Keith Pikett’s Miracle Dogs

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

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.

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11 Responses to “Keith Pikett’s Miracle Dogs”

  1. #1 |  Maggie McNeill | 

    My Labs are outside dogs; they have a heated doghouse on our large porch, and I let them out soon after sunrise. Sometimes they start barking (for whatever reason) before dawn, and to discourage that I won’t open the porch door as long as they’re barking. If I walk outside and they emit as much as a single bark, I simply stand there with arms folded until they remain quiet for at least a minute.

    Now, I never taught them this trick; they merely learned it on their own. All I have to do is fold my arms and they instantly shut up and stand quietly with wagging tails. Dogs are pack animals; they’ve been designed by Nature to respond to non-verbal cues, even very subtle ones. So why are people so surprised when they do just that?

    Methinks criminal-court judges in this country need to be forced to watch at least one season of The Dog Whisperer before being allowed to hear any case in which canine “testimony” plays a part.

  2. #2 |  Chris Marlowe | 

    Wow….just….wow. A “scent lineup?” Did they do this after they heard spectral evidence and looked to see which ones floated or sank in the river?

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    Miracle is the right word. Something that occurs outside the realms of normal experience, defies physical laws, and is an experience of faith. Of course the faithful here are law enforcement, who are the only ones who can interpret the mystical signs. The unfortunate side of this faith based reasoning is that those who are not of the faith are deemed sinners and damned by the faithful to a very real purgatory.

  4. #4 |  FloO | 

    I believe Pikett puts the evidence in coffee cans for the lineup.

    What if the dogs are indicating a preference for Maxwell House over Folger’s?

    Oh but I’m sure it was done real scientific-like, by making sure the brands of coffee were all the same.

    I’m pretty sure that anytime a prosecution witness starts being flown around the country to testify in many cases you know something is very wrong.

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    FloO: haha! Next up, people who can read goat entrails.

  6. #6 |  Bob | 

    “It wasn’t like I just picked them out of the clear blue sky,” the former sheriff said recently, referring to the Winfreys.

    Of course not! You picked them because they were easy targets of opportunity the same way any predator picks a meal.

    Wait for the old man to end up back in jail, pay a “Jailhouse Snitch” to fabricate evidence… Bam! Case closed!

    I refuse to believe that virtually every crime is committed by master criminals who have perfected the art of leaving no evidence…. No. I rather believe that the Police are just incompetent investigators, who, without the aid of false confessions, Jailhouse Snitches, and a criminal justice system totally stacked in their favor would rarely be able to build a case good enough to go to trial.

  7. #7 |  Bob | 

    #5 SJE

    FloO: haha! Next up, people who can read goat entrails.

    Don’t be dissing the fine art of goat entrail reading! It really works, why… Once I was able to locate a dead goat just by reading the entrails and letting them point the way!

  8. #8 |  kant | 

    In pikett’s defense, SCOTUS pretty much declared dogs absolutely infallible and perfectly unbiased/objective anyway. So who is he to disagree with the highest court in the land.

  9. #9 |  Tybalt | 

    I don’t think I mentioned it earlier this year when you wrote that column on sniffer dogs, Radley, but it’s one of the best pieces of police journalism I’ve ever read. To the point, accurate, clear as a bell and well argued. Kudos. Just read it again and it was even better the second time around.

  10. #10 |  markm | 

    When jurors believe that dogs found a 17-year-old scent, it’s not just the dog handler that’s the problem.

  11. #11 |  XO | 

    WOW!! Anybody can teach a dog tricks..I do believe that dog scents should n’t ever be used in any case. The dogs wasn’t there nor neither was the owner..I have so much animosity regarding this cause I personally experienced it from my son’s case. This man is crooked and up to know good out of Fort Bend Cty. I wouldn’t trust him let alone his dogs…Itz a joke..People has no idea unless you was there.. he Jurors are just as bad no physical evidence peoples..Enough said.