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. B. G.

    I am shocked - SHOCKED - to hear that a prosecutor would lie and fabricate evidence and destroy an innocent man's life just for the sake of getting another conviction.

    Its too bad Sotomayor is another prosecutor.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:34 am |
  2. Maya Puskovic

    I wonder why his family didn't try to keep up with the case and try to save their son/brother... if anyone in my family went to jail , I would work tirelesly until I got them out. This poor boy was just all forgatten about... it would had been so easy to appeal the verdict

    July 31, 2009 at 3:33 am |
  3. flanding

    Liberal victimologists? How assumptive.

    And the freelance copy editor...your changes would make the article seem like it was written by a machine; far less human, less approachable and personal. There's too much distance in your suggestions. What should be typed if one wishes to pause right where the first comma is in the first paragraph?

    Most copy editors try to reduce everything to dialog from Dragnet.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:31 am |
  4. V.P.

    The real murderer could still be out there in Florida free to do whatever.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:28 am |
  5. Bandot

    Yes the US justice system, a find system that states you are guilty till proven innocent. Its a sorry fact but true. I wonder how many other innocent people have been railroaded in this same manner.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:23 am |
  6. Tom Driskill

    Well, Donna,I can tell you what that dog has been doing since it's owner's death last year.
    The same thing it's been doing for years before that. Nothing. it's dead. It would be so far over 100 years old in human years that the odds are about one in a million that it's alive today. German Shepherds don't live as long as many breeds of dog. I've never heard of any that have reached 25 years. Dog years are ten to one for the first two years 2=20 then following years are about 4 to 1 so at 4=28 and 6 dog years equal about 36 human yearsand 10=52 and 15=72 and 20=92 and 25=112 So, I estimate the dog went to doggie heaven soon after he outlived his usefulness as a money maker and the cold, heartless son-of-a-human owner probably took it out for it's last walk as soon as Alpo went up a few pennies a can.
    The dude who did the time could settle without breaking a sweat for millions. He could do a lot of good with that kind of money.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:22 am |
  7. AA

    The only way to end this type of systemic and prosecutorial abuse is to increase the level of criminal liability imposed on prosecutors and police for wrongful persecution that is the generally driven by the desire to buld a "success record" leading to re-election, promotion or lucrative private sector jobs at the expense of the truth...

    July 31, 2009 at 3:20 am |

    We all know that justice delayed is justice denied.
    .........It's really sympathetic! The man should as matter of urgency be conpensated.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:20 am |
  9. Ali

    Broken Hearted Mom, I am so sorry to hear of your son's incarceration based on 'smell evidence', and I do believe that prayer changes things. I will pray for your son, and although I don't know your son's name, God will know who I am praying for. It's hard to believe that our justice system is so flawed as to convict people on 'evidence' submitted by an animal, an animal that has no reason and whose sense could be triggered by anything. It's a shame.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:19 am |
  10. Jeff Reason

    Dillion is right on when he states :
    "Preston and his scent-tracking dog were part of a larger conspiracy.
    “Preston could lead the dog to the suspect or the evidence. 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.”

    The cops and the prosecutors are the real criminals here. This is exactly how they operate. They did not bother reviewing their past cases as they are immune from wrong doing. Make them accountable and you wont be reading about such injustices.

    America has only 5% of the worlds population. Yet it holds 25% of all the worlds prisoners. Land of the free, not by a long shot.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:16 am |
  11. Anand

    I am from India and I feel terrible reading the fate of Dillon. He spent 26 years of his youth in prison for a crime he never committed. The story says Preston's fraud was exposed in 1984..why dint nobody think of Dillon's conviction that was based on a fraudster's testimony . Why dint they order a re-trial ?

    Dillion cant get his past life back and i hope the authorities will pay him a compensation that helps him live the rest of his life in peace and dignity

    July 31, 2009 at 3:16 am |
  12. Mike

    Why are you jumping on Annie, and how is her view racial?

    She's one hundred percent correct. The same thing happened with Obama and Gates. The lady who called 911 was determined by media to portray those who had been in suspect of robbery to be "black" males. The national media jumped on it and people made assumptions and were calling for her namesake as a racist, when she did nothing of the sort, and the tape actually has her describing one of the suspected robbers as a "Hispanic" , and neither as black or african american. The public outcries are dispicable. I recall all constituents of a Philadelphia pool being called racist after a camp of children who happened to be all African American were asked to stop coming back because the pool claimed they were under-staffed and unable to keep an eye on the kids from the camp. Just because one ignorant person made a comment about the kids all being African-American the club tried to make it seem they were refunded their contract because the entire club was racist. Then, an African American lady who was apparenly irate had the audacity to insinuate the entire pool and its members were all racist. She was some legal analyst too. How I don't know. I believe it was something along the lines of "Well now they (the members and board of the pool) won't have a pool (to swim in)." New racism at its finest. I am a white 20 year old who attends college and not once have i ever had a friend who preferred to be called African-American to black. This new racism is disgusting. Many of our generation grew up without racial slurs, and none of our friends were slaves, or had living family who were slaves. My family is third generation out of Italy, and needless to say, we have never owned slaves. Yet I feel at times that there is some inborn hatred against myself and others not unlike myself as perceived as white. I don't owe any one reperations for slavery the same way I don't believe I should be paying social security when I'm never going to see a dime. I'm not some priviledged kid getting a degree because I am white, I'm taking out loans and getting grants for my academics. I will basically have a house payment by the end of my senoir year, as it stands about 48,000 in debt. It's not being a racist, it's being a realist. I'm tired of everyone else making a big deal when it's nothing. It's sad that those who are supposed to be elderly and experienced arguing about the issues of yestercentury.

