Prosecutors who say Mark Redwine killed his son, Dylan, in 2012 will be allowed to present cadaver dog evidence at a trial in September, a judge has ruled.
Two handlers of German shepherds trained in human-remains detection may testify to the alerts and indications their dogs made identifying the odor of human remains in, around and on Mark Redwine’s property, Chief District Court Judge Jefferey Wilson ordered Tuesday.
A third dog handler, who Wilson disqualified as an expert in human remains detection, will be permitted to testify about Redwine’s alleged misleading of law enforcement when he provided a pillow case to investigators that he said would contain Dylan’s scent. The dog identified that the fabric did not contain the boy’s odor, and prosecutors may present the evidence to show Redwine’s motive to mislead investigators.
“All or nearly all of the evidence against the defendant in this case is circumstantial, and if the jury believes that the defendant intentionally misled the scent tracking dog handlers, such evidence will be very probative as to whether the defendant committed the crimes charged,” Wilson wrote in his order.
Wilson found testimony from Carren Corcoran and Katie Steelman about their training with their dogs Molly and Darc, respectively, probative, or serving to prove the facts of the case. Rae Randolph’s dog, Selah, did not meet the same standard of training in human-remains detection as Molly and Darc, Wilson said, and the handler’s testimony about her dog’s cadaver-scent locating abilities would prejudice the case and will not be allowed at trial.
Public defenders John Moran and Justin Bogan enlisted the help of New York City-based legal nonprofit Innocence Project in an attempt to convince Wilson to disallow cadaver dog evidence based on its scientific unreliability. Strategic litigation attorneys Dana Delger and M. Chris Fabricant traveled to Durango in June to argue on Redwine’s behalf.
Dr. Mary Cablk, who Wilson qualified as having “scientific expertise in remote sensing by use of the auditory, visual and olfactory senses,” testified to the unreliability of evidence obtained by canines and their handlers.
Cablk testified to the ephemeral nature of the odor of human remains, saying that, based on her experience, the lingering smell of a decaying human corpse after it has been removed from a location “should be detectable by HRD (human-remains detection) dogs for no more than one week,” Wilson wrote.
She argued the organic compounds that emanate the odor of human remains are volatile and may be detected “for no more than one week,” court documents show. She said there are no published studies about how long human remains linger.
The state’s strongest witness – Corcoran and her dog Molly, who has since died – detected the odor of human remains in Redwine’s home almost a year after Dylan’s disappearance.
“While this scientific explanation is reasonable, it is contradicted by persuasive, although anecdotal, evidence presented at the hearing ...,” Wilson wrote.
There are three reasons Wilson said he “can theorize” as to why the odor of human remains could be detected, including: “residual odor does exist and does not dissipate as fast as those in the scientific community believe”; “when decaying human tissue is at a location, it releases fluids and/or undetectably small amounts of human tissue that remain and/or are absorbed into the environment”; and “dogs are very sensitive to human facial expressions and can read extremely subtle changes in human expressions ... tips the dog off to the proper location” of the source of an odor of human remains.
Prosecutors plan to use human-remains detection dogs to show Redwine had a dead body in his home and truck.
District Attorney Christian Champagne is also seeking to admit Dylan’s statements to friends, family and legal officials about his relationship with his father before his death. Charging documents suggest tension between Redwine and his son was the “ultimate motive for the murder.”
The boy was missing for months after he traveled to Southwest Colorado on a court-ordered visitation with his father for Thanksgiving in 2012. Investigators found his partial remains in 2013 near the Bear Creek Loop trailhead on Middle Mountain Road north of Vallecito Reservoir. The boy’s skull was found in November 2015 just off Middle Mountain Road and had what appeared to be knife markings.
Law enforcement arrested Redwine in 2017 in connection with his son’s death. Prosecutors charged Redwine with second-degree murder and death as result of child abuse in 2017. He’s being held in La Plata County Jail on a $750,000 bail and must come up with about $112,500 to secure pretrial release.
The 57-year-old faces 16 to 48 years in prison if convicted on either count.