A Texas woman is suing investigators who used dogs to pick her out of a “scent lineup” – a widely questioned investigative technique that put her in prison for six years before she was acquitted.
Megan Winfrey, 25, was freed in April of 2013 after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld its own ruling acquitting her in the 2004 murder of a high school custodian, Murray Burr. Her father, Richard Winfrey Sr. and her brother, Richard Winfrey, Jr., have also been cleared after trials that all used the same evidence. In a lawsuit filed recently, Winfrey accused San Jacinto County, current and former sheriffs and deputies and the dog trainer of malicious prosecution and civil rights violations.
Richard Winfrey Sr., Richard Winfrey Jr., then 19, and Megan, then 18, were charged in 2007 with killing school janitor Murray Burr two years earlier. Winfrey Sr. was convicted in 2007 and Megan Winfrey was convicted in 2008. Richard Winfrey Jr., was acquitted after 13 minutes of deliberations in 2009. Richard Sr.’s conviction was overturned in 2010. Megan Winfrey had been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
All three cases used the same evidence: Quincy, James, Bond, and Clue, dogs who smelled Burr’s clothing then smelled samples of suspect’s clothing. They “alerted” on the Winfrey’s clothing, according to Deputy Keith Pikett, their trainer and handler.
The lawsuit called the dog scent lineups “the worst of junk science.”
In 2004, the FBI admitted that “human scent is easily transferred from one person or object to another…identifying someone’s scent at a crime scene is not an indication of complicity.” In 2005, the FBI found that there is “limited scientific data” to back up the use of dogs for human scents. In 2011, the National Institute of Health found an “overwhelming number of incorrect alerts” in its research.
Winfrey is ineligible for wrongful conviction compensation under Texas law because she was acquitted and not specifically declared “actually innocent” or pardoned.
FURTHER READING: Texas Tribune’s Out of Prison, Winfrey Struggles Despite Acquittal
Read about three other men who were wrongfully convicted based in part on dog scent evidence: