EDDYVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It’s been four years since the Bullitt County Sheriff’s Office solved the county’s highest profile murder, ending a tumultuous and often embarrassingly flawed investigation that began when teenager Jessica Dishon was taken from her home in 1999.
With the barely audible guilty plea of Dishon’s uncle, Stanley, in January 2015, investigators overcame a myriad of past mistakes, including the arrest and mistrial of Jessica’s neighbor, and declared they had no doubt the right man was going to prison.
And Stanley Dishon, now 60, said little to cast much doubt during his guilty plea and sentencing.
Now, for the first time, Stanley Dishon spoke publicly earlier this month from the Kentucky State Penitentiary at Eddyville, attempting to clear his name and reopen his case, saying it’s time “I come forward and tell the truth.”
“I wanted to tell people that I am an innocent man,” he told WDRB News last week. “I’ve been wrongfully convicted and put into prison. … I did not kill Jessica Dawn Dishon. I never had nothing to do with that.”
Dishon said he was at work at Hercules Coach Company in Louisville before 7 a.m. the morning 17-year-old Jessica was taken from her vehicle on Sept. 10, 1999, as she prepared to go to school. He said his co-workers and his boss’s secretary could vouch for him, claiming she handed him his check that morning.
The business closed in 2006 and former employees could not be reached for comment. The lead investigator in the case says co-workers were interviewed and they didn’t remember whether he was at work that day or not, given how many years had passed.
Dishon also says he pleaded guilty on advice of his attorneys and didn’t fully comprehend what he was doing.
“I don’t understand the law,” he said. “I don’t understand how the law even works.”
At the time, however, he told the judge he did know what he was doing.
Dishon’s attorneys have said they believe he did not kill Jessica but that he was facing separate charges of sexually abusing family members and a judge had ruled a past sexual assault conviction could be brought out in the murder trial.
“Had it just been the murder, we would have gone to trial no problem,” his attorney Jennifer Wittmeyer said at the time. Wittmeyer said Dishon faced a life sentence for the abuse cases and by pleading guilty to those charges and manslaughter in Jessica’s death, he was given 20 years, with a chance for parole in 16 years.
“We believe whoever killed (Jessica) is still out there,” Wittmeyer said at the time.
In his interview, Stanley maintained he has never admitted killing his niece, saying he hadn’t seen her in months before she died.
He denied it when investigators spoke to him and he entered an Alford plea in court, meaning he maintained his innocence but admitted a jury had enough evidence to find him guilty.
“I wanted to go to trial but I had no help,’” he said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Wittmeyer, Stanley Dishon’s lead attorney, said this week that he has always maintained his innocence, including the day he entered his plea, but she declined to comment on what he told WDRB.
“I was always told to keep my mouth shut and not speak out in court,” Dishon said, claiming he told his attorneys he wanted to prove his innocence at trial but they did not listen. “They snuck around and didn’t tell me what was going on.”
At his sentencing, Dishon said he was told by his attorneys “not to say a word or you will mess it all up. That’s exactly what they told me. There was nothing I could do.”
He described Jessica as a “good kid” and “the only daughter my brother had.”
While he said he does not think often of Jessica, he said, “I hope she went to heaven, and I believe the good Lord took her to heaven.”
Dishon said he has been trying to get his case reopened and has contacted the Kentucky Innocence Project, offering to take a polygraph test and provide his DNA.
Susanne Hopf, director of the innocence project, said Stanley requested assistance in 2017 but was told the group was not looking into his case.
Hopf said they have a backlog of cases right now and the initial rejection does not mean they wouldn’t review Dishon’s case in the future.
The evidence against Stanley Dishon was circumstantial, with the case resting largely on the testimony of two former inmates who say Dishon confessed to them, separately, while he was incarcerated.
Stanely Dishon claims the inmates lied and there is no physical evidence or anything else tying him to the case.
“They don’t have nothing on me, no evidence at all, no proof of nothing,” he said.
Talking to his brother
Jessica vanished from her driveway on Sept. 10, 1999. Police have said she was dragged from 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.
The case was revived in 2013 after two prison informants told investigators Stanley Dishon 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 sexually abusing her.
According to court records, when investigators interrogated Stanley Dishon, he said "I don't care what you got. I did not do anything to harm my niece. I know that. … I did not murder my niece. I am innocent."
Also, family members of Stanley Dishon described his odd behavior around the time the teen was killed, and investigators say they caught Dishon in several lies during an interview.
Carol Ann Walters, the former wife of Stanley Dishon, said in an interview with investigators 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."
