In the heyday of his career as an “expert” for unscrupulous prosecutors around the state, Keith Pickett enjoyed a star witness status—the Hound Dog Handler, as he was called, sent many people to prison, some of whom were innocent, for many “win at all cost prosecutors.” He was the leader in the junk science known as “dog scent lineups.”
In a September 2009 report titled “Dog Scent Lineups: A Junk Science Injustice,” the Texas Innocence Project (“Project”) said Pickett was a New York native who got a chemistry degree from the University of South Alabama and a master’s degree in “Sport Science” from an Alabama institution called the United States Sports Academy.
Montgomery County Good Fit for Junk Science Hound Dog Handler
After taking advantage of this education in Alabama, Pickett moved to Texas where he bought an old bloodhound he decided to train to be a “police dog.” Armed with his Alabama education credentials, Pickett began shopping the scent of his old bloodhound to various law enforcement agencies. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department was so impressed with either the bloodhound or Pickett that they decided in 1990 to start using the duo in their search and rescue missions.
Pickett became known in law enforcement circles as the “Hound Dog Handler”—a moniker he was proud of, realizing its potential for expansion. He purchased yet another bloodhound, and by 1994, he was peddling the junk science notion that his hounds could perform “scent lineups.” The Texas Attorney General’s Office took the bait and decided to present Pickett as an “expert” to juries in criminal cases.
Lying Expert Sells Convictions, Cons Courts
The Project said Pickett burnished his “expert” credentials to these juries by falsely telling them he got a “Bachelor of Science in Chemistry” degree from Syracuse University and a “Master’s Degree in Chemistry” from the University of Houston. Pickett soon found himself on the “expert” trial circuit as prosecutors realized just how impressed jurors were about dog scent lineups. Pickett became a ticket to conviction.
The Hound Dog Handler actually became a folk hero in courtrooms far and wide in Texas. The Houston-based Fourteenth District Court of Appeals in 2002 declared him a “qualified expert.”
But, by 2006, prosecutors and law enforcement officials began to realize that Pickett’s hound dog expertise was a fraud as cases he was involved in began to unravel. The Project found that innocent people had their lives, their careers, and reputations destroyed by Pickett after they were wrongfully arrested and convicted based on his manipulated and manufactured dog handling expertise.
Lying Experts Convicts 16-Year-Old for Murder
One of those cases involved Megan Winfrey who was convicted of capital murder and conspiracy to commit capital murder based a Pickett’s dog scent lineup evidence. Megan was only sixteen years of age when she, her 17-year-old brother and father were arrested in 2004 in San Jacinto County for the murder of Murray Wayne Burr. Pickett’s scent lineup was the only evidence that connected Megan to the murder scene.
In 2013, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals had enough of Pickett’s fabrication of evidence. The court reversed Megan’s convictions, finding that Pickett’s dog scent lineup evidence was insufficient to sustain a criminal conviction.
Hound Dog Handler Claims Qualified Immunity
Megan immediately filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Pickett and other law enforcement investigators involved in Pickett’s dog scent lineup that wrongfully convicted her. In 2014, Pickett moved to have the lawsuit dismissed, screaming like a “scalded dog” that he enjoyed qualified immunity from any wrongs he committed as a law enforcement officer. The federal district court rejected that defense, finding there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial. The court based its decision to moved forward primarily on evidence presented to the court by Scott Nicely, a real police canine expert, who said Pickett’s dog scent lineup in Megan case was flawed for the following reasons:
- Newer scents stand out as fresher amongst older scents (Pickett had used older scents with Megan’s fresher scent);
- Scents from people who lived in the same place smell similar;
- Dog can become accustomed to scents if they are exposed to them regularly (and Pickett had used older scents his dogs were familiar with);
- Pickett’s claim that his dogs are accurate ninety nine percent of the time is unreliable;
- Pickett may have influenced his dogs because he kept them on a short leash and could see in the cans; and
- The dogs may have responded to deliberate cues from Pickett.
Handler Influenced Dogs to Alert
Nicely also told the court that Pickett had influenced his dogs to identify Megan’s scent and that the Hound Dog Handler “had no desire to protect someone from being falsely accused based on the use of Scent ID dogs.”
That was enough for the district court. The court decided a jury should hear this evidence and determine what, if any, liability should be attached to Pickett for his misconduct in Megan’s case.
Pickett took his hounds to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals which, in turn, chastised him for giving “lip service to the correct legal standard” that was decided against him in the district court. On September 29, 2017, The appeals court kicked the case back to the district court so the case against Pickett could proceed.
The scent of justice looms for the Hound Dog Handler, and it cannot come soon enough to suit us.