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Stories Added - June 2010
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Winfrey files civil suit in federal court attacking dog scent lineups
San Jacinto News- Times
COLDSPRING – Richard Winfrey, Jr. put the county on notice last December when he fi led a notice of intent to sue and on May 26 his suit was fi led in the United States District Court, Southern District of Texas. The federal civil suit names defendants as San Jacinto County, San Jacinto County Sheriff James Walters, Former San Jacinto County Sheriff Lacy Rogers, former San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Lenard Johnson, Texas Ranger Grover Huff, Texas Ranger Ronald Duff, Fort Bend County, Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright, former Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Keith Pikett and as-of-yet unknown employees of San Jacinto County, Texas Rangers and employees of Fort Bend County. The suit states that Winfrey was wrongfully charged with capital murder on the basis of knowingly contrived dog scent lineups. “These dog scent lineups, which were developed by defendant Keith Pikett, epitomize the worst of junk science and the defendants knew it,” the suit states. The suit states that the defendants knew that dog scent lineups were a fraud but nonetheless continued to use them in their criminal investigations. “The defendants fabricated evidence, including coached false testimony that incriminated Winfrey to corroborate the fi ndings of the dog scent lineups. “Ultimately, the criminal case against Winfrey fell apart, just as the dog scent lineups have been exposed a fraud. On June 12, 2009, after spending more than two years wrongfully imprisoned on capital charges and branded a murderer, Winfrey was acquitted of all charges and released from custody,” the suit states. Further attacking Pikett’s dog scent lineups, the suit states the lineups “epitomize the worst of junk science.” According to the suit, Pikett’s dog scent lineups was exposed well before Winfrey was charged with and prosecuted for capital murder. “Before Winfrey’s arrest, the dog scent lineups were so patently false a senior prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Offi ce alerted the Houston Police Department to the fact that Pikett and his dogs were a fraud,” it states. According to the suit, in the days following the Aug. 7, 2004 murder of Murray Burr, the defendants canvassed the neighborhood looking for potential witnesses. “instead of initiating a search for the perpetrator of this heinous crime, the defendants simply determined that Winfrey and his family were the offenders,” it states. “The defendants actively ignored all evidence to the contrary, including DNA tests performed on evidence collected at the crime scene that excluded Winfrey as an offender.” On Feb. 8, 2007, more than two years after Burr’s death, Winfrey was arrested for the murder of Murray. On June 12, 2009, after a five day trial, Winfrey was acquitted of the murder. The jury reached its determination in only 13 minutes. “Although Winfrey has regained his freedom, it has come at a tremendous cost. Winfrey spent nearly two and one half years incarcerated for a capital crime that he did not commit. During his wrongful incarceration, Winfrey was deprived of the various pleasures of basic human experience, which all free people enjoy as a matter of right. As a result of his wrongful incarceration, Winfrey has suffered tremendous damage, including extreme emotional distress, physical suffering and financial loss,” the suit states. “The constitutional injuries were caused by a pattern and practice of misconduct which occurred with the knowledge and consent of those of the defendants who acted in a supervisory capacity, such that these officers personally knew about, facilitated, approved and condoned this pattern and practice of misconduct, or else affirmatively turned a blind eye without taking any steps to stop it,”it states. Winfrey is also suing for at least four state law violations for: malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. He is seeking compensatory damages, costs and attorneys’ fees as well as punitive damages against each of the individual defendants and any other relief the court deems appropriate. Last December, Winfrey presented San Jacinto County with a demand suit claiming that he suffered “tremendous damages” while falsely accused of capital murder and spending over two years in jail for crimes he did not commit. In that suit, filed without legal representation, he was seeking $3 million in damages. He is currently represented by a Chicago based law firm. Winfrey was the third family member tried for the 2004 brutal slaying of Murray Burr, a Willow Springs resident who worked as a janitor for the Coldspring- Oakhurst Consolidated Independent School District. His father, Richard Winfrey Sr., was tried in 2007, found guilty and sentenced to 75 years in prison. His sister, Megan Winfrey, was given a life sentence for capital murder and 45 years for conspiracy to commit murder following a 2008 trial. Both were convicted using Piket’s dog scent lineups. According to a Harris County medical examiner, Burr’s injuries were located on his face, neck and head. Burr sustained 28 sharp-force injuries. The fatal wound involved the left internal jugular vein and the left external carotid artery. Burr’s right eye orbital was broken and both sides of his jaw were broken. Following young Winfrey’s trial, San Jacinto County Criminal District Attorney Bill Burnett said, “Because this was the weakest of the three cases we tried this one last. I am convinced that the two primary actors were convicted. I think a fair trial by an impartial jury showed that even though we could put Richard Jr., in contact with the victim the jury didn’t feel we had enough other evidence to corroborate the canine scent evidence in this case. In the other two cases we did have sufficient corroboration coming from the defendants themselves.” During the June 2009 trial for Winfrey Jr., it was announced that the 11th Court of Appeals had upheld the 2007 jury conviction of Richard Lynn Winfrey Sr., for the offense of murder.