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. Anon

    Hey, Donna Wood, Lil' Tennessee, you're a bit daft, eh? it's been 28 years, I think the dog may be dead, too.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:10 am |
  2. JP Vaillancourt

    What happened to the dog since the owner died last year? Come on, the dog would be at least over 30 by now...the dog died before its owner...

    July 31, 2009 at 8:07 am |
  3. Kilroy

    Guilty or innocent, if the cops come for you, fight for your life. Kill or be killed I say. Better to be dead or on the run than in prision, even for a year.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:06 am |
  4. Ms. Hampton

    Hey Anne,
    Since your so glad the poor mans white, I bet my life that Mr. Preston the so called expert with his dog is too.. Isnt that sad how instead of focusing on the matter at hand you worry about race. What does that say of you. Thankfully he's out and hopehully he can live a normal life.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:04 am |
  5. Uselesstoy

    Is the man truly innocent though? Or was it possibly that an accomplice’s DNA was on the shirt. Or just someone else’s acquainted with the victim? I am sure there was a LOT more evidence used to convict him. And now that he has discovered a loophole because of improper or illegal police procedures we may have set a murderer free. Something tells me that there is a possibility that the man was guilty and the police knew it, but were also aware that they wouldn’t be able to prove it absolutely in a court of law. (IE: for some reason or another his lawyer was going to be able to get some valuable evidence withheld from the trial) sooooo maybe there was a little bit of vigilante justice played out here to get a murderer off the street… Before everybody jumps on me… No I have no idea on the details of this case… Its just a thought.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:03 am |
  6. Dennis

    This is why the justice system depends on honesty and trustworthiness. It is when these standards are violated that something like this happens. This man has unjustly spent more than half of his life behind bars. That is a trajedy. How many others have done so as well. Our systems of justice were based on the notion that, "It is far better for a man to go wrong in freedom than to go right in chains." (Thomas H. Huxley) I don't like the idea of criminals being free but which side would you rather fall on? One criminal obtaining freedom or one innocent person spending 26 years in prison or even worse, being put to death,

    July 31, 2009 at 8:02 am |
  7. Steve

    It is horrid enough to hear of a conviction primarily based upon a dog sniffing out the accused, AFTER 8 days after the murder AND a hurricane!
    And for the courts to give credence to "being able to smell under water" is beyond belief! Do the courts in Florida also give credence to witch doctors and counting horses?

    THEN, to FAIL to investigate the other cases this flea circus visited its malfeasance on!
    I'd have to say that the Florida judicial system is the MOST irresponsible judicial body in the ENTIRE nation!

    I'll keep myself, my family and my business away from the never-never land of Florida! One of US might get convicted on the evidence of a talking tracking flea that only the handler can understand and translate for!

    July 31, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  8. Parnell Meagre

    I am afraid if it were me the first thing I'd do after exiting prison would be to burn the whole state down

    July 31, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  9. Dick

    Having recently had a son incarcerated I cringe at the hell Mr Dillon has had to endure for 26 years.

    Were it "only" being locked up and not to move about freely, it would be bad enough, but, that is just the beginning of it. Prison is a dehumanizing environment in which every aspect of a person's being is challenged, trashed, and forever damaged.

    No compensation is enough for what he has had to endure as an "innocent man".

    I don't know how this was uncovered or by whom but God bless them. Please keep looking at all the others tainted by this sham of Justice.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:01 am |
  10. Mark

    Was there no other evidence other than this dog? Please. Typical CNN reporting leave out the details that may take away from the drama of this story. I agree that if the scent evidence was the highlight of the case, than yes that may have been the clincher that removed the reasonable doubt but I highly doubt the dog just randomly picked some dude off the street and they locked him up for life.

    Remeber folks CNN like any other television, and or website can only operate with advertisments. How do you get those? Get the most people to watch your show by blowing up stories to look like there are conspiracies at every corner and when they are wrong, ie (Gates in Boston), make a story out of that as well.

    July 31, 2009 at 8:00 am |
  11. jrae

    Larissa – are you serious with your little grammar lesson?

