SUNDAY EDITION | New investigation in Dishon murder will have to overcome past problems
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- In 2003, several jurors told a reporter that the Bullitt County Sheriff's Department and prosecutors brought such a weak case in the 1999 murder of teenager Jessica Dishon that an outside agency should take over the investigation.
The case against then-murder defendant David "Bucky" Brooks fell apart, exposing a litany of mistakes by law enforcement officials, including evidence that disappeared.
Now, more than a decade later, the Bullitt County Commonwealth's Attorney and Sheriff's offices will have to overcome the many missteps of the initial investigation as they seek to prove it was actually Stanley Dishon, the slain teenager's uncle, who committed the crime.
The defense attorneys for Stanley Dishon have already indicated they plan on using the past mistakes as well as the evidence against Brooks as part of their case.
And the evidence released so far appears, like the first time around, to be circumstantial: The state's case rests largely on the testimony of two confidential informants who say Dishon, while incarcerated with them, told of how he killed his niece.
"The evidence is weak," said Jennifer Wittmeyer, one of the attorneys representing Dishon. She noted that only about 150 of the 1,128 pages of evidence turned over to the defense recently has anything to do with her client. "It's all circumstantial. I haven't seen any physical evidence so far."
The rest of the evidence, at least so far, is the past investigation into Brooks and two men who were seen with Jessica the night before she disappeared.
Brian Butler, a prominent Louisville defense attorney who has also been a prosecutor, said without a confession or strong physical evidence, convicting Stanley Dishon will be extremely difficult because of the Brooks trial and problems in the initial investigation.
"The fact that you charged someone (Brooks), indicted them, brought them to trial and told a jury they were guilty is almost insurmountable," Butler said. "Whoever represents (Stanley Dishon) is going to stand up and ask this jury, ‘How can you rely on this investigation?'"
Jessica vanished from her driveway on Sept. 10, 1999. Police have said she was dragged from the front seat of her car as she was leaving for school.
Her body was found 17 days later about seven miles away in a site known as the Salt River bottoms, a dumping ground for trash, stolen vehicles and other contraband. She had been beaten and strangled.
So far, the evidence against Stanley Dishon consists of two prison informants who say he confessed separately to them that he confronted and then strangled his niece, out of anger, jealousy and fear that she was going to reveal that he had been having sex with the 17-year-old.
Also, family members of Stanley Dishon describe his odd behavior around the time the teen was killed and investigators say they caught Dishon in several lies during an interview in which he denied having anything to do with the murder.
Stanley Dishon also has a criminal history of sexually abusing young girls. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to two counts of sodomy, entering an Alford plea, meaning he maintained his innocence but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2005.
Given the past problems, evidence against Stanley Dishon would have to be "irrefutable," Butler said. "Witness statements without hard evidence is going to be very difficult. … I would find it remarkable if a jury found him guilty."
But Bullitt County Sheriff Dave Greenwell said in an interview he believes investigators have "an excellent case. I do feel like when it is presented to a jury he will be convicted."
As for the initial investigation being flawed and Brooks being charged, Greenwell acknowledged those will be obstacles to overcome, but said, "that was a totally different administration with different problems.
"I don't think (getting a conviction) will be the easiest thing we've ever done," he continued. "But it won't be as tough as some say. This is a different administration. We have made no mistakes."
Butler said the prosecutors will still have to contend with the problems, no matter when they occurred – especially things like missing evidence.
There were many mistakes acknowledged by the sheriff's department.
For example, in the recently released evidence, Greenwell, who as a rookie deputy was the first investigator on the scene when Jessica disappeared, said in an interview with investigators that he repeatedly asked then-Det. Charles Mann to come to the scene, after finding one of Jessica's shoes. Mann, who is now deceased, refused to come to the scene, saying Jessica would return home on her own.
It would be days before a detective saw the scene or Jessica's vehicle. By that point, family, neighbors and even some media had been in the vehicle, making it pointless to try to test for fingerprints.
And Greenwell said he turned over his photos of the scene and notes he took to the other detective at the time, Jim Adams. That evidence has never been located, according to a summary of his interview in court records.
Among other admitted mistakes in the case:
A videotaped interview with a friend of Jessica's, who told police he saw her in the company of two men the night before she disappeared, was lost for more than two years by the department.
Sheriff's deputies kept a piece of Jessica in a box in a warm property room for two years - even though the box was marked on all sides that it should be kept frozen.
Former Sheriff Paul Parsley admitted years ago that mistakes were made in the investigation, acknowledging that important information - notes, interviews and pictures - went missing.
Some jurors in Brooks' 2003 murder trial told a reporter afterward that they were outraged by the sheriff's department's investigation. The department blew the case from the beginning and then tried to make Brooks the scapegoat, five jurors said in media interviews after the trial.
