HOUSTON (CN) – The San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Department, north of Houston, used fraudulent “dog scent lineups” and testimony from a jailhouse snitch to send a man to prison for 2½ years for a murder he did not commit, Richard Winfrey claims in Federal Court.
Winfrey claims the Sheriff’s Department “actively ignored all evidence to the contrary, including DNA tests performed on evidence collected at the crime scene that excluded [him] as an offender.”
Winfrey claims Sheriff James Walters used a “junk science” dog scent lineup, devised by former Fort Bend County sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pikett in the early 1990s.
The technique involves introducing a scent to a dog that has been collected from a crime scene, then presenting the dog with a series of containers with scents in them taken from suspects, Winfrey says.
“According to defendant Pikett, the dog will then communicate to its handler/observer if the scent that it ‘got’ the first time matches the scent of one of the containers,” Winfrey says.
“Without a doubt, these lineups epitomize the worst of junk science,” Winfrey adds. “Defendant Pikett developed the dog scent lineups without any training – he simply purchased bloodhound dogs and ‘trained’ them to indicate when two human scents matched.
“Defendant Pikett never tested the dog scent lineups’ accuracy, nor did he establish a set of standards under which to conduct the lineups.
“Instead, defendant Pikett has repeatedly lied under oath about his qualifications, his training, and the supposed infallibility of his dog identifications,” according to the complaint.
To corroborate Pikett’s fabricated scent identifications, San Jacinto County Sheriff’s officials coached a “jailhouse snitch” to implicate Winfrey as the perpetrator, Winfrey says. But the sheriff ignored substantial evidence pointing to the victim’s niece, who was in charge of his financial affairs, as the person who killed him, Winfrey says.
Pikett’s dog scent lineups were exposed as phony well before Winfrey was charged with and prosecuted for capital murder, he says.
“For example, in 2006, defendant Pikett’s dog scent lineups wrongly implicated an innocent man in a murder case in which the true perpetrator later confessed,” Winfrey says.
He claims that the local law-enforcement community knew, “before plaintiff’s wrongful arrest, [that] the ‘dog scent lineups’ were so patently false that a senior prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office alerted the Houston Police Department to the fact that Defendant Pikett and his dogs were a fraud.”
Winfrey sued San Jacinto County, its current and former sheriff, a former deputy, and Fort Bend County, its sheriff, and former deputy Pikett. He seeks damages for conspiracy, constitutional violations, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is represented by Gayle Horn with Loevy & Loevy of Chicago.