    July 31, 2009 at 8:00 am |
  12. Cameron

    wow what kind of idiot believes that a dog can smell a trail under water.
    And this is from judges and lawers who have spent years in school.
    Thats Southern Justice for ya

    July 31, 2009 at 7:59 am |
  13. Todd

    This man is definitely owed compensation, but another travesty is the fact that the person who did committ this crime has been free for 26 years. Unless of course he has been convicted of other unrelated crimes.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:57 am |
  14. system failed

    Whether he is white or black, the system failed. Tear away from the race statement. The problem that we all are having of all races are problems with the judicial system in how they conduct their investigations. Their are persons behind these position that does not consider the evidence as key information, and for that reason accountability should be presented of its findings. Dillon, should be compensated for many of reasons.

    The colour of skin does not perpetual your action, for we cannot change it. It is the characteristic is which lies inside that shows the real you and with that you have the responsibility to change your behaviour.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:56 am |
  15. Nancy

    Are you serious with that question? The whole article was talking about events that took place in 1981-1984. The article then says the owner died last year, in 2008. What planet do you live on? Do you think the dog is still living 27 years later making it more than three times older than the average dog lives. The dog has been dead for YEARS. I just wish Preston was still alive so Dillon could get out of jail and pay him a little visit. The criminal system is flawed for not immediately notifying Preston that the main piece of evidence in his case was not legitimate. Hopefully Preston gets some years back but it will be impossible to make up those precious missed years he spent in a prison.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  16. Chris Novy

    Yet another case where the unquestionable testimony of supposedly unbiased eyewitnesses, incompetent forensics specialists, fame-seeking paid "expert witnesses", or overzealous prosecutors has sent an innocent person to prison. The lack of DNA evidence doesn't guarantee innocence but I have seen too many examples of sloppy prosecution work that I am now in favor of revisiting cases where DNA might exonerate falsely accused persons –regardless of the monetary cost. The reluctance of courts to re-examine significant cases suggests they know they've railroaded people and are now trying to hide their tracks.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  17. Todd

    Annie can you please tell me how you were able to turn a story about a wrongly convicted man in a racial issue? I re-read the story and there is no mention of race anywhere.

    Your politicizing of the issue for your own conservative agenda is assinine.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  18. Tsio Kop

    nne, no one was talking about race until you brought it up. Victmoligist.....takes one to know one.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:53 am |
  19. Honest Abe

    I understood what Annie meant... And, She wasn't being a racist!
    Since this is a white male... Where's Obama or Al Sharpton? No where to be found. It's less coverage and not really important... This article will be lost within 4 days. But, if this was a black man it would be on 24-7 for a month! And, good ole Al Sharpton would set up a trust fund for him and cry racism. That's reality... A.J....

    July 31, 2009 at 7:52 am |
  20. Keith

    The dog was discovered as a fraud in 1984 and discredited again in 1987 but he remained in jail for another 25 years. Sounds like the DA was padding his resume to try and become State Attorney General. Everycase where the dog was primary source of evidence needs to be looked at. No conspiracy my @$$. Dillon needs to sue, be handsomely rewarded and make the TV rounds to bring this injustice to light.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:51 am |
  21. Harmon

    If you are a poor person in this country you will never get adequate legal representation. You simply cannot afford the best legal defense that money can buy. You are facing the might and wealth of the state.

    Cases such as this are a travesty in our justice system. However, at least Mr. Dillon is now a free man. Every person convicted as a result of Mr. Preston's dog needs to have their case reviewed and have the benefit of modern forensic technology used to determine their guilt or innocence.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:51 am |
  22. brian a

    What happened to the dog??? Are you kidding? The dog was used to lock this man up in 1981... here we are 28 years later. That dog is long dead.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:50 am |
  23. KS

    Bill Dillon is not the first man freed after being convicted with evidence from Preston; he is the third. And to this day Florida's idiot Governor and moron Attorney General both say that it is beyong their jurisdiction to call for a review of all cases involving evidence from Preston.

    Beware America: Governor Charlie Crist is planning to run for the Senate in 2010 and there are rumors of a White House run in 2012. Don't fall for the tan and the happy smile, the man is worthless.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:50 am |
  24. Martin

    So, now that this dirty laundry has been aired, we can see how this state had a total lack of sense when it came to voting:).

    The State of Florida really needs to take a good hard look at who they appoint as Prosecutors. The prosecutor who put this guy away for no reason should be disbarred, if he is still in practice. And then, he and the State of Florida should be sued for wrongful imprisionment/persecution.

