JAILHOUSE SNITCHES, FLAWED JUSTICE

(This Op-Ed by yours truly, was published by Florida Today, on-line, 20 Oct 2017:  “Non-Vetted Jailhouse Snitches Make For Flawed Justice”)

Those spending prison time based on the testimony of a non-vetted jailhouse snitches who offered a story to gain personal favor from prosecutors, should have their cases seriously reviewed by the governor, or at the least, a district court of appeals, or perhaps the state Supreme Court.

Sadly, Brevard County had a number of those cases of non-vetted testimony from in-custody snitches in which the prosecutor’s office of the early 1980s used to help expedite convictions.

Bill Dillon spent 27 years in prison, based partly on the testimony of a jailbird who falsely claimed Dillon had confessed to him in the cell. That snitch openly admitted to his lie 27 years later. Another innocent man, Wilton Dedge spent 22 years in prison for rape, based partly on the self-serving testimony of another inmate. These cases were featured in FLORIDA TODAY’s award-winning podcast series Murder on the Space Coast.

In both cases, prosecutors also gave undue weight to a dog’s sniffer. The infamous handler, John Preston, had later been shamefully outcast from the justice system as a fraud, based on numerous cases. Juan Ramos, a Cuban refugee, spent his five years on death row starting in 1982 based on the same dog’s invalid reaction. Ramos won a retrial five years later and was found not guilty.

I’m familiar with another jailhouse snitch debacle that ensued in Miami-Dade in 1979. I had recently been assigned as captain of the homicide bureau only to learn that the FBI had been conducting a covert corruption investigation of some detectives. I was interviewed often on television, answering questions from the press. The atmosphere was tense.

During this time, an inmate at the county jail named Richard Milbourn, had contacted the State Attorney’s Office saying he had important information to relate. Milbourn later told prosecutors that he had been watching the news on TV in jail when he recognized a prominent police official as the same person he overheard talking to someone in a bar three months earlier. The topic: murder contract. The intended victim was supposedly a local drug kingpin. In fact, that kingpin was later found shot to death in his home.

The prosecutor’s office in Miami would not validate such damning testimony from someone in quest of favors without first ensuring it was true. The snitch submitted to a polygraph by an independent examiner. He flunked. Not only that, he admitted to contriving the story to help his own case.

I was that police officer. Had I been a captain in Brevard County in that era, I may have spent the rest of my life behind bars.

Sure, I know polygraphs are not admissible as hard evidence. Nevertheless, they still have great value as an interview tool. It certainly did in this case.

Prosecutors and cops made no effort to polygraph the snitches that sent Dillon and Dedge to prison. They accepted their word at face value. Nor did they polygraph the two snitches, one of whom is now dead, who helped send Gary Bennett to prison for a murder in 1983. And yes, those prosecutors and cops used the same corrupt dog handler, Preston, to manufacture evidence as was done in the Dillon and Dedge cases.

Anyone see a pattern here?

Prison inmate Gary Bennett, who had passed a polygraph, is now in his 34th year of a life sentence, still vehemently proclaiming his innocence.

Dillon and Dedge received financial compensations for their wrongful convictions, and if Bennett is ever exonerated, he’ll likely get the same. But no amount of money can atone for the horrifying, lifelong damage that was imposed upon innocent human beings.

The bane of corruption cannot be attached to the men who suffered here, it belongs with the bastions of justice whose job it was to seek truth, no matter the cost, no matter the embarrassment. But that didn’t happen. Instead, all that mattered was winning.

Still, no one has been held accountable.

Click here: Non-vetted jailhouse snitches make for flawed justice

 

 

10 Responses to JAILHOUSE SNITCHES, FLAWED JUSTICE

  1. Richard Plager October 20, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    Very interesting item; good to be retired.

    Glad you made it to Captain.

  2. Charlie October 20, 2017 at 10:44 am #

    Jail house snitches have nothing to lose hence they will be willing to make up any story that will look favorably on themselves. If it happens outside jail it’s inadmissable as “hear say’ Why isn’t “hear say” the same behind bars ?

  3. Pete October 20, 2017 at 11:08 am #

    Tragic. Where was the training and accountability all of which should start with a foundation of ethics.

  4. Jan Siren October 20, 2017 at 11:19 am #

    My time in jail can be measured in hours; not days, months or years. (Rioting charges against me dropped. A story for another time if anyone’s interested.) But that overnight in a drunk tank will stay with me forever. Couldn’t sleep: a detached voice from the next drunk tank kept moaning “You’re gonna die…!”) Enough punishment for whatever it was I was supposed to have done. Everyone arrested along with me kept REAL quiet until we we went before the judge next morning. No one “snitched.”

  5. Dave Rivers October 20, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    Marshall, that case you mentioned (FBI covert investigation) wouldn’t have been the case you gave to me when I came back to Homicide? I remember you telling me the FBI had all those files and I had to work off of “some” copies.

  6. Donald October 20, 2017 at 11:27 am #

    Nobody should be sentenced to prison solely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch! If the snitches testimony cannot be independently corroborated by other testimony, an investigation should continue until there is a critical mass of evidence to justify sentencing.

  7. Ron Fischer October 20, 2017 at 11:34 am #

    Being a cop in this age is one hell of a tough job. I have the utmost respect for every one of them. They have done a fabulous job in Oregon and the bad apples get culled rather quickly here.

  8. Kay Williamson October 20, 2017 at 7:26 pm #

    Thank you for bringing this to attention, Marshall. If those who only care about winning and not about justice were to be put in prison for just a week, perhaps they’d work harder for justice!
    So sad that anyone would be punished for something they didn’t do.

  9. George Sigrist October 21, 2017 at 1:33 pm #

    Sadly, in our history, statewide and national, too many prosecutorial members, judges, and politicians feel they are above the law, and, sadly, society allows it. We have for some time been living in a world in which the elite, the rich, the “entitled” can perform illegal activities and get away with them. I refer you to the Clintons and Obamas for example. We either have to enforce ALL the laws, policies, and regulations on the books, or….do away with them. Either make laws for everybody to abide by, or don’t make them at all. Brevard County 1970s officials should be jailed for the incompetence they have displayed. Incarcerating innocent people means the actual murderers, arsonists, thieves, rapists are out there walking the streets among us, very possibly stalking their next robberies and/or victims, and the reason being some hot shot idiot prosecutor and/or judge did not properly secure evidence, nor did he or she go about the prosecutorial process legally and adequately. I personally feel there are judges sitting on the bench who should never be there.

    Great article.

  10. freewoman October 26, 2017 at 8:30 pm #

    Very much appreciate your comments, based on your prior experience in this matter.

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