    All men are created equal.
    It goes both ways.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:15 am |
  13. Homer Simpson

    Larissa...I hope you feel better,,,Everone is impressed. Get a job

    July 31, 2009 at 3:14 am |
  14. JP

    To A.J.'s statement: I don't think it's racist to represent a view different than that of other racists. I think that constitutes merely a complaint. Again, if a white person doesn't agree with a black racist, the basis for that disagreement might also be an affinity for reason and logic and not a disdain for skin color. Also, I don't think that "superiorness" is actually an English word.

    To Annie's statement: You're probably right because, given the state of popular strife in the US, it's an easy assumption. However, I don't think it was worth mentioning here.

    It's nice that the fellow was released, but he's likely got a long road ahead of him. I don't suspect he'll make it.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:13 am |
  15. Homer Simpson

    April..quick question...how is Annie making things worse...I believe nothing has changed...let me know if thing are worse..

    July 31, 2009 at 3:12 am |
  16. Fred

    Don't you all know by now that prosecutors are more interested in their win-loss record than in truth and justice? It's the American way.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:11 am |
  17. Homer Simpson

    Donna- i wanted to answer your question about if these cases will still be investigated..I too was concerend but i did some reading and this is what I came up with...

    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.

    Let me know what u think?

    July 31, 2009 at 3:08 am |
  18. Homer Simpson

    Donna-i did some research for you..the dog died along time ago. I am a dog lover myself and i was also concerned about the fate of the 36 year old dog. But yes he is dead. So no worries about what happens to the dog.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:03 am |
  19. gerald


    This your comment is the exact reason why the fear and desperation that is being exuded becuase of an honestly deep seeded feeling of losing one's supposed hold on power holds no wieght what so ever and also is soo devoid of a well though out position that it behooves me to no end. Instead of looking at this guy and saying and asking why the first knee jerk reaction for you is to say something as dumb as "Im glad this guy was white " . And im sure the words " I'm not a racist " will come from you at some point in the future or maybe you have already said them at one time or another lol.

    Now as for MR Bill Dillion may God continue to shine his blessings onto him for which he has suffered a very great injustice.. This is why we as African Americans speak out so much against actions like this . Unfortunately to us merely for the color of our skin . But by speaking out and standing up both white and black and also any other race and/or ethnicty will not suffer the same injustices . I do afeel unfornately we get lost on the big picture and that is to stand up against such abuse of power by anyone in the position to have such a drastic effect on someone's life. Mr Dillion deserves the support of anyone who stands up for him. This is wrong flat out and if were in any situation beyond merely being pulled over while driving black which has happend to me numberous of times in younger< I have and will continue to ask questions and address my concerns so that maybe the authorites can do thier jobs better . Heck my tax dollars deserve not good but great work ..

    July 31, 2009 at 3:03 am |
  20. karen crockett

    Preston never charged with perjury ? in the state of Florida in the 80's?

    home to the ' good old boys' network?

    THERE is your conspiracy...............follow the money

    July 31, 2009 at 3:03 am |
  21. nina

    April and Annie:

    we all know that there have been cases of great disjustice on both sides. But statistics show that minorities numbers are much higher. (That is not being racist, that is fact). Now that we have systems that I.D DNA, justice will be served. Justice is blind and sometimes you have to wait for technology to catch up to clear your name. Better late than never. The people may have an opportunity to file a suit against the city that hired an imcompetent person to do professional work, so they won't have to struggle so when they are finally released.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:03 am |
  22. Not that dumb

    Gee, Donna, since this was in 1981, I think it's safe to say the dog died long before the owner did in '08. Are you stupid, or just southern?

    July 31, 2009 at 3:02 am |
  23. cm

    So sad. I don't think Anne means what she said in a racist way. I think a better way to say what she was trying to say is that the mistreats everyone equally. Anyway, I find it unconscionable the dog handler was never charged, and even worse that the state didn't bother to go back and check on prior cases. That's just sick. I don't just want compensation for these men - compensation comes from my pocket in the form of taxes - I want CHANGE. I don't want this to happen any more, to anyone, White, Black, or, in my case, Asian.