“That’s all false,” Stanley Dishon told WDRB. “Every bit of it.”
Stanley Dishon said he searched for Jessica with hundreds of other people and denies any odd behavior.
The case has divided the Dishon family. Wanda Dishon, his sister, believes him. But Jessica’s father, Mike, who is Stanley Dishon’s brother, does not.
Wanda Dishon said she believes Mike Dishon’s view has changed some in recent years.
And Mike Dishon has filed paperwork with the state Department of Corrections to go see his brother for the first time since his arrest in 2013.
Stanley said he has been waiting for years to see his brother and tell him he is not guilty.
“I will tell him straight to his face and won’t back an inch,” Dishon said loudly, in one of the only moments of the hour-long interview in which he showed strong emotion.
“I will tell him exactly how I feel. I am an innocent man and they are lying on me to him,” he said. “I’m going to tell Mike that I didn’t have anything to do with his daughter’s death. It bothers me a lot that he ain’t come. It bothers me a lot.”
But Mike Dishon said while he is planning to go see his brother, it is to hear him admit to the murder and explain why he did it - and tell him whether anyone else was involved.
“I look at it this way, if he was innocent … he should have never took a plea bargain,” Mike Dishon said in an interview last week. “If you did not do it, or you was not involved with it, you are going to fight for your innocence.”
"Belongs where he is"
Former Assistant Bullitt Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Ferguson and lead investigator Lynn Hunt share Mike Dishon’s sentiment.
“He said he did it,” Ferguson said. “He had very good counsel, very good, competent counsel when he went to court.”
As far as not legally understanding what he was doing, Ferguson said Dishon participated in settlement negotiations that lasted for hours and his attorneys thoroughly discussed the plea bargain with him.
Ferguson acknowledged it would have been difficult to take the case to trial, given prosecutors tried another man, David “Bucky” Brooks, for the murder in 2003. That case ended in a mistrial and the charges were eventually dropped.
But Ferguson said investigators had Stanley Dishon’s prior criminal history of sexually abusing a child, the two recent statements from inmates saying Dishon confessed while with them in a sex offender treatment program and another statement from a cellmate several years prior.
Ferguson said the inmates were given no benefits for their statements against Dishon.
Asked about Dishon’s desire to take a polygraph, Ferguson said, “What good would it do? And who would care anyway?
“He is a despicable, evil man. And where he is is where he belongs. … God in his mercy may spare him the fires of Hell, that remains to be seen, but he belongs where he is today.”
Jessica Dishon’s mother, Edna Jett, also has no doubt Stanley Dishon is guilty and that he had his chance in court to proclaim his innocence.
“He’s a monster,” she said, adding that the family took Stanley Dishon in to live with them at one time.
But both she and Mike – who divorced about a decade ago – believe someone helped Stanley, arguing it would have taken at least two people to move her body.
“I think Stanley did it, my mind’s not going to change about that,” Jett said. “But if there are other people involved, they don’t need to be out there on the streets.”
The sheriff's department said the Dishon case is still open and urged anyone with information to come forward.
Both parents say mistakes made in the initial investigation still bother them.
For example, the first deputy on the scene when Jessica disappeared, said he repeatedly asked then-Det. Charles Mann to come to the home, after finding one of Jessica's shoes and her vehicle in disarray. Mann, who died in 2005, 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 Dave Greenwell, the first Bullitt County sheriff’s deputy on the scene, has said he turned over his photos and notes to a detective at the time, but they were lost.
Investigators also didn't interview Stanley Dishon after the murder, even though he had lived for years with the Dishon family. And they didn’t talk with him a few years later when he was convicted of sexually abusing his daughter and stepdaughter.
Mike Dishon said he also questions how thorough the investigation was into his brother. For instance, he said they should have taken Stanley’s DNA to see if it matched with any hairs or other evidence at the scene.
Hunt, the former detective who is no longer with the Bullitt sheriff’s office, said investigators did get a DNA swab from Stanley but there was nothing to compare it with, as the body and scene had been destroyed after so many years.
While Mike Dishon will listen to what his brother has to say, “I don’t think I will believe him until he proves he didn’t do it.”
Stanley Dishon says he is hoping someone will give him that opportunity.
“I can’t help what people believe … but I am telling the truth,” Dishon said. “I’m hoping the people will give me a chance to prove I am innocent. I’d like to be back out on the streets with my family.”
Copyright 2019 WDRB Media. All rights reserved. Reporter Valerie Chinn contributed to this story.