How many more are innocent?

Three men convicted with help from a disgraced dog-handler and his alleged wonder-dog have already had their cases overturned -- but only after decades in prison

Last weekend, we looked at the case of Bill Dillon, the Brevard County resident imprisoned for 27 years before DNA tests set him free.

That, however, is only part of a bigger story of twisted justice in Central Florida -- an unsolved mystery that begs for an ending.

Dillon, after all, was not alone in his wrongful imprisonment. At least two other men suffered the same fate -- and another shared link: a dog.

Not just any dog. A wonder dog helped convict all three men: a German shepherd named Harass II, who wowed juries with his amazing ability to place suspects at the scenes of crimes.

Harass could supposedly do things no other dog could: tracking scents months later and even across water, according to his handler, John Preston.

If it sounds hard to believe, there's a good reason.

After providing prosecutors with testimony for years, Preston was finally discredited by a judge who had the sense to do what others had not: test the dog for himself.

But not until after Preston and his dog had appeared in dozens of cases.

We know that at least three of those cases were overturned -- after the defendants collectively spent more than a half-century in prison.

The question now is: How many others suffered the same injustice?

An even better question is: Do prosecutors, the attorney general or even the governor care enough to find out?

The stories

The murder case against Dillon was full of problems.

The state was short on credible witnesses. (Two would later recant their testimony. One had sex with an investigator.) And Dillon was first linked to the murder of James Dvorak by a 16-year-old boy who said he recognized him from a composite sketch.

But investigators needed evidence to tie Dillon to the scene. So they turned to Preston and his wonder dog.

As if on cue, Preston claimed that his dog found Dillon's scent at the scene of the crime. (A judge would later say: ". . . Preston was regularly retained to confirm the state's preconceived notions about cases.")

Dillon was convicted. And he sat in prison for 27 years -- until tests proved that his DNA was not, in fact, on a bloody shirt that prosecutors had said was his.

In another case, Wilton Dedge was convicted of raping a 17-year-old girl.

The victim had originally described her attacker as 6 feet tall and up to 200 pounds. Dedge was 5-5 and 130 pounds.

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