HOUSTON (CN) – A federal judge refused to throw a bone to a south Texas man who says a phony dog-scent lineup and the word of a jailhouse snitch caused him to spend two years behind bars until a jury acquitted him of murder.
After Murray Wayne Burr was found beaten and stabbed to death in his San Jacinto County mobile home on Aug. 7, 2004, authorities zeroed in on Richard Winfrey Sr.; Winfrey’s two children, Richard Jr. and Megan; as well as Megan’s boyfriend, Chris Hammond.
The three Winfreys were arrested for capital murder. Megan and her father were convicted separately. While an appeals court recently reversed the father’s conviction, Megan’s conviction still stands.
It took a jury only 13 minutes to clear Megan’s brother, Richard Winfrey Jr., of the murder, but not before he put in two years of jail time. Winfrey filed suit in May 2010 against two counties and an assortment of county officers and Texas Rangers for violating his constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes found no reason to rule in Winfrey’s favor and wrote: “His incarceration was unfortunate – for lack of a better word. It was not the result of constitutional misconduct.”
The judge blasted Winfrey’s claims in a 12-page opinion on summary judgment.
Winfrey had accused Fort Bend County dog handler Keith Pikett of manipulating a dog-scent lineup to produce results that sent prosecutors sniffing around him for the murder, but the judge didn’t buy it.
“Winfrey insists that Pikett cued the dogs on his scent,” Hughes wrote. “For that he has nothing except his speculation.”
Hughes likewise disputed Winfrey’s claim that San Jacinto County Sheriff Lacy Rogers and Deputy Lenard Johnson conspired to act on phony lineup results.
“Winfrey is required to describe how Rogers and Johnson were to have known of the assumed intentional faking of results in the dog-scent lineup,” Hughes wrote (italics in original). His evidence is his assertion that Pikett is a clown so they must have known. That is no evidence.”
The judge also shot down Winfrey’s allegation that San Jacinto County officers coerced his father’s cellmate to give false testimony in 2006, just before police charged the Winfrey family with Burr’s murder.
Winfrey additionally failed to shield charges against the county pending discovery.
“Litigation is not a piñata where you use discovery to whack people to see if something good falls out,” Hughes countered.
“The government had the responsibility to prove that Winfrey had murdered Burr beyond a reasonable doubt; it failed,” the judge added. “That is all Winfrey knows. Maybe he should be mad about the ordeal, but his anger does not articulate a claim under the Constitution, no matter how it is dressed in lawyer’s jargon.”
“At best, this is a case about a negligent investigation,” Hughes wrote. “Nothing suggests the officers had personal animosity or hostility towards Winfrey or his family.”
The judge awarded Winfrey nothing for his claims.