    July 31, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  24. Joe

    John Z. DeLorean and O.J. Simpson are two prime examples of how our justice system doesn't work, this was just another nail in the coffin for a system that needs to be fixed. I wonder if this guy just didn't have the money it takes to refute the evidence. The stronger the evidence, the more it costs!

    July 31, 2009 at 3:00 am |
  25. Dennis

    Aaron, if you think our judicial system is a failure then please dont freak out when it gets worse! Sotomayor will make it worse, since she evidently has ulterior motives. ie judging not one of those motives.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:58 am |
  26. Meshal Alyousof

    excuse me, there is a big question mark under this event.Now , what should the government do for this man. He lost 26 years of his life in the jail because the dog hadn't sniffed him very well. HAS the government give him at least 100 million dollars because of this mess.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:57 am |
  27. Iris in Arizona

    A.J., it's interesting your comment about Black men likely being convicted by this fraud; the man in the picture is white or did you not notice? Do you have any facts to support for your supposition? I'm sick of the cops vs race (black, latino, etc.) aurgument. White people committ as many crimes as any other race. (BTW, I am white and I am not very proud of that fact these days because some very ugly crimes are committed by white people) while non-white folks are making our world a better place to live and I am NOT refering to our president and his family.

    We have a God-given brain and the abilitiy to analyze, scrutinize, and think for ourselves. I have great respect for Anderson Cooper, but just because he is a journalist with an excellent reputation do not give up your critical thinking skills because someone has "reported the news". Dig deeper, go to other sources to check the "facts", and always, always "Trust, but Verify". IMHO.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:55 am |
  28. hason j

    its too bad there isnt anyone to convict. Maybe Dillon and other potential victims can sue the state's judicial system. It seems that the state had plenty of opportunities to review these cases, but failed to do so.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:54 am |
  29. Jermaine

    this is a said story. it goes to show you how much we need to modify and change are judicial system, because I'm sure there are many more people in prison sitting for crimes they didn't committed. dont get me wrong, i think we have the best justice system in the world, but i think in situations like that we have room for improvement. you don't convict a man on just a mere testimony from a man proclaiming his dog can smell under wate and that his dog smell a sent from the victim to dillion, that is rumbish. i think we really went away from the justice scale and the idea of without reasonable doubt. for god sake they didnt have a murder weapon, they didnt have dillions finger print on any murder weapon. so how do we change this we got to get it right. it flat out wrong and its not justice but yet injustice, some prosecutor would do anything to just win a case even if they know wha they are arguing is crap, if they can find somebody to pin the case on and make it stick they will do just that it dont matter if you are guilty or not. the system have to start carrying justice out about the right way

    July 31, 2009 at 2:53 am |
  30. R. Walz

    Dillon should be living the rest of his life as a millionaire, he should sue that state to the limit.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:52 am |
  31. Josh

    Anna is right.

    this is a horrible case and something horrible to have happen to someone who is innocent. i'm glad that Mr. Dillon found out about the dog being faulty, even if it was so many years after the fact

    July 31, 2009 at 2:51 am |
  32. Edward

    Radi, please post more information about who's running Project Innocence. Hopefully article like this one will inspire more people to join or donate. We need people like this to help the innocents who are still in jail.

    Perhaps interviewing the judge who found out Preston is a crook will make this article extra interesting.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:49 am |
  33. Kalvin Lathan

    Annie you don't get it because you believe things like this can happen in your lilly white world. Sh*t happens all the time but people move on and it has nothing to do with color. For the most part our judicial system works 98% of the time but every now and then these kind of frauds are exposed.
    Oh Annie I bet you believe profiling doesn't exist either. Years ago when I working my way through college I had to take a night job I can't tell you how many times I was pulled over for no reason at all. Routine stop maybe. I survived and so does the system God Bless this republic it is still the greatest country on Earth.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:48 am |
  34. Cara

    I love the fact that someone made reference to being happy the "Guy" is white...There are plenty of Blacks in prison falsely accused and believe it or not, some of them are "White" Our society is such a sham...

    July 31, 2009 at 2:47 am |
  35. judy c

    im glad he is free for something he didnt do.its sad to waste that many years away.for nothing.may god be with him in every way.judy of west virginia

    July 31, 2009 at 2:45 am |
  36. bj

    See, for this reason only I never trust american justice department. Simply the system is too faulty to be corrected. I think too many innosent people have been and will be convicted in USA due to glitches in system and no one can do nothing to save them.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:45 am |
  37. K.M.

