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 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.
But Preston said his dog found Dedge's scent in the victim's bedroom. And a jury convicted him in 1981.
Twenty-two years later, DNA tests proved that the semen from the attacker was not Dedge's. He was freed.
And then there was the case of Juan Ramos -- a man whom Preston and his dog helped put on death row for rape and murder . . . until that conviction was overturned as well.
Preston and his dog supposedly found Ramos' scent on the victim's blouse and on a blood-stained knife.
The state Supreme Court later said the test was bungled, set up to get the results investigators wanted.
The court ordered a new trial -- without evidence from Preston and his dog -- and Ramos' life was spared.
At the time, Ramos' defense attorney called the case "the weakest murder case I've ever seen," also saying, "Absolutely no attempt was made from Day One to pin the murder on anyone but the sap, the Cuban."
That defense attorney was Norm Wolfinger -- the man who is now the state attorney for Brevard and Seminole and who has refused to investigate whether others were improperly convicted.
Judge Gilbert Goshorn ultimately exposed Preston.
In the middle of a trial in which the dog was once again providing miraculous evidence -- supposedly detecting tracks left by suspects six months prior -- Goshorn ordered the dog to perform a much simpler test.
The dog failed miserably.
In an affidavit written after he retired, Goshorn said: "The dog simply could not track anything."
The judge went on to say: "In short, I believe that Preston was regularly retained to confirm the state's preconceived notions about cases."
After Dillon became the third man to be freed from a prison that John Preston helped send him to, advocates for justice spoke up.
They called on Gov. Charlie Crist for a full investigation, asking: How many more are there?
The Innocence Project of Florida, which helped free Dedge and Dillon, believes there may be as many as 60. Others may be out, but living with a prison record.
The man in charge of the Brevard/Seminole district, State Attorney Wolfinger, seems less concerned.
In a statement, Wolfinger's office said it didn't have a list of the cases in which Preston testified -- nor even the records that would allow the office to compile such a list.
Essentially, Wolfinger contends it's up to defendants to raise questions about these decades-old cases.
"Defendants have had rights in Florida to challenge their convictions through a well established post-conviction process," the statement said.
A similar response came from Crist's office, which said: "We believe this is a judicial issue and should be handled on a case-by-case analysis through the judicial system."
A spokeswoman for the state's top cop, Attorney General Bill McCollum, simply declared the matter beyond her boss's "jurisdiction."
Is it possible that none of these public servants is interested in finding out whether more innocent people were imprisoned?
A wise man once said: "It is truly tragic to have an innocent person spend time behind bars."
That man was Mr. Wolfinger -- the last time he admitted that prosecutors in his district had locked up the wrong man.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-6141.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun