Monday, August 03, 2009

Texas Innocence Project vetting dog-scent lineup cases

Time magazine picked up on the story about Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Keith Pikett and his questionable "scent lineups" ("Dogs and the scent of a crime: Science or shaky evidence?," Aug. 3), noting that my former employers at the Innocence Project of Texas are vetting dozens of his old cases to prepare for an upcoming report:

In mid-August, the Innocence Project of Texas plans to unveil a detailed study focusing primarily on the extensive work of one Texas dog handler whose use of scent-ID techniques is under fire in the federal courts. At the heart of the study is the work of Deputy Keith Pikett, a canine officer with the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office, just southwest of Houston. The first case involves Calvin Lee Miller, who was charged with robbery and sexual assault after Pikett's bloodhounds alerted police to a scent on sheets that Pikett said matched a scent swipe from Miller's cheek. DNA evidence later cleared Miller, but only after he served 62 days in jail. In the second case, former Victoria County Sheriff's Department Captain Michael Buchanek was named as a "person of interest" in a murder case after Pikett's bloodhounds sped 5.5 miles from a crime scene, tracking a scent to Buchanek's home. Another man later confessed to the murder.

Both lawsuits seek damages from the municipalities and law-enforcement agencies that used Pikett's work. The price tag could be costly. In a separate case, a California man, Jeffrey Allen Grant, served three months in jail in 1999 after TinkerBelle, a bloodhound, mistakenly identified him in a rape case. He won $1.7 million in damages.

Jeff Blackburn, head of the Innocence Project of Texas, has labeled the dog-scent evidence as "junk, not even junk science." He adds: "We are working on a very intense, independent investigation of Pikett's activities." Pikett, who has declined public comment through his lawyer, is being sued for civil rights violations in federal court by Miller and Buchanek. Blackburn says the innocence team is combing Texas public records to assess Pikett's impact on other cases.
See prior, related Grits coverage:

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