Unless there is a sudden and major break in a 29-year-old murder case, William Dillon should not expect to be compensated this year for the 27 years he spent in prison.
Efforts to pass a special claims bill during this last week of the legislative session, which would pay Dillon $1.35 million for wrongful incarceration, have stalled as lawmakers wait for a report from Brevard County Sheriff Jack Parker. "(We've) been hoping that the Sheriff's investigation would be complete in time for us to go forward," said attorney Sandy D'Alemberte, former president of the American Bar Association and Florida State University who is helping Dillon in his compensation efforts. "Until that is completed and announced, we are on hold with the claims bill."
But the Sheriff's office insists the murder investigation is independent of any political maneuvering in Tallahassee. "I understand that there are a number of people who are eagerly awaiting our investigative results. However, it needs to be understood that we are conducting a comprehensive investigation of a 29-year-old homicide," said BCSO Cmdr. Doug Waller. "When we have completed our investigation, we will provide a factual finding. We cannot and will not allow outside influences or motivations to negatively impact or jeopardize the integrity of the investigation."
Dillon was convicted in 1981 for the murder of construction supervisor James Dvorak in Indian Harbour Beach earlier that year. But the trial was marred with what now appears to be trumped-up evidence. Dillon was convicted in part due to the testimony of three people: a dog handler who was later exposed as a fraud; a jailhouse snitch who last year testified he was coerced into making false statements against Dillon; and the testimony of his girlfriend, who was having sex with the lead detective on the case. In 2008, DNA testing excluded Dillon from having worn a bloody yellow T-shirt that prosecutors insisted the killer had worn. Judge David Dugan granted Dillon a new trial, but a few weeks later the state dropped charges against him.
"I haven't heard anything at all about the compensation," said a frustrated Dillon. "It makes me feel pretty poorly. It's like they don't even recognize what happened to me. Maybe they think if they ignore it, I will go away."
Slowing things down is the exhaustive DNA testing of all evidence in the case. On March 1, Dugan signed an order allowing the Sheriff's office to send all remaining evidence from the case to DNA Labs International in south Florida.
"We are not getting any movement on the claims bill while this is hanging out there and I understand why the political people do not want to move," D'Alemberte said. "The Sheriff originally intended to have this done by April 1st, but the lab has apparently been slow." Dillon, 50, still hopes the Legislature will pass the special claims bill later this week. He needs the legislative action because a drug conviction when he was a teenager makes him ineligible for Florida's "Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Act."
Last year in Tallahassee he testified about the some of the horrors he experienced during his time in prison. Dillon said he was gang-raped during his first hour at Florida State Prison in 1982. He also detailed beatings and how poor medical care caused him to lose half of his teeth. State Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Rep. John Legg, R-Pasco, are the principal sponsors of the claims bill. "Fighting for justice for the wrongfully convicted has been a top priority of mine in the Senate, beginning in 2005 with legislation to compensate Wilton Dedge for the 22 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit," Haridpolos said in an e-mail Tuesday. He indicated there was still a chance the bill will be heard before Friday. Meanwhile Dillon has moved out of the county and is splitting his time between Florida and North Carolina. "I don't know what to do," Dillon said. "They know what happened to me." Contact Torres at 242-3649 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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