New York City lawyers appeared Thursday in a Durango courtroom to assist Mark Redwine, a Vallecito man accused of killing his son, Dylan, almost seven years ago.
M. Chris Fabricant, director of strategic litigation for the New York-based Innocence Project, and Dana Delger, strategic litigation attorney, are helping public defenders discredit the validity and reliability of cadaver dogs – dogs trained to detect the odor of human remains.
Prosecutors plan to use cadaver dog evidence, in part, to pin the 2012 disappearance and death of Dylan, 13, on his father.
The Innocence Project became involved as early as March 11 when Colorado public defender John Moran signed and submitted a 39-page motion written by the Innocence Project. The legal nonprofit based in New York City works to exonerate innocent inmates, improve case law through targeted litigation, pass laws to reform the justice system and support exonerees through social programs.
The motion argues that the ability of a dog to detect human remains at a specific location days, weeks, months or even years after the source of that scent was removed has not been proven “with any degree of scientific reliability,” attorneys wrote.
Sixth Judicial District Court Judge Jeffery Wilson said in May that defense attorneys did not persuade the court to disallow cadaver dog evidence, upholding a prior decision despite new arguments.
But he gave defense lawyers an opportunity to present further arguments and evidence to demonstrate the unreliability of cadaver dogs.
Those arguments are being presented this week, with Redwine’s defense attorneys Moran and Justin Bogan inviting the Innocence Project attorneys to convince Wilson of the dogs’ unreliability.
The dogMolly, a cadaver-sniffing dog from Wisconsin, alerted her trainer Carren Corcoran to the odor of human remains in 2013 and 2014. The dog alerted on clothes Redwine was wearing the night his son went missing, according to law enforcement. Molly detected the odor of human remains at Redwine’s home near Vallecito Reservoir, in the bed of his Dodge pickup and on Middle Mountain Road north of the reservoir where Dylan’s partial remains were found in June 2013.
Molly, a single-purpose cadaver dog, identified the scents nine months after Dylan’s disappearance. Prosecutors, in part, hinge their case on the fact that cadaver dogs “indicated that a deceased person had been in (Redwine’s) living room and bed of his pickup truck ... ,” according to the indictment.
Molly died in 2018.
Prosecutors have introduced hundreds of pages of training records and certifications to validate the dog’s reliability.
Corcoran has worked as a full-time patrol dog handler for about nine years. She testified Thursday that in unrelated cases between 2008 and 2013, Molly made at least six alerts to the odor of human remains when no remains were found. But the dog’s alerts were later validated when suspects confessed bodies had been present where Molly marked.
But Innocence Project staff attorney Delger identified at least three training records provided to the court where Molly either did not alert to decaying material or did not mark the exact location where the odor of human remains emanated from.
The scienceMary Cablk, a Nevada-based researcher who focuses on sensory detection and is a cadaver dog trainer, testified that sniffing dogs must be trained to a specific environment and, in the case of cadaver dogs, to a specific level of decomposition.
A dog trained with fresh human remains in a humid climate would not be reliable searching for decomposing human remains in an arid region, Cablk testified.
Cadaver dogs need at least 16 hours of training each month, Cablk said. Corcoran testified that she trained Molly eight hours a week. Cablk said dogs also should not be trained to alert to the scent of hair; Corcoran testified that Molly was trained to detect hair.
Cablk said dogs that train with fresh human remains pick up on different chemicals than dogs trained to detect decaying body parts. Molly had never trained with human remains, or the odor of human remains, that had been decomposing for at least nine months, Corcoran testified.
A well-trained dog won’t just find an odor but will locate where it emanates from, Cablk said: “If the dog can put its nose on it, I would expect that.” And residual odor from human remains may stay in an area for no more than a week, she said. It can’t be quantified, and sunlight and heat can change the composition of the odor, she said.
“It doesn’t last forever,” Cablk said of the odor of human remains.