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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

Dillon says doubts surrounding his innocence have been manufactured by the sheriff’s office to shield itself from potential litigation and the disgrace of its own wrongdoing – he notes that the alleged photos never materialized. Still, the shadow cast over him has affected his compensation. In 2009 Dillon and his attorneys petitioned the legislature for a sum of $1.35 million dollars, or $50,000 per year of incarceration, which is consistent with state law for financial redress of wrongful convictions. Yet on Feb. 1 of this year, the Florida Senate’s special master on claim bills recommended that Dillon be given only $810,000, or $30,000 for each year he was incarcerated. Because Dillon was caught with a quaalude pill at age 19 – and subsequently charged with a felony – he did not meet the requirements of the state’s “clean hands” clause, and hence, was ineligible for statutory compensation. The special master also wrote that Dillon’s lawyers failed to demonstrate his “actual innocence” in the Dvorak killing.

On June 20, however, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office announced four new suspects in the Dvorak slaying – chief among them James Johnstone, whose DNA matched that found on the shirt, whose attributes closely fit the description given by the hitchhiker and whose name was on the brief tip unearthed from Dillon’s decades-old file. (Lt. Tod Goodyear of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office says that investigators involved with Dillon’s 1981 case were “floored” when they saw the tip – apparently, they had no idea it existed.) Because the state attorney for Brevard County, Norm Wolfinger, was an assistant public defender for the county at the time of Dillon’s case, the reopened case was transferred to the 7th District Court in Daytona Beach to avoid a conflict. According to the court’s spokeswoman, Shannon Peters, the case is still under “active” investigation and hence, no arrest warrant for Johnstone nor any other suspects has been issued.

Neither the sheriff’s office nor the state attorney’s office has issued an official apology for Dillon’s wrongful conviction back in 1981. “If there was an apology due, it might be due from the people involved back then,” Goodyear says, adding that all of those involved in Dillon’s original case at the sheriff’s office have either retired or died.

Given that Dillon has been officially cleared of the murder, his lawyers are now attempting to push the compensation bill, slated for a vote during next year’s legislative session, back up to the $1.35 million Dillon had originally requested.

One of those lawyers is Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida. He says his organization is currently working on 35 cases, but receives roughly 1,000 requests for assistance per year. In light of the convictions of Dillon and many others, the organization has recommended several reforms to eyewitness identification procedures, but Miller also suggests that the problems with Dillon’s case go far beyond clumsy policing. “It’s the clear case of tunnel vision,” he says. “They completely ignore any evidence that is contrary to their theory that he’s the person who committed the crime.”

It’s for that reason that Dillon is considering filing a civil suit in Brevard County over prosecutorial and police misconduct, though he won’t say when. In the nearer future, he’ll be telling his story to audiences across Florida in a CD release tour slated for the coming months. Dillon sees both plans as part of a larger goal: to hold those responsible for his lost years accountable. “In reality, I was meant to take this battle on,” Dillon says. “And I’m willing to take it on.”


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