Sunday, August 2, 2009

Our views: Not good enough

Full investigation of state attorney's office use of fraudulent dog handler still needed.

State Attorney Norm Wolfinger’s announcement he’ll have his staff review some cases that involved John Preston only heightens the case for a complete probe of the office’s use of the discredited dog handler in trials between 1981 and 1984.

At least two Brevard criminal justice veterans from that era — former prosecutor and Titusville resident Sam Bardwell and retired Brevard Circuit Judge Gilbert Goshorn — say Preston was known to be a fraud, yet used to trump up evidence to win convictions.

Three of those convicted have since been exonerated or had their charges dropped — Wilton Dedge, William Dillon and Juan Ramos, who were wrongfully imprisoned for decades in the gross travesty of justice.

Wolfinger plans to focus only on murder and battery cases linked to Preston and on those now in prison.

That’s too narrow and should be broadened to all the cases in which Preston played a role, which could number as many as 100.

That should include a review of cases in which persons were charged with other crimes, of ex-
prisoners now free but still bearing the stigma of felony convictions and of those who have since died, so the names of potentially innocent men can be cleared.

It should also mean a full inquiry into the actions of public officials involved in the Preston abuses who may have broken the law.

That said, we frankly doubt Wolfinger’s office can conduct the investigation needed to restore badly damaged trust in the state attorney’s office and Florida’s criminal justice system.

In-house probes are inherently suspect as exercises that don’t go deep enough and shield the guilty.

We also think Wolfinger’s late response to frequent calls for scrutiny in the Preston-related cases could be spurred by political concerns.

In other words, damage control as the issue grabs the spotlight on the campaign trail.

Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink has spoken in favor of a review of the dog-handler cases, and all three candidates for attorney general — Republican Jeff Kottkamp and Democrats Dan Gelber and Dave Aronberg — are making noise about looking into the matter if elected, according to the Orlando Sentinel.


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