Thanks to The Statesman.com for this article.
Bloodhounds can link suspects to evidence.
By Miguel Liscano
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Fort Bend County sheriff’s Deputy Keith Pikett was putting on his uniform about 10 a.m., and his four bloodhounds were barking and pacing around, excited about another day’s work, when his cell phone rang.
On the other end, Elgin police Detective Patrick Hawthorne told the deputy that an 88-year-old woman had been viciously assaulted and he needed Pikett’s dogs James Bond, Quincy, Clue and Jag to help sniff out a suspect.
It was a short conversation: Hawthorne said he’d be in Fort Bend County, about 30 miles southwest of Houston, in a few hours with some scent samples for a lineup.
The results matched 32-year-old Reginal Demont James to the scene, and after DNA also matched, he pleaded guilty.
“The dogs identified Reginal James as the person who left that scent at the woman’s house before the DNA identified him,” Bastrop County District Attorney Bryan Goertz said. “The best science that man has to offer . . . DNA, all it did was confirm what the dogs had already told us.”
Hawthorne had worked with Pikett and his bloodhounds before. In fact, Pikett and the bloodhounds have helped the FBI, Texas Rangers and numerous other agencies link suspects to evidence found at crime scenes.
Bloodhounds are more generally known for their tracking ability. But Pikett’s technique, commonly known as a scent lineup, has been used for more than a century in Europe. And although Pikett is apparently the only person in Texas who conducts the lineups, they are still used in many places around the country.
For example, in a 1999 case in Southbridge, Mass., a bloodhound named Holly made an armed robbery suspect cry when she picked him out of a lineup, police Sgt. Daniel Southall said. The suspect confessed about 30 minutes later.
Does the nose know?
Using scent lineup results in court has been challenged and upheld on appeal in Texas as reliable evidence.
Still, some law enforcement agencies have never heard of them. Others, such as the Austin Police Department, don’t use live lineups at all.
Colorado County Attorney Ken Sparks said he thought the lineups were “junk science at first” but has since used them in murder, robbery, sexual assault and burglary cases.
Critics of the lineups say they are unreliable because some of what the dog does depends on the handler’s movements. Others question the reliability and extent of the training of both the handlers and dogs.
Prosecutors rarely, if ever, use scent evidence alone in cases. The dogs just strengthen the state’s case.
“The scent evidence puts the finishing touch on the state’s case,” Sparks said. “Like the whipped cream on a dessert.”
Unlike DNA, there is no need for a search warrant to capture someone’s scent. All it takes is a swift touch on the skin with a gauze pad.
Pikett says his dogs are accurate.
“It works every time. Quincy has done over . . . 1,250 of them and has been wrong twice,” Pikett said. “And that was probably my fault.”
Pikett, 60, has a master’s degree in chemistry from the University of South Alabama and taught the subject at a high school for 20 years before he traded his beakers for a badge nine years ago.
The dogs live with Pikett and his wife, Karen, in a Southwest Houston home with satin-finish easy-to-clean paint on the walls to avoid bloodhound slobber stains.
The Piketts bought their first bloodhound in 1989 and named her Samantha. Pikett said he started volunteering Samantha for searches, and the police started calling on him for help. Then, Pikett said, police told him, “Well, that’s nice, but can you find criminals?”
“It just got bigger and bigger,” he said.
Pikett carries a box of trading cards with the dogs’ pictures on them for anyone who’d like to know more about them. Each dog is wearing a badge.
Sniffing out suspect
The elderly woman was wearing a nightgown and hairnet and was confused about her age when police arrived at her one-story home in Elgin that early November morning. An ambulance immediately took her to the hospital.
She’d suffered second-degree burns and her clothes were melted to her body when the man who had sexually assaulted her set her bed on fire before leaving, Hawthorne said.
Before calling Pikett, Hawthorne found at least two witnesses from the woman’s neighborhood who said they were surprised to see James walking the streets before 5 a.m. He also fit the description the woman had given police.
When police ran a background check, they discovered James was wanted in Florida for violating his parole. So they arrested him.
A police officer went to James’ jail cell and lightly touched his skin with a gauze pad. Then Hawthorne called Pikett and told him he needed to see him soon.
The detective took the sample from James in a Ziploc bag and started the three-hour drive to meet with Pikett. He also took four other gauze pads that had been wiped on the woman’s bed, her ring, her dresser and a doorway.
In the lineup, the dogs’ job was to see if the samples from the crime scene matched the sample from James.
The lineup consisted of six cans about 10 feet apart one had a sample from James, and five contained gauze with the scents of people unrelated to the case.
The dogs were then given the scent from one of the crime scene samples and went to the cans to see if there was a match. The process was repeated for each sample from the crime scene.
Both dogs Quincy and James Bond matched James’ scent to the crime scene in all four tests.
Police also matched DNA and a shoe print to James. He pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.