    This case is going to open up some major cans of worms here. Can't wait to see who else is going to be set free.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:50 am |
  25. Mike

    Larissa ~

    How exactly does one become a freelance copy editor? I'm serious and interested. Do you have an email address to discuss away from here?


    July 31, 2009 at 7:49 am |
  26. Wayne

    Donna – a 26 year old Dog. You're kidding right?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:49 am |
  27. BeE Bop

    What seems most unbelievable to me about this is that there is no investigation in to possible misconduct of the prosecutor/prosecutors and investigating detectives who used this guy as an expert witness? And how is it so obvious to every one that the claims about the dog were unbelievable and yet ABC or any other news agency questioned the claims of the dogs abilities? It seems to me that any one of the police, investigators, the prosecuting attorney's and the District attorney should be investigated for witness and evidence tampering and lying. Any of them found guilty should go to jail for at least the same amount of time as this individual. Basically they committed the crime of kidnapping and false imprisonment. Had he been sentenced to death they would have committed premeditated homicide or attempted homicide. There are a lot of good people in the justice system, but the bad ones need to be punished. But no surprise they go unpunished. The medical community does the same thing, the backup and protect the bad doctors and nurses. 90% of medical mistakes are made by 10% of the doctors and nurses. Our justice system is no different. Why does it continue? Because we the public don't demand justice.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:48 am |
  28. Kafka


    This is about a much larger problem which seems to be systemic throughout law enforcement in general. Especially in Texas and Florida. I assume by now everyone has viewed the video of the Florida cops conspiring to frame a woman for a traffic accident she was not responsible for.

    I find it odd that the only thing you get from this is an issue involving race. So, who's actually the bigot?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:47 am |
  29. Mark Lovett

    Its a horrific injustice this man spent most of his life behind bars because of the incompetence of others and a dumb dog. what should one expect from a redneck state like Florida.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:47 am |
  30. Sean

    I used to be for the death penalty, an eye for an eye. Unfortunately, this sort if thing happens so often in our "justice" system that it cannot be ignored. I wonder how many innocent people have been executed throughout the years because of these "experts".

    July 31, 2009 at 7:42 am |
  31. looking4trth

    Why does it always take 10 times longer to free the innocent than it did to lock them up?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:40 am |
  32. John

    I think you can be pretty certain that the dog died well before the owner. This happened in 1981...

    July 31, 2009 at 7:39 am |
  33. Lorenzo

    So-called eyewitness accounts from untrained bystanders or victims, unreliable tracking dogs, ... how is it that juries can convict with "beyond a reasonable doubt"? I would think that any of these types of evidence can and should always reasonably be doubted. They are just too unreliable for a criminal conviction.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:38 am |
  34. Bill

    This is the problem of crooked cops. They are everywhere and they do this all the time. Demand legislation doubling criminal penalties for lying cops, crooked prosecutors and anyone else involved in ruining peoples lives in the worst possible way, which prison, I'd rather be dead.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:37 am |
  35. JC

    I have been following this case for over a year. Mr. Russo is our Public Defender here in Brevard County and Mr. Parillo has been representing Mr. Dillon. Brevard County Prosecutors office fought all attempts by the Public Defender's Office and Project Innocence to bring this grave injustice to light. They have even tried to keep Mr. Dillon from collecting any monies from the state due to a "former conviction" I think it was an arrest for marijuana. Most people with eyes wide open will attest to the horrible justice system here in Brevard County. What a State! and What a state.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:36 am |
  36. Mary

    America has the HIGHEST INCARCERATION RATE IN THE WORLD. As long as Americans are eager to send other Americans to prison - including those who commit victimless "crimes" - we will continue to be Number One.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:36 am |
  37. Carlos

    You must be a public prosecutor....atleast you sound like one...

    July 31, 2009 at 7:35 am |
  38. JD

    1) The State of Florida needs to getting working, 24/7 if neccesary, reopening cases involving this evidence and freeing those wrongfully incarcerated. Yes it will mean working weekends and holidays.

    2) As for race, gender, religious beliefs, age.........enough.

