MIAMI – Authorities in central Florida will reopen a 1981 homicide investigation that previously ended with the conviction of a man who was imprisoned for 27 years before DNA evidence cast doubt on the case.
Brevard County Sheriff Jack Parker said in a statement that testimony during this week's compensation hearing for former inmate William Dillon convinced his agency to reopen the original investigation.
"We need to do everything we can to determine the truth in this case regardless of whether or not it can be successfully prosecuted," Parker said in the statement, released Tuesday night. "I have absolute confidence that if there is anything that can be found, our Homicide Unit will find it."
Dillon, 50, was convicted of the 1981 bludgeoning death of James Dvorak, a brutal killing that authorities described as a robbery gone wrong. New DNA testing led to Dillon's release from prison last year, and a judge ordered a new trial. But prosecutors later dropped the murder charge.
"They should have been doing this a year ago," said Seth Miller, executive director of Innocence Project of Florida. "A year has gone by, the case has gotten colder. It's going to make it that much more difficult to solve the case. You have to question what their intentions are."
When asked to explain the timing of the announcement, as well as whether authorities would investigate those who worked on the original Dvorak case, a Brevard County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman declined to comment further.
Dillon testified in Tallahassee this week during a hearing on claims bills filed in the House and Senate that would compensate him $1.35 million. A jailhouse informant whose testimony put Dillon in prison also spoke to a pair of special masters, who have been appointed by each legislative chamber. In his testimony, the informant recanted statements he made decades ago.
Roger Dale Chapman said an investigator threatened him with prison and told him to get a confession out of Dillon.
"I feel that today's technology and stuff like that will probably help secure a better conviction on the actual perpetrator," Dillon said Wednesday. "I firmly believe that the light is on them now, and if they do come up with a suspect, then they'll probably have who it is."
Dillon's case is similar to that of Wilton Dedge, who served 22 years in Florida's prison system for a 1981 rape he didn't commit. Dedge's case was also in Brevard County and DNA evidence helped free him.
"We have to ask ourselves, why this? Why now? Why weren't they investigating after Wilton Dedge's case?" Miller said. "That's the big issue here. I think there's good cause to be skeptical."