Testimony from 'dog scent lineup' sent woman to prison for crime she didn't commit
Megan Winfrey and her brother Richard were charged for the 2004 slaying of a high school janitor Murray Burr in Coldspring, Texas -- and believe it or not, some blockbuster evidence against them came from the "testimony" of a dog.
"I thought it was a joke. A dog? Really?" Megan told INSIDE EDITION. "In a million years, I never thought I would be in this kind of situation," added her brother Richard. Richard had never been in trouble with the law -- not even a traffic ticket. There was no physical evidence connecting Megan or Richard Winfrey to the crime scene. But they did have one "witness" who "said" they did it: a bloodhound.
Megan was stunned. "They said the dog alerted on my scent and I was the murderer." The bloodhound's handler, Keith Pikett, a former deputy sheriff in Fort Bend, Texas, said the Winfreys' scents matched the scent on the clothes of the murder victim. He conducted something called a "dog scent lineup" where his bloodhounds sniff the evidence from the crime scene and then compare it to scents taken from individuals with one of them being the suspect.
This type of evidence gathering has been called "junk science" by critics who say it is highly unreliable. When the dog signals on one of the scents by barking or stopping, Pikett considers it a match, and the evidence is used against the suspect at trial. Megan and Richard were arrested, along with their father.
A sheriff's detective tried to get the Winfreys to confess, but none of them did. "I tried to tell him that I did not do it. You don't know what you are talking about," explained Richard. "And he kept telling me that I did it and that I was going away for a long time."
Megan said, "I never would have dreamed that a dog could send me to prison for life." Former Maryland state trooper and dog expert, Doug Lowry says the dog-scent testimony used against the Winfrey family was a joke. He believes videos of "dog scent lineups" conducted by Keith Pikett show him stopping his dogs at cans where he knew the suspects scent was placed. "This is not credible evidence," stated Lowry.
While watching one of Pikett's dog scent lineup videos, INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerero asked, "Is Keith Pikett cueing this dog right now?" "Absolutely. His feet are together. The dog can't go any further, said Lowry. Guerrero asked, "If he walks past the first can and stops at the second can, that seems like it's a pretty obvious clue that he's cheating." "Pretty obvious, just for a lay person looking at it as yourself," said Lowry.
Nevertheless, a jury convicted Megan and her father, who were represented by public defenders. Megan was sentenced to life. Her father got 75 years. When Megan's brother went to trial, his family hired an experienced lawyer who proceeded to rip Piketts evidence to shreds. The jury came back in 13 minutes with a verdict of not guilty.
"The foreman told me that they would have been back sooner, but they didn't want to raise any suspicion," explained Richard. "They waited 13 minutes but they wanted to come back in five."
Megan spent six years in prison, her father three, until their cases got thrown out. INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero caught up with Pikett as he was walking one of his bloodhounds: "Hi Mr. Pikett, I'm Lisa Guerrero with INSIDE EDITION. Critics call your dog scent lineups, junk science. Do you have a response to that?" "Yeah, how far are you going to walk?" responded Pikett.
Pikett, who believes his lineups are legitimate, denies faking any evidence and says nobody is convicted solely on a dog's testimony.
"I just hope that one day he sits down and he reflects on this and does a lot of soul searching and asks for a lot of forgiveness for this, because he's going to need it," said Richard.