The New York Times takes up the case of Megan Winfrey, convicted of murder at age 16 due primarily to a scent lineup conducted by the miracle dogs of Fort Bend County, Texas Dep. Keith Pikett.
Pikett has been used in thousands of cases all over the country. The problem? There’s no scientific evidence that his lineups are any better than guesswork. Winfrey was accused of committing the murder along with her father and brother. There was no physical evidence linking any of them to the crime. Her father was convicted, then had his conviction overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which found that “scent-discrimination lineups, when used alone or as primary evidence, are legally insufficient to support a conviction.” Her brother’s attorneys put on a credible attack on scent lineups, and was acquitted after 13 minutes of jury deliberations. The prosecutor, of course, is trying to keep Winfrey in prison.
Pikett is currently facing a class-action suit from several people wrongly identified by his dogs. As late as 2009, prosecutors were attempting to retry exonerated convict Anthony Graves based on Pikett’s dogs. In that case, Pikett claimed his dogs had picked up Graves’ sent on 17-year-old evidence recovered from a burned-down crime scene. Graves, who served time on death row, was released last year.
I explained in a Reason column earlier this year why the dogs aren’t the problem in these cases—their handlers are.