William Dillon

While in my last post I was grateful that an execution had not taken place in a fast manner as things in the era of that crime were, in this case I am simply grateful that an execution was not ordered.  You may have noticed that several of my blogs late have been related to exonerations, and also that many of them have come out of the state of Florida.  Well, that is going to happen as I work down my list of names.  There are going to be clusters of cases sometimes in which there are similarities.  Sometimes the names made it to my list from another list of some kind.  Today it is exonerations, tomorrow it may be executions or some other similarity.  That is just the way that it goes it seems.

William Dillon spent twenty seven years in prison for a crime that he had always claimed he had not committed.  It is true that a vast majority of people who have been accused of crimes deny their guilty and it is understandable that those people are often not believed.  However, one has to ask why then it seems that while we do not believe those who say they are innocent, we tend to believe all of those who say the person is guilty.  Now, granted I am not going to sit here and sound like Dr. Gregory House (if you do not get the reference, it is from the television show House) and say that "everybody lies." But I will say that not everyone tells the truth.  Take for example that a man goes on trial for rape and claims his innocence but is convicted and it is all but proven he was the perpetrator.  That same man may one day claim to have heard a fellow inmate confess to a crime and a prosecutor will get him on the stand and tell a jury to believe what he says.  This happens all too often.  And again, I am not saying that every that has ever gotten on a stand and stated a fellow inmate confessed to a crime is lying, but I am however pointing out the hypocrisy of the system.  

On August 17, 1981 a man by the name of James Dvorak was beaten and left in the a wooded area near Canova Beach Florida in Brevard County.  His body would not be found until the following day.  When it was announced to the media a man contacted the police department and informed them that he believed he had given the killer a ride from the crime scene.  The man would say that he had been driving when he picked up a hitchhiker on the side of the road.  He said the man was about six foot tall with a mustache and that he was wearing a bright yellow shirt with the words "Surf It" written on it and was covered in what he thought looked like blood.  The man said he eventually dropped the hitchhiker off at a tavern a few miles away but not before they had engaged in oral sex in his truck first.  Later the man realized that the hitchhiker had left his bloody shirt in his truck so the man had dumped it in a trash can near a store. The police immediately went and recovered the shirt.  

Five days later William Dillon and his brother were on the beach when law enforcement went around asking questions. While I could find nothing specific as to what was said my research stated that officers were suspicious of William and took him to the station for more questions. 

Soon after investigators brought a man named John Preston into the case. Preston had been used across the country and in several cases in Florida.  He ran a business in which he had a "scent-tracking" dog.  It would later be said that through his dog Preston linked the bloody shirt to the crime scene and then connected the shirt to a piece of paper in which William Dillon had supposedly touched.  It was after this that William Dillon was arrested and charged with murder on August 26th.

I am going to stop here for a bit and discuss not just Preston but the idea of trained dogs. First, a few years after Dillon would be convicted of this crime Preston's methods and qualifications came into question.  A judge in Arizona would call Preston a "charlatan" after looking into his practices and his dog failed an accuracy test.  Preston had been involved in 100's of cases and was credited with "countless" convictions.

Several years ago I did some research not necessarily on every aspect of dogs that are trained in areas but in drug sniffing dogs and I was utterly amazed at what I had found.  My husband and I had been pulled over by an officer one day and when we asked the reason we were told it was because he had failed to use a turn signal leaving a bank.  We later learned this was not the reason and that the real reason was that as passing an officer in a parking lot he had read my license plate incorrectly through his rear view mirror and the plate had come up as a stolen plate and/or vehicle, which was obviously would have been quickly resolved.  However, before we were aware of that our car was surrounded by local, county and state undercover units as well as a K-9 unit.  We were asked if we gave permission for the dog and we readily agreed.  Soon we were told that the dog had "hit" on my car and we were asked if there were drugs inside.  We stated no and that there never had been.  The officers went to the car and after several minutes of looking and all but throwing everything we owned around (we were actually packed to go to a hotel that evening for our anniversary) the undercover officer that was there ended the search. After nearly an hour we were released.  I was angry and wondered just how these dogs worked.  The dog had simply sat when we were told he "alerted" and I was ill informed as to their commands.  My research indicated that these "trained" dogs only had to be 40% accurate to be certified and that the handlers were not required to kept any records, including false positive hits.  Sadly the only cases that seem to have gone through the courts with them pertained to cases in which drugs actually had been found so fighting the accuracy of the dog seemed mute.  

My point in this is that a man was arrested and charged with murder based on the fact that a dog handler had stated a shirt that was presumably the one wore by the killer (remember DNA was not available in 1981) had been linked to the crime scene and the defendant.  Preston testified in William Dillon's trial to his "findings."  However in 2008 a judge in Brevard County, where Dillon had been tried way back in 1981 concluded that Preston was used "to confirm the states preconceived notions." He also stated that dog scent identifications was not a validated science and other wrongful conviction have been overturned due to DNA testing after a dog, often one of Preston's, had said otherwise.

But, talking about Preston I got ahead of myself and away from the timeline of the story. Dillon's trial began in late November, just over three months after the crime.  There were four main witnesses against him.  One of course was Preston who I just discussed.  Another was his former girlfriend.  She testified she saw Dillon wearing the now infamous yellow "Surf It" t-shirt AND standing over the body of James Dvorak. She seemed to be a bit contradictory in her testimony and at one time apparently admitted to being confused but I was unclear as to what that was referring to.  Then there was the driver that had picked up the hitchhiker.  Despite describing the hitchhiker as being about 6 foot tall with a mustache he identified Dillon, who was clean shaven (and is said to not have the ability to grow a mustache) and 6 foot 4 inches.  The last of the four main important witnesses was a jailhouse informant who testified that Dillon had confessed to the crime while in jail awaiting his trial.  It did not matter that several of the details that the informant stated Dillon said did not fit the crime. It would be discovered later that this informant was facing rape charges at the time of his testimony and those would later be dropped. 

The defense argued that Dillon was not present at the crime scene and had alibi witnesses to testify.  They also argued that the yellow t-shirt did not belong to Dillon and he had never seen it before.

On December 4, 1981 William Dillon was found guilty and he was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.

Two weeks later the former girlfriend recanted her testimony saying that officers had threatened to charge her as an accessory to murder and would get twenty five years if she did not testify against Dillon.  It would later be discovered that she had also had a sexual affair with the lead officer in the case.  He would be suspended and later resign from the force.

Then of course there were the issues that faced Preston and his reputation a few years later.  Then in 2004 a man by the name of Wilton Dredge, who had been convicted a few months after Dillon, was exonerated through DNA testing even though Preston had presented testimony much like he had at Dillon's trial. Dillon himself had been asking since 1996 for DNA testing but all of his requests had been denied.  

In 2007 the Innocence Project of Florida started looking into the case.  They discovered that most of the evidence, including fingernail scrapings and other things had been lost or destroyed, but the infamous yellow shirt was still around.  They were finally able to get a judge to allow DNA testing done on the shirt and when the results came back the did not match Dillon.  The blood on the shirt had in fact belonged to the victim but DNA on the collar and armpit area did not belong to the victim or to Dillon.  This was considered to be sweat DNA from the killer, who now obviously was not the man who had been in prison for decades.  

On November 18, 2008 Dillon was released from prison and on December 10, 2008 all charges against him were dropped.  It seems however that Sheriff Deputy Thom Fair, who had worked the case, and the state attorney, Norman Wolfinger disagreed with the findings and still proclaimed that Dillon was the killer.  Well, at least they did publicly, at least at first, whether they were still saying that in 2011 when the police department named four new suspects is unclear.

It was then that the police department stated that the DNA found on the shirt was a match to a man named James Johnstone, who had once lived in the area but now lived in Chicago.  Along with Johnstone the department named three other men as being suspects, Phillip Huff and brothers Daryl and Eric Novak. The funny thing about this is that after naming these four men as suspects and claiming that at least Johnstone was not cooperating I can find nothing else about these men with this case.  I even went to the Florida Department of Corrections website and threw in all their names.  I did find Daryl in the system. It seems that in December of 2015 he was charged with fraud and received a three year sentence.  He is scheduled for release in August of 2018.  I did a bit of a search specifically on him and found a few things but I cannot say with certainty that I know what the charges stem from.  Other than that there seems to be no more information about these four men, especially in connection with this murder.  It is likely that this case will become like so many others where initial officers have tunnel vision and focus so hard on one perpetrator and resist anything that points to their innocence that the ability to charge someone else, let alone get a conviction will be nearly impossible.

For his part Dillon was fighting for compensation for his time in prison.  In a previously blog I recently discuss another man exonerated in Florida and their restrictions to gain compensation in that state.  Dillon had stated that a previous arrest two years prior to the murder for possession of a Quaalude and a marijuana joint may preclude him from receiving compensation.  However, a bill seemed to be passed that would have allowed Dillon to receive about $810,000. Whether he ultimately received that is unclear to me. 


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