Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wrongly convicted man sings for the Rays

The story of William Dillon is as tragic as a man wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years for murder, a story of bad evidence, flawed witnesses and a discredited investigation.

And today, it is a story as American as baseball.

Tonight, just before the Tampa Bay Rays hit the field at the Trop to take on the Cleveland Indians, a 52-year-old man whose life went down a road most of us can't imagine will stand before the crowd to sing the national anthem, his voice steady, gravelly, a little Johnny Cash.

To be there for this after all that? "Utterly amazing," he tells me.

In 1981, he was 21, living in Brevard County and a pretty fair baseball player himself. He worked two jobs — carpenter's helper and bowling alley mechanic — chased pretty girls and tried to figure out the rest of his life. Turns out it was out of his hands.

He was hanging out at Canova Beach days after a man named James Dvorak was found beaten to death. He was questioned by police and eventually arrested, the start of a free fall down a very dark hole.

Later, a dog handler with dog scent evidence against him was discredited. A witness recanted and said she had sex with the lead investigator. A jail informant who said Dillon confessed had pending charges dropped. But the jury had said guilty. Dillon went to prison.

Years passed, the family holidays, the children he would not have. I ask if you lose hope. "Actually, you do," he says. And you survive.

After more than two decades, a fellow inmate asked if he'd tried to get DNA testing. "I didn't know what I was doing ... a wing and a prayer," he says. The Innocence Project and its considerable muscle took on his cause.

Key evidence was a yellow T-shirt with the victim's blood on it believed to be worn by the killer. All those years later, DNA tests said the sweat and cells on that shirt were not his.

He did not believe he would no longer be inmate 082629 until that moment in 2008 when they said: You can go. This year, the governor signed a bill for $1.35 million in compensation.

Imagine stepping back into a world you spent more than half your life locked way from. People seem to go 100 miles an hour, he says. His last phone was rotary dial, not one you put in your pocket. But he has an iPhone now, and a computer he calls "the most awesome thing I've ever seen."

Turns out someone with the Innocence Project has a neighbor with the Rays. There was talk of Dillon throwing out a first pitch. This week, the Rays said he will be there because his story deserves attention, because they support the Innocence Project, and because he can sing.

Dillon, who lives in Chapel Hill, has made this his work. He has a CD called Black Robes and Lawyers, those years in his own voice. (He writes songs of soldiers and sacrifice, too, his kindred spirits.) He has even performed in an all-exoneree band. There's a story of a flawed justice system for you: 292 post-conviction DNA exonerations in America. How many more, when one is too much?

Dillon calls the Rays his team and would love to wear his Rays cap, though of course you don't when you are singing the most patriotic of songs. He will wear his shirt, though, the one that says in big letters: Not Guilty.

And when he sings the national anthem, that part about "the land of the free and the home of the brave" will not likely be lost on him.

Wrongly convicted man sings for the Rays 07/17/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 4:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. The weeks' most compelling photos from Tampa Bay and Florida

    Human Interest

    Florida photos of the week for August 11 - August 18: Beach family yoga, Confederate symbols as flashpoints, American Idol winners and hopefuls, Fetish Con, the second oldest survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack turns 104, an armada of rubber ducks, and more.

    Jayden Sheene, 8, left, and Zoey Sheene, 6, rest atop at the arms and legs of their mother, Shelby Sheene, 27, of Holiday, while participating in a Beach Family Yoga gathering on Tuesday (8/15/17) at the Dunedin Causeway. The donation-based classes, hosted each Tuesday (10am), near the Sail Honeymoon rentals, were organized by area moms who wanted to practice yoga while providing an opportunity bond with their children through the spiritual and physical contact of the practice, which has its roots in ancient India. Yoga uses breathing techniques, poses and meditation to help improve health and happiness. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times)
  2. Appointment of Confederate activist sparks diversity council chair to resign

    Blogs

    The head of a Hillsborough County committee that promotes diversity resigned from the panel Wednesday after county commissioners named to the committee an advocate of Confederate heritage.

    David McCallister won a spot on Hillsborough County's Diversity Advisory Council on Wednesday.
  3. Union versus union: Discord divides the small staff representing Pinellas teachers

    Education

    The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association says in its mission statement that it promotes solidarity and respect for the profession.

    Steve Sarang, a teacher at Pinellas Gulf Coast Academy, participates in an informational picket last month in support of employees of the Pinellas teachers union. Some of the union's office staff are in a long-running dispute with union president Mike Gandolfo and have take their complaints to the National Labor Relations Board. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. Powerball reaches $535 million, drawing Saturday

    Human Interest

    The jackpot for Saturday's Powerball drawing has reached an estimated $535 million, the largest in the nation and fifth largest in the history of the game. The cash payout for the main prize is an estimated $340.1 million.

    The Powerball jackpot reaches an estimated $535 million. [Florida Lottery]
  5. That funky smell in Old Tampa Bay is a confirmed algae bloom

    Water

    Smell something funky near Safety Harbor?