The state’s highest criminal court today threw out the murder conviction of an East Texas man, ruling that controversial “dog scent” lineups are not reliable enough to stand on their own in court.
Richard Winfrey Sr. was sentenced to 75 years in prison for the brutal 2004 murder of Murray Burr in his home in Coldspring, about 20 miles east of Huntsville.
No physical evidence tied Winfrey to Burr’s murder, but three deputy-trained bloodhounds indicated that they found his scent on the victim’s clothing.
On appeal, Winfrey’s lawyers claimed he was the victim of unreliable, unscientific scent lineups, where dogs sniff crime scene evidence and try to match it to smells obtained from suspects or from items they have touched.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, however, declined to delve into the bigger question of whether dog scent lineups should be admissible at all. Because Winfrey’s lawyer failed to object to the lineup at trial, the issue was not preserved for review by the appeals courts, a concurring opinion by four judges noted.
Instead, the court ruled 8-0 that prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence, beyond the dog scent lineup, that tied Winfrey to the crime.
“We acknowledge the invariable truth espoused by Justice (David) Souter that ‘the infallible dog, however, is a creature of legal fiction,’” reads the opinion by Judge Barbara Hervey. “We conclude that scent-discrimination lineups, when used alone or as primary evidence, are legally insufficient to support a conviction.”
I wrote about Winfrey’s case in April, focusing on potential problems with dog scent lineups.
And here’s the story from oral arguments before the Court of Criminal Appeals.http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/ ... on_ba.html