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Not forgiven, not forgotten

Thirty years after being falsely convicted of murder, and three years after being exonerated, William Dillon is still seeking justice

Photo: Patricia Lois Nuss, License: N/A

Patricia Lois Nuss

On Nov. 18, 2008, William Dillon finally went swimming. Upon arriving at his brother’s backyard pool, the burly 49-year-old hurled his 6-foot-4-inch, 245-pound frame into the chilly water, not even bothering to take off his jeans or shoes. His younger brothers, Joe and David, joined him, also fully clothed, on that fall evening. It was an unconventional, but utterly appropriate celebration: Earlier that day, Dillon was released from the Brevard County Detention Center, where he ended his incarceration of nearly 27 years.

“You don’t get to swim in prison at all,” Dillon says. “You get a shower, of course, but that’s it.”

Dillon talks about his years behind bars without a hint of anger – surprising, considering he didn’t belong there in the first place. Convicted of murder as a shaggy-haired 22-year-old, Dillon was exonerated of the crime in 2008, after a scientific analysis found that a bloody T-shirt used as the main piece of evidence against him bore none of his DNA. Nearly three years after celebrating his freedom, however, the past still haunts him. He’s been waiting for financial compensation from the state, a payout that was hamstrung by a renewed investigation by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, this month will not only mark Dillon’s 52nd birthday – “I’ll be 24 as a free man,” he says – but the release of his first music album, Black Robes and Lawyers, which draws heavily on his experiences in prison. The Aug. 16 album release date comes just a day shy of the 30-year anniversary of the murder that put him behind bars.

Dillon is now seeking justice – not only for himself, he says, but for those like him put behind bars due to shoddy evidence and what he argues is flagrant misconduct by law enforcement. Since 2000, 13 people convicted in Florida have been exonerated of crimes by DNA evidence, and two of them were convicted in Brevard County. As soon as Aug. 23, the 18th Judicial Circuit Court will decide whether another alleged killer, Gary Bennett, should be freed after spending more than a quarter of a century in prison. He was also arrested in Brevard County in the early 1980s, investigated and prosecuted by many of the same people who cost Dillon the majority of his adult life. “They try to keep innocent people in prison to make themselves not look bad,” Dillon says.

On Aug. 17, 1981, the body of 40-year-old James Dvorak was discovered in the brush near Canova Beach. A medical examiner later estimated that Dvorak had been beaten to death between 1:30 and 3:30 a.m. that same morning. A man named John Parker was driving in the area around that time and picked up a shirtless hitchhiker along state road A1A, who identified himself as “Jim.” The next morning, Parker found in his truck a T-shirt stained with blood, which he threw in a trash bin. When Parker learned about the murder, he contacted police and led them back to the shirt.

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