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Evidence mounts against dog handler named in lawsuits

By LESLIE WILBER
Aug. 11, 2009 at 3:11 a.m.
Updated Aug. 12, 2009 at 3:12 a.m.


INNOCENCE PROJECT INVESTIGATION

A report detailing the Innocence Project of Texas' investigation into Keith Pikett's scent lineups should be finished within weeks.

"We have done hundreds of hours of work so far in the last month," said Jeff Blackburn, the group's chief counsel. "It's pretty disturbing."

The Innocence Project is investigating several cases in which Pikett's testimony was used to get a conviction, Blackburn said.

"This is a very flawed witness who is giving very flawed testimony," Blackburn said.

The group plans to share its findings with law enforcement across the state. The Innocence Project would also like to make a formal complaint to an outside law enforcement agency in hopes of triggering an official investigation, Blackburn said.

When the report is finished, it will be available online, Blackburn said.

Court filings accuse a Fort Bend County Sheriff's deputy of lying about his schooling and the accuracy of his bloodhounds.

Keith Pikett is the only Texas dog handler who performs scent lineups, and his technique is the subject of two federal lawsuits.

"It would be irresponsible for any prosecutor to use him as a witness," Jeff Blackburn said in response to the latest documents filed in one suit against Pikett. Blackburn is the chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas, a group that works to uncover wrongful convictions and is currently investigating Pikett.

The lawsuits, filed in Victoria, accuse Pikett of using shaky scent identification techniques that produce unreliable results.

In June, Pikett's attorney, Randy Morse, filed a motion asking Judge John Rainey to throw out former Victoria County Sheriff's Capt. Michael Buchanek's suit against Pikett.

Buchanek's home was searched after Pikett's bloodhounds picked his scent from lineups during the high-profile investigation of Sally Blackwell's murder.

Jeffery Grimsinger later pleaded guilty to killing the 55-year-old Victoria woman and is serving life in prison.

Rex Easley, who represents Buchanek, filed a lengthy response to Morse's motion on Friday.

The response included an excerpt from Pikett's testimony in the 1997 murder trial of Marcus Bridger Cotton. Cotton was executed in 2004.

In that trial, Pikett testified he earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Syracuse University and a master's in chemistry in Houston. In a 2000 pre-trial hearing, Pikett said he had a master's degree in chemistry.

But in deposition for Buchanek's suit, Pikett said he had a master's degree in education from the United States Sports Academy.

Easley filed copies of Pikett's diplomas Friday: A bachelor's of science from the University of Southern Alabama and a master's of sport science in sport coaching from the United States Sports Academy.

"He appears to testify to things that aren't true," Easley said.

Morse said he received Easley's response late Friday night.

"I have not even had a chance to review it," he said when asked about the allegations. Morse quickly ended the phone call.

News stories questioning Pikett's methods prompted former Harris County assistant district attorney Victor Wisner to call Easley. Wisner wrote an affidavit accusing Pikett and his hounds of picking out the wrong man in a lineup.

Wisner and Houston Police officers from the Westside Task Force were working on a case against a man accused in a series of burglaries. After the charges were filed, Wisner found out investigators from Houston's central burglary and theft had filed charges against another man. Those charges were based on a scent lineup by Pikett, Wisner wrote in his affidavit.

"The scent evidence was ludicrous and incriminated a person who was unrelated to the offenses," Wisner wrote. Wisner wrote an e-mail to all the prosecutors in the office, warning them that Pikett's evidence was unreliable.

"I also know the B&T officers he assisted had attempted to cover the incident up to protect Pikett's reputation," Wisner wrote.

Wisner did not want to elaborate on his cover-up allegations.

"I stand by everything in the affidavit," Wisner said.

The Houston Police Department did use Pikett in some cases, said Kese Smith, with the department of public affairs. He would not comment on the allegations in Wisner's affidavit.

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