    3) As for compensation, yes Mr Dillon and for that matter anyone else wrongfully incarcerated reparations need to be made, how about a million dollars tax free for each year. Frankly I wouldnt have traded my freedom for any amount of money so it surely wouldnt be an incentive to test the justice system. Oh and where should the money come from, as much as possible from those involved in this scheme, the rest from the state of florida. That should teach the people of Florida to get involved with their government and not allow such backwoods shenanigans.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:35 am |
  39. rhood

    I have no sympathy for those who commit murder. But it's cases like these where an innocent man is convicted, which while common does happen more than we'd like to admit, that make me unable to support the death penalty. But still the thought of losing 26 years of ones life, especially one's prime years where you generally get married, raise a family, etc is almost worse than a death penalty. How does society make up for that to the wronged?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:34 am |
  40. Doggone

    I believe the dog is buried in France's famous pet cemetary. There's actually no reason for me to believe that... but I do. I feel it in my heart somehow.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:33 am |
  41. Anne

    Wow. What a waste of a life in prison. Totally innocent guy had to endure 26 years in prison when other convicted crimials are sentenced to rediculously low sentences, even when proven guilty. I don't lay any blame on the dog.... it was the owner!! Idiot!! I wish you well Bill and I hope you get compensation.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:31 am |
  42. brian

    are the police and prosecuters going to be free of all blame for this
    injustice. How is it possible that such stupidity can be presented in
    such a .way that a person is so wrongly treated. Did the real murderer ever get caught. This is not the first time that evidence has proved that people have been unjustly imprisoned and not released because the prosecution still believes that they were guilty.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:30 am |
  43. Mark

    This is very sad story indeed!
    Regarding Larissa's comments, I have to agree with her. The intro paragraph states "because the dog and the dog’s owner has been exposed as a fraud. " That should have been "because the dog and the dog’s owner HAVE been exposed as a fraud. "

    Very sad! Let's hope that Mr. Dillon can return to society as a funtional citizen after so much time in prison!

    July 31, 2009 at 7:28 am |
  44. maddawg

    i'm glad he's white too....NOW maybe those typical social biggots that always claim 'the white man got us down' blah, blah, blah....will shut their mouths and keep their racism to themselves!!!

    lmao.....racism is for the biggots like that prof. gates.

    they use it to distract, garner attention and as a crutch....nothing new there......oh...'what do i mean by "THEY"?'

    I MEAN ALL OF YOU THAT BRING UP RACE AS A DAILY ISSUE...you know who you are and so do i.

    it's the biggots like gates, and there are many of them, that keep racism alive in this country.

    race had no part in the officers duties but gates HAD to make it the focal point of the issue at hand.......he got what he deserved and i would have gotten worse had i acted up to the pigs like he did....they turned soft, yellow and cowardly when they dropped the charges...but what's new there?

    yea......racism is kept alive by those that need it most....like gates!

    July 31, 2009 at 7:26 am |
  45. Anshuman Mishra

    The guy was in prime of his life when sentenced, he lost his skills, education and reputation and now has to just start the count-down.

    Should not the deptt. be more cautious in handling such cases, like verifying the dog's claim by other sources espcially when the sentence is so harsh.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:26 am |
  46. Erik Gronning

    This is a complete travesty of justice! Every one of the detectives and DA involved in cases where this trainer and dog were involved should be Federally investigated. That this fraud was discovered in 1984 and nothing was ever done is inexcusable. Florida judicial system has a dark dark stain on it. THIS MUST BE INVESTIGATED!!!

    July 31, 2009 at 7:26 am |
  47. Neal

    No way that Donna still thinks the dogs alive.........

    July 31, 2009 at 7:25 am |
  48. DWhite

    Donna Wood asks "And what happened to the dog since his owners death?"

    Huh? What part of 26 years ago is confusing to you? I'm guessing that the dog will remain buried where he likely has been for the last 15 years.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:23 am |
  49. Matt

    Donna, I would assume the dog wouldn't live 26+ years.

    July 31, 2009 at 7:18 am |
  50. Roland

    Typical "Justice in Anerica". As a 20 year vetran of our armed forces I feel ashamed of the corrupt law enforcement and our judicial system I helped perpetuate. The goal of conviction at all costs regardless of guilt is an abomination worthy of third world countries.

    Only the rich and powerful can expect justice and even then it bought and paid for. No one will ever be prosocuted for crimes like these because that would mean the Government failed and that is not something the people in power will ever admit.

    The people are seen as the enemy of the Government by those in power. Justice be damned!

    July 31, 2009 at 7:17 am |
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