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William Michael Dillon Granted Final Pardon

William Michael Dillon's Facebook page

A man who spent twenty-seven years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit appeared before Florida’s governor and cabinet this week.  Tom Flanigan reports William Michael Dillon wants his experience to serve as an example of how the criminal justice system can make terrible mistakes.

In 1979, William Michael Dillon was a somewhat rambunctious nineteen year old.  That was the year he was busted in Florida and convicted of possessing marijuana – a misdemeanor – and a single Quaalude – a felony.  Two years later, Dillon was arrested again.  This time in connection with the beating death of James Dvorak on a Brevard County beach.  Dillon was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

“Of seven possible wrongful conviction criteria I had six. And the one that I didn’t match up with was something to do with confessing to the crime.”

After twenty-seven years in prison, new DNA evidence proved that Dillon was not the murderer.  He was exonerated in December of 2008.  In this year’s legislative session, lawmakers passed a claims bill giving him one-million-three-hundred-fifty thousand dollars in compensation for the wrongful murder conviction.  But there was still one thing hanging over Dillon’s head.  The 1979 drug conviction, which had helped convince everyone involved with the Dvorak murder that Dillon was the killer.  On December thirteenth of this year, Dillon stood before the Florida Clemency Board, consisting of the governor and cabinet, to receive a pardon for that drug conviction.  That’s when Dillon approached Governor Rick Scott.

“I shook his hand and I said, ‘Governor, it’s nice to meet you.  But I’m glad they didn’t give me the death penalty because you wouldn’t be talking to me right now.”

That message, Dillion says, seemed to have an impact.

“It sort of took him back a little bit.  It was sort of a step-back statement, because I know he has a position in the world.  But he did step back on it and contemplate it, and it’s the truth.  It was the point-blank truth and there was no way to get around it because, on paper, I would have been executed.”

Today, William Michael Dillon, now in his early fifties, lives in North Carolina.  And he’s a man on a mission.

“It really breaks my heart a lot of times to think about some of the things that took place.  But at the same time, I know it’s important for me to express to people what took place, how I feel about it and everything in order for people to be enlightened to wrongful conviction.”

For Dillon, much of that expression now takes the form of music.

“My ‘Black Robes and Lawyers’ went to number-ten on I-Tunes in July and it is a major, major production.  I’m also working currently on a second CD.  I’m loving life.  I’m on the board of I.P. and I’m pushing for every kind of awareness of wrongful conviction.  I’d live to look into the revamping of the Innocence Commission.”

Created by the Florida Supreme Court in 2009, the twenty-five member commission was made up of judges, lawyers, lawmakers, law professors and law enforcement people.  It reviewed cases and made suggestions on how to improve the state’s criminal justice mechanisms.  Governor Scott de-funded it this past May.  Beyond his personal campaign against wrongful conviction, Dillon is also waging a fight against the Florida death penalty.

“It’s not our call for that.  And I know there’s some who may actually need it.  But it’s not our call and that’s what our taxes are paying for anyway.  Let’s just keep them where they are.  They’re not going anywhere.”

Although the same cannot be said of William Michael Dillon.  He says he’ll continue his journey to see that cases like his become, if not impossible, at least far less likely to happen.