Criminal defense in Austin Texas.

Richard Winfrey aka “Who Needs Evidence?”

Posted By on September 27, 2010

Richard Lynn Winfrey v. The State of Texas is one of those cases where you think, “How could that happen?”

Richard was convicted of a murder in 2007, and sentenced to 75 years in prison.  There was lots of evidence at the crime scene: DNA, hair, a bloody fingerprint, and a shoe print – none of which matched the defendant.  Instead, at trial, the prosecution relied on a “dog scent line-up,” in which a deputy walked a bloodhound by a line up of paint cans, and the dog “alerted” to the right one – the one containing a smell obtained from the defendant.

I immediately thought of “Clever Hans” – the horse who was thought to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide – and do other mathematical puzzles – until finally somebody figured out he could only do the math when his handler knew the answer.  (The horse was picking up on unconscious cues of people around him – not doing actual math.)

Despite the paucity of evidence, the jury convicted, and Winfrey was sent to prison – and would be there yet, but for the intervention of a lawyer who was able to – amazingly – convince the Court of Criminal Appeals to overturn the conviction.

Grits for Breakfast, as is so often the case, has an excellent summary.

According to Grits, dog scents are right only about 50% of the time.  “Why not flip a coin?” he asks.

Unfortunately, Winfrey’s then-sixteen year old daughter still sits in prison, convicted for the same crime, on the basis of the same evidence.  Once can only hope her conviction is overturned soon.


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