The interrogation room inside the Victoria County Sheriff's Office is sterile and cold. There's a table in the middle, a one-way mirror and a hidden video camera that lets investigators watch suspects.
Michael Buchanek knows the room well. He was part of countless investigations. Buchanek spent more than 25 years with the Sheriff's Office as a commander of operations.
But on March 16, 2006, Buchanek found himself sitting in the interrogation room. This time, he was on the other side of the table. The day before, his neighbor and friend, Sally Blackwell, was found strangled to death with a rope. Her body was left in a field five miles from her home.
Buchanek sat in the interrogation room with three homicide investigators, former brothers on the force. But the investigators were no longer friends. Buchanek was now the prime suspect in Blackwell's murder.
"They told me they knew I did it and that I was going to spend the rest of my life on death row," Buchanek told CNN.
The story of how a veteran law enforcement officer became a murder suspect is at the heart of a controversy over an investigative forensic tool called dog-scent lineups. ...
Despite repeated denials, Buchanek lived under a cloud of suspicion for five months. His former Sheriff's Office colleagues believed the dogs over him and his pleas of innocence. But the dogs were wrong.
DNA evidence implicated another man, who pleaded guilty to the murder.
"It's left me with a pretty bad taste for law enforcement," Buchanek said. "It's pretty much ruined my life altogether."
Buchanek has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Pikett, the dog handler in Fort Bend County, as well as the Victoria Sheriff's Office and the Victoria Police Department. Buchanek is seeking unspecified damages claiming his constitutional rights were violated when he was falsely accused and that he suffered mental anguish as a result.
See prior, related Grits coverage:
- A 'scent lineup'? Rover in the witness box
- DNA exoneration indicts Rover in the witness box
- 'Scent lineups stink to critics'
- 3 false convictions relied on dog-based scent lineups in Florida
- Scent lineups by dogs don't pass the smell test
- Texas Innocence Project vetting dog scent lineup cases
- Evidence mounts against dog handler, scent lineups
- Texas Innocence Project report discredits dog 'scent lineups'
- More innocent people accused by dog 'scent lineups,' but FBI now using technique