We had a big weekend on the Brevard County/John Preston front. We we have noted here, here, and here, that there has been mounting pressure on Brevard prosecutor, Norman Wolfinger, to do the simply task of looking through his own files to determine any cases that may have involved John Preston.
Wolfinger continually said that he wouldn’t do that, instead arguing that it was up to individual inmates to challenge their convictions that may have been tainted by John Preston and his magic dogs. Meanwhile, Florida Today and the local public defender commenced their own investigations into identifying the universe of John Preston cases.
Now, the state attorney’s office has finally realized that it may be wise to get out in front of this issue before it gets out of control. from Florida Today’s Saturday edition, Wolfinger said:
I asked my staff to re-review the cases we can identify as involving John Preston. To the best of my knowledge, there are four people in prison today who had cases in which Preston and one of his dogs were used.
Wolfinger also explained that his office did an examination of the Preston cases in 2004 after Wilton Dedge’s exoneration and that they believed then, and they believe now that three of the four people still in prison, possible because of Preston’s fraud, are in fact guilty. He also noted that this re-review would be limited to sexual battery and murder cases
One way to look at this is that it is better late than never. But there are a so many problems with these statements. First, as I stated int he article, this proposed state attorney reinvestigation is too narrow. It only looks at those cases where Preston was involved and the subject is still in prison. But the offending acts took place over twenty-five years ago. Those affected may have been released or maybe even are deceased. Or maybe they pled when they were confronted with Preston’s conclusions. And what about the cases that are not rape and murders? So this proposed investigatio is clearly not adequate.
Second, and probably most disturbing, is that when they reviewed the cases in 2004, after Dedge, they apparently didn’t even turn up Bill Dillon’s case. As we all know, Bill was an IPF client who was exonerated last fall. So how thorough could they have been and how thorough can we expect them to be this time around.
Third, can we trust them? The reason folks of all stripes have been urging an outside investigation is that no one really believes that an internal investigation will be anything more than a CYA mission. Despite all the highminded rhetoric about justice and innocence, when Wolfinger’s office did a review of Preston’s work in the 1980s, his office determined that it was sound and admissible and that critiques about the Preston’s veracity or reliability were mere complaints by guilty litigants. The same people who came to that conclusion then, are still with the state attorney’s office and will likely be the one’s who perform the proposed re-review.
This is a classic example of the ox guarding the henhouse. Luckily, as the Orlando Sentinel noted on Sunday, candidates for Florida’s highest office are weighing in on the side of accountability:
At that moment in 1984, every one of the cases in which Preston testified should’ve been reviewed.
So says State Sen. Dan Gelber, a former prosecutor and one of two Democrats hoping to face the Republican Kottkamp in the attorney general’s race next fall. “The nightmare of any prosecutor is to put an innocent person in jail,” Gelber said. “It’s an abomination of the system.”
His Democratic opponent, Dave Aronberg, agreed. “The attorney general has an obligation to do justice, no matter what. And justice is not just convictions,” he said. “I will look at this. I will not ignore it.”
So there is hope, I guess. Lots of rhetoric, we’ll see about the action and whether it is honest, or a self-serving attempt to make this issue go away.