Dog-Sniff Evidence Helped Convict Him. Is That Right?

'Science' magazine takes a look
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 7, 2021 3:50 PM CST
Should Dogs' Sniffs Have a Place in Murder Trials?
   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – In July 2021, Mark Redwine was found guilty of murdering his 13-year-old son. In a 2017 Newser story on Redwine's arrest, we recounted that "cadaver dogs were able to determine that a dead body had been in the older man's home and the bed of his truck." Science magazine takes a deep dive into cadaver dogs and the somewhat controversial role they play at trial. In Redwine's case, it was actually one dog: a German shepherd named Molly who was handled by Carren Corcoran, owner of Canine Search Solutions. Dylan Redwine went missing from his father's Colorado cabin in November 2012. Some of the teen's remains were found in 2013 on a trail about 10 miles away. Corcoran and Molly went to the cabin to, quite literally, sniff around in August 2013. They returned in February 2014 to sniff Redwine's pickup truck.

Peter Andrey Smith explains that Molly has been trained to sit when she detects the odor of human remains, and she sat upon encountering some of the clothes Redwine allegedly had on around the time when Dylan vanished, as well as in locations in and outside his cabin. If that sounds open and shut, Smith details why it isn't, at least according to critics who "worry that the criminal legal system has embraced a technique profoundly lacking in scientific validation." For one thing, there is a dearth of research on what exactly the dogs are detecting. Corcoran likens it to popcorn—after you've eaten the bag, someone entering your house can still smell it, and dogs have far more olfactory receptors than humans do. But "what odors would be left 7 months or more after Dylan’s alleged murder?" writes Smith, who notes that "little evidence suggests all dead bodies immediately start to give off a standard, identifiable odor signature." (Read the full story for much more, including the Innocence Project's efforts to get the dog-sniff evidence kept out of Redwine's trial.)

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