    In an Illinois case, the 1983 rape/murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico,
    an innocent man was sent to prison on the strength an "expert" witness in shoe prints. In this case, a boot print on the front door. The boot print was smudged, and the expert came up with such esoterica, that no one could refute her. She was subsequently exposed in another case, and the man was eventually let out of prison after a lengthy stay. She, like this guy, unfortunately went to her grave before she could be exposed as a fraud. Just within the last few days, Brian Dugan has agreed to confess to her murder. He had been willing to confess for a long time, if the death penalty was off the table. Now he will take what the jury gives him.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:42 am |
  38. James

    The problem with our criminal justice system is something our new U.S. Attorney General Holder has already acknowledged with respect to the withholding of exculpatory evidence by the U.S. district attorney's office while prosecuting Senator Stevens in Alaska. The problem is that the success of prosecutors, whether state or federal, is judged almost solely based upon their rate of convictions, not on whether justice is done. Prosecutors sometimes bend the rules because they think they "know things" that they just can't prove and they fear guilty parties will walk unless they cheat. Their job then ceases to be about justice and becomes a score card where a conviction is a win, regardless of whether it is based on what really happened.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:42 am |
  39. David Hetland

    Mr. President, you intervened for a man that spent 4 hours in jail by a law officer that may or may not have over reacted. It took you less then 10 days to intervene in the life of one man. Today hundreds if not thousands of men and women continue to have lives thrown away and waste away for years if not lifetimes when gross negligence and evidence clearly points to their innocence after their convictions. Why do we make a national media event out of a 4 hour inconvenience while authorities continue to ignore gross injustice. If you want to spend your time intervening on possible unfairness why don’t you call for a justice department commission to address as rapidly as you did for one man the obvious crimes of injustice that daily destroy lives all across this nation.

    Respectfully, Davd Hetland, Bothell WA

    July 31, 2009 at 2:41 am |
  40. Janis

    Mr. Dillon needs to be re-intoduced into society and given instruction on how to live on a daily basis (marketing, handling a check-book, job interview preparation); he should be given assistance in housing and a job search and be compensated by the State for the 26 years that he gave up.

    Compassion is needed here.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:38 am |
  41. John Dinwiddie

    Compensation. What is it about this country that
    makes that issue debatable? This man should
    get a million for every year in prison. Anyone still
    living who was a part of this hound dog railroading
    should serve the time that was subtracted from his life.

    I have zero tolerance for a story like this, zero
    compassion for the criminals in law enforcement
    who did it.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:37 am |
  42. Patty

    In response to theprevious comment, The article stated that the dog handler died last year. The convicted man had spent 26 years in prison. I would think the dog passed on years ago.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:37 am |
  43. M.D.

    Agreed with Annie,

    good thing hes white or the race card would be brought out. This poor guy has to be getting restitution.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:36 am |
  44. Iris in Arizona

    There are three sides to every story: "Yours" "mine" and the "truth". Since we do not know all the details of this case because of space and advertising sponsership, we will never know the "truth". When I read a "news" story I am always asking for the "Rest of the Story" (channeling Paul Harvey).

    While CNN used to be a retuable news source, I've notice lately the unrealibilty (and sensationalism) of the stories (shame on you...) in the name of readership. Free Press? It's only free because someone is paying advertising for the space.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:35 am |
  45. Tom

    Did they execute anyone based on Preston's fake evidence ?

    This guy is among the worst I've ever heard of. There is no explanation for knowingly rob people of their freedom, based on fake evidence, other than sadism and a truly evil character.

    How the state of Florida didn't revisit the jusrisdictional cases where Preston was involved, is beyond me. Isn't this being complicit in a crime ?

    July 31, 2009 at 2:35 am |
  46. Annie's Right, Like It Or Not

    Well, she made a valid point, everyone. An innocent man was convicted and lost over a quarter century's worth of life, but because he's white, this will receive nowhere near the attention that the Gates vs. Crowley stupidity has reached. AJ fails: nobody said blacks weren't convicted on the strength of this "tracking dog." (And in case you didn't read the article, Preston and his dog never convicted anyone. Juries did.) What Annie said was that "had he been black all the liberal victimologists would be screaming bloody racism." That is true. You're going to have to get over it.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:35 am |
  47. Gibbs wamambo,Zimbabwe.

    Shame on your judiciary.Its a must that all cases in connection with dog and the handler be reviewed.In any casethe prosecutors MUST be sued and prosecuted.Bill must be companseted by the state and the prosecutors involved in the case.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:35 am |
  48. iom

    Well i hope he gets some money in reparation.
    How many milliions are 26 years worth ?
    I'd say a good 20 millions.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:34 am |
  49. Anna

    Sadly, this is not the first time someone was wrongly convicted. And in other cases, poor innocent souls have been executed. Something needs to change!

    July 31, 2009 at 2:33 am |
  50. Jolene

    And this is why I don't support the death penalty.

    July 31, 2009 at 2:33 am |
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