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Prior arrest complicates wrongly convicted prisoner's compensation

William Dillon, 50, served 27 years in prison until DNA evidence showed he was wrongly convicted.

Associated Press

William Dillon, 50, served 27 years in prison until DNA evidence showed he was wrongly convicted.

SATELLITE BEACH — No bars or razor wire hold former Florida inmate No. 082629. Instead, William Dillon sits on furniture the color of ripe lemons, surrounded by cheerful animal statues and blooming plants, a prisoner no longer after 27 years.

He could get more than a million dollars in state compensation for his wrongful imprisonment, though how much he'll get — if anything — is up to lawmakers because he has a prior conviction for felony drug possession. A hearing on the matter took place last week.

Dillon, 50, walked out of the Brevard County jail last November after tests showed that DNA found on the killer's shirt — which investigators recovered, splattered with the victim's blood — wasn't his. A month later, prosecutors announced they wouldn't retry him for the 1981 bludgeoning death of James Dvorak, and his conviction was erased.

Dillon, one of more than 200 inmates exonerated by DNA nationwide, plans to move to Tallahassee soon so he can be available during legislative hearings. Under the state's automatic formula, Dillon would receive $1.35 million — $50,000 for every year in prison.

Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the Innocence Project, said 27 states have compensation laws on the books. Of those, Florida is the only one where a roadblock occurs if the former inmate had a prior felony conviction.

Norman Wolfinger, the state attorney in Brevard County, said in a letter to the Legislature that while there isn't enough evidence to convict Dillon again, lawmakers should consider that his innocence isn't proved, either.

Dillon cried while testifying Monday at his first compensation hearing. Afterward, he said he forgave the jailhouse snitch who recanted his 1981 trial testimony that Dillon had confessed to the murder. Roger Dale Chapman testified Monday that detectives told him they'd send him to prison on a fabricated rape charge if he didn't lie.

Although it isn't feasible, Dillon said he would prefer that his compensation be paid by the prosecutors and law enforcement agents he believes railroaded him — not taxpayers.

"I think the people that did it to me — knowingly did it to me — should have to pay for it," he said.

Dillon and Wolfinger place some blame on John Preston, a dog handler who claimed his animals could track scents months after a suspect was present. He testified his dog found Dillon's scent on the shirt and at the scene. He was later discredited and died last year.

Preston's testimony was also used against Wilton Dedge, convicted in Brevard in the 1980s of sexual assault. DNA evidence freed him in 2004. The Legislature awarded him $2 million.

Prior arrest complicates wrongly convicted prisoner's compensation 11/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 7, 2009 9:10pm]
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