-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
A scent lineup starts with the collection of scent from a crime scene. Scent samples are also collected from potential suspects. A dog is presented with the crime scene scent and then presented with the scents from the suspects. The dog then communicates the matching scent to its handler. The dog handler then testifies at trial and his testimony has been presented as “scientific identification” in Texas courts.
One such handler is Deputy Keith Pikett of Fort Bend County, Texas. Pickett and his bloodhounds have worked about 2000 cases all around the country, and the Texas Attorney General’s office has recommended his work.
Police detectives would call in Pikett, tell him who they thought was the real suspect, and lo and behold, the scent lineup confirmed the detective’s suspicions. Prosecutors loved him, Pikett would use his dogs to “confirm” what they wanted to know.
According to a special report by the Innocence Project of Texas, Pikett testified that “he had a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry degree from Syracuse University and a Master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Houston.” However, Pikett never received any degrees from either institution. He repeated the lie about having a master’s degree in chemistry in the case State v. Winston. In that case the Court of Appeals of Texas (14th District) cemented Pikett’s reputation as an expert in scent lineups.
The 2004 murder of Murray Burr rocked the small town of Coldspring, Texas. The local sheriff suspected the Winfrey family and Pikett was called in. Based on scent lineups, Megan Winfrey, then 16 years old, her brother Richard Winfrey Jr., and their father Richard Winfrey Sr. were arrested. Megan and Richard Sr., represented by state-appointed lawyers, were convicted on the basis of a scent lineup done three years after the crime.
At the San Jacinto County trial of Richard Jr., Dallas defense attorney Shirley Baccus-Lobel put on a masterful defense that devastated Pikett’s testimony and obtained a “not guilty” verdict, returned within thirteen minutes.
Baccus-Lobel then turned her attention to the appeal of the father’s case whose conviction had already be upheld by one appellate court. In a unanimous ruling, The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas reversed the court of appeals and entered a judgement of acquittal for the father. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that scent lineups, standing alone, “is insufficient to establish a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Megan, now 23, is currently serving the third year of a life sentence. The Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed to review her case.
Pikett, now retired, is facing numerous lawsuits and requests for his services have dried up. Ronald Curtis, who spent months in jail on scent lineup evidence, only to have the charges dropped, said “this man is a fraud.” Jeff Blackburn, general counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, said “Pikett is not the problem. The problem is the DAs and police agencies who have used him.”
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