 am |
  44. Leigh Oats

    Come to funny(-peculiar) Florida. Yet another irremediable tragedy in an injustice system.

    And, dear pot Larissa ("July 30th, 2009 7:18 pm ET"), while we're in copy-editing mode regarding kettles I might as well point out that many a reader has probably been distracted by your nonsensical "as such" in a context that calls for something along the lines of "thus" or "as follows".

    July 31, 2009 at 4:10 am |
  45. Christine

    This article is so amazing. We are going through this exact situation. I knew that my son would be found innocent but with a twist of the police officers words, nothing factual (mostly emotion) and the sniffer dog, the entire case changed. We will see what happens. I'm hoping for the best.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:08 am |
  46. Michael S.M.

    Its been almost 30 years. The dog is dead. The handler is dead. The cases are being investigated. I blame juries for their ignorances when things like this happen. People just assume/take people at their word when they say something is as it is. Its up to the juries to question everything, looking at the case as if they themselves were on trial, and what plausible explanations and evidence there really is.

    July 31, 2009 at 4:01 am |
  47. T

    I've heard of witch trials that made more sense than this. How can so many defendants, so many jurors, and so many judges believe this miracle dog crap without any kind of experimentation. Any competent defense attorney should have demanded some test; and it shouldn't have taken (at least) 3 years and several guilty verdicts for someone to have the common sense to check this clown's story!

    This level of stupidity on account of jurors, judges, and prosecutors is beyond belief. In fact, the judges and prosecutors need to all be investigated for corruption and possibly sent to prison. Stupidity is not a valid defense.

    ...for the record, police, and the entire american legal system have historically been TERRORISTS to Black people in this country. Therefore, while we do appreciate proper delivery of justice, we are forced to view any miscarriage of justice to Blacks as a possible manifestation of this country's legacy. Considering that this country owes much of its wealth to slavery, our suspicion is nothing to complain about. deal with it.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:59 am |
  48. SWM

    What a disgrace. This man deserves enough coin to not have to work again. Losing nearly three decades of his life is enough. However, his compensation should start by selling every asset the corrupt dog handler had and that arrogant jerk belongs in prision himself. I certainly hope Florida reviews every single case the K9 and his owner took part in.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:41 am |
  49. Mel McDonald

    I was the United States Attorney for Arizone between 1981-1985. A
    postal worker was kidnapped and murdered on December 26, 1981.
    The Postal Service brought Preston in as a witness. His dog Harass 2
    supposedly tracked the decedent's footprints and made identification of four native Americans. The FBI Crime Lab later established that the prints attributed by Preston to the decedent came from a different shoe. I was the lead prosecutor on the case.
    Preston also testified in another Arizona case involving the murder of a young girl, Laura Dunn. Her killer was convicted on the basis of Preston's testimony and his "miracle dog." I testified against Preston and it resulted in a new trial. I appeared on ABC 20/20 in 1986 or 1987 where Preston and his dog were exposed as frauds. How could this poor guy sit on death row for 22 years after Preston and his dog were exposed as "frauds." I am sickened by this story. How do you give Mr. Dillon back the quarter century of his life that was taken from him? Why did no one in Florida know about Preston being discredited? Preston was a complete scam artist who had so many people eating out of his hand with the stories of his wonder dog. He proved to be a complete embarrassment to the U.S. Postal Investigators in Arizona and to our office.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:41 am |
  50. Alex

    That is just horrible.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:41 am |
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