And investigators apparently didn't interview Stanley Dishon after the murder, even though he had lived for years with the Dishon family and was later convicted of sexually abusing his daughter and step-daughter.
Carol Ann Waters, the former wife of Stanley Dishon, said in an interview with investigators last summer that she believed it was odd no law enforcement ever talked to her husband about Jessica's disappearance, adding that he acted "very nervous and peculiar" while the teen was missing, unable to sleep and was "obsessed with watching the television before and after her disappearance."
Greenwell said in an interview that Stanley Dishon has "been on my radar for a lot of years but it was not a case that was mine or I was working."
On June 6, 2013, Bullitt County Det. Lynn Hunt got a call from Louisville Metro Police Detective Gary Huffman about an interview he was having with an inmate in an unrelated case. At the conclusion of the interview, Huffman asked the inmate if he knew of any unsolved homicides, according to a summary by Hunt.
That inmate would go on to give three interviews to investigators about Stanley Dishon confessing to killing his niece because he was jealous she had a boyfriend and that he feared she was going to reveal his sexual abuse. That interview led to another inmate who provided similar details.
Steve Romines, a prominent Louisville defense attorney who has tried cases in Bullitt County, said jurors do not accept testimony from inmates very easily.
"There's nothing in the judicial system less reliable than jailhouse snitches," he said. "They are in prison for a reason. They are looking for anything to try to get out. They will say whatever they have to."
The inmate who gave three interviews, called witness "X" in court records, told Hunt "the commonwealth should do something for me" for giving them the information on Stanley Dishon and identifying the other inmate to whom Stanley also allegedly confessed.
Hunt told the inmate she was making no promises to help him. Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Mann has said his office is not going to talk about evidence in the case and has not returned phone and e-mail messages. Mann, who tried Brooks and after a mistrial dropped the charges for lack of evidence, has turned this case over to an assistant, prosecutor Michael Ferguson.
Ferguson did not return phone messages or e-mails seeking comment.
For his part, Stanley Dishon repeatedly denied having any involvement during a nearly two- hour interview with Huffman and Hunt, saying the prison informants were lying. The detectives pushed Dishon, telling him they had evidence pointing to his involvement.
"I don't care what you got. I did not do anything to harm my niece," Dishon said. "I know that. … I did not murder my niece. I am innocent."
The majority of the evidence released so far is what was used against Brooks:
For example, investigators said that a rope found tied to Jessica's leg and another rope found on a road near her body are similar in fiber composition and construction to one on the Brooks family farm, which is next to the Dishon home.
Investigators found burned clothing and two pairs of gloves at the Brooks farm and said the gloves and clothes were worn while Brooks and one of his brothers moved Jessica's body.
In a series of interviews with FBI agents, David Brooks repeatedly changed his story about what he was doing the morning Jessica disappeared.
And when asked where Jessica was, Brooks responded, "I do not know where the body's at," according to the records. Later, asked what he would say if his fingerprints were on her body, Brooks replied, "If my fingerprints are around her, I'll have to admit it."
The FBI did not record that interview.
Brooks also said he saw Jessica on the morning she disappeared – standing beside her vehicle with the car door open - saying he waved to her while driving to his father's business.
He also failed three FBI polygraph tests during the initial investigation into Jessica's disappearance.
Brooks' first trial ended in a mistrial when Det. Charles Mann testified that Brooks failed a lie-detector test. The results of polygraph tests are not admissible in trials in Kentucky.
After the mistrial, Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Mann said there was simply not enough evidence against Brooks to warrant another trial.
During Brook's trial, one of his attorneys, Vince Yustas, argued that the Sheriff's Department mishandled and lost evidence and investigators focused solely on Brooks from the beginning. Yustas has since passed away.
And Brooks' attorneys pointed the finger at two other men, alleged to have been seen with Jessica in a black Camaro shortly before and after she disappeared.
Several witnesses during the trial identified the men, Jason Dunford and James Coulter, as being with Jessica the night before her disappearance and in the following days.
The evidence released last week has even more information on Dunford and Coulter that was revealed in the years after the Brooks trial.
For example, in 2005, a witness told investigators that Jessica was killed because she owed Dunford money.
On Jan. 15, 2013, Mike Dishon, Jessica's father, called Hunt asking that she look further into Coulter and Dunford, according to the records.
But the records show Hunt wrote that Dunford and Coulter had already been cleared by the FBI and follow-up interviews with detectives.
In her audio interviews with Stanley Dishon and the two informants Hunt expressed confidence that he was responsible.
Inmate X told her he was "100 percent sure" about Stanley Dishon's guilt, saying, "It all just fits together."
"It does fit," Hunt replied.
Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All rights reserved.