Dog identifications not reliable enough to stand as evidence on their own.
By Chuck Lindell
Published: 9:52 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
The state's highest criminal court Wednesday threw out the murder conviction of an East Texas man, ruling that results from controversial dog "scent lineups" are not reliable enough to stand on their own in court.
The decision means that Richard Winfrey Sr. , 56, now serving a 75-year sentence in state prison, is acquitted and will go free.
No physical evidence tied Winfrey to the brutal 2004 murder of a neighbor in Coldspring, about 20 miles east of Huntsville. But three bloodhounds owned and trained by Keith Pikett , a now-retired Fort Bend County deputy sheriff, indicated that they smelled Winfrey's scent on a gauze pad that had been wiped on the victim's clothes and stored in a plastic bag for three years.
A San Jacinto County jury convicted Winfrey of murder based almost entirely on the lineup results, according to Wednesday's decision. On appeal, Winfrey's lawyers claimed the scent lineups were unreliable and quoted scientists and dog experts who found Pikett's methods to be unethical, unprofessional and biased in favor of law enforcement.
Wednesday's decision means prosecutors can continue to introduce scent lineups at trial, but only if the conclusions are supported by other, corroborating evidence.
The unanimous opinion overturned a lower court that affirmed Winfrey's conviction in the murder of Murray Burr, who was badly beaten and stabbed 28 times in his home. No witnesses saw Winfrey at Burr's house. He did not match DNA, fingerprints, a bloody footprint or any of the 73 hairs taken from the crime scene. None of Burr's possessions were found with Winfrey, Hervey noted.
Police also charged two of Winfrey's children with Burr's murder — Megan, who was 16 at the time, and Richard Jr., who was 17.
Megan was found guilty of capital murder, but her brother — after hiring a new lawyer who aggressively challenged the science and methodology behind Pikett's lineups — was acquitted by jurors who deliberated only 13 minutes.
Megan's lawyer, Scott Pawgan , has already begun drafting a supplemental brief in the 9th Court of Appeals based on Wednesday's opinion. "The evidence in Megan's case is almost identical to her father's," Pawgan said.
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