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Case where DNA cleared prisoner to get new look

Orlando Sentinel (Florida)
BYLINE: John A. Torres, Florida Today

Brevard County, FL

The Brevard County Sheriff's Office has reopened a 1981 homicide investigation that put a man in prison for 27 years before DNA raised doubts about his guilt.

William Dillon, who was convicted of killing James Dvorak, was released from prison last year after DNA testing excluded him from a key piece of evidence used against him in the case. Prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

During a legislative hearing Monday in Tallahassee, where Dillon is attempting to get compensation for wrongful incarceration, jailhouse informant Roger Dale Chapman apologized to Dillon and said he was told to lie by Brevard sheriff's Detective Thom Fair. In exchange, he said, the state dropped sex charges against him.

Fair, who worked for the agency from 1975 to 2000, recently applied for the position of the county's animal services and enforcement director.

"In light of the sworn testimony provided at yesterday's legislative hearing, we have decided to reopen the homicide investigation involving the murder of James Dvorak which took place 28 years ago," Sheriff Jack Parker said. "We need to do everything we can to determine the truth in this case regardless of whether or not it can be successfully prosecuted."

Dvorak, 40, was beaten to death in a section of Canova Beach known for homosexual trysts. More than a week after the killing, detectives saw Dillon near the scene. He became a suspect after telling investigators that he had heard about the incident.

In addition to the use of fraudulent dog handler John Preston -- who was discredited in 1984 -- the state used Chapman's testimony. He said Dillon admitted to the crime in the county jail.

Chapman said Fair took him to an interrogation room for a recorded interview and another officer silently wrote desired answers on a note pad, holding them up while Fair asked questions. Chapman said investigators told him Dillon was guilty and that testifying about a jailhouse confession would make his own legal troubles go away.

Another key witness against Dillon was his girlfriend, Donna Parrish, though it was disclosed she was sleeping with another of the sheriff's detectives. She, too, said she lied against Dillon during an official hearing before the judge only one week after the trial, but the judge rejected her recantation.

Dillon was sentenced to life in prison. He maintained his innocence and fought for DNA testing, which eventually led to his release after favorable results.

"This is totally awesome, Dillon said. "I'm very thankful, and I really hope the effort is sincere."

Attorney Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, said he was not confident the Sheriff's Office was capable of investigating itself.

"They had the wrong guy in prison for 27 years in prison," Miller said. "I'm surprised it took them a year to do this.

If their intentions are in good faith then everyone should be supportive. Solving murders is their job."

Parker said the investigation will be assigned to the homicide unit, which will review the entire case. The investigation, he said, will include a long look at actions taken by the investigators assigned in 1981.

"I have absolute confidence that if there is anything that can be found, our homicide unit will find it," Parker said.

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