Can a dog's nose be trusted enough to send a man to prison for the rest of his life?
That's a key question a jury may have to consider if Walker County Superior Court Judge Jon Wood allows certain testimony to be heard during the murder trial of Sam Parker next month. Judge Wood is holding a pre-trial motions hearing this week to decide what the jury will and won't hear.
Parker, a former sergeant with the LaFayette Police Department, is being held without bond accused of murdering his wife Teresa. She seemingly vanished more than two years ago leaving behind a family and career with Walker County 911. There is no evidence she has died, a body was never found and investigators have not found a murder weapon.
During a second day of testimony about so-called cadaver dogs, two specialists in that field explained how their dogs "hit" on a scent in Walker County that they say could be from a decomposing human body.
Lisa Higgins with the Louisiana Search & Rescue Dog Team said she was asked and paid to bring her Australian Shepherd "Maggie" to LaFayette to investigate a car being kept at the Walker County Sheriff's Department impound lot.
"Almost immediately I gave the command and she hit really hard, worked very, very hard inside the wheel well on the front driver's side and gave a full indication right there," Higgins said.
Higgins added Maggie also got excited about something when she sniffed around the back door on the passenger side of the car. But there is no evidence about what it was that excited Maggie and investigators so far have said they have not found any evidence to corroborate the dog's "hit."
Higgins said Maggie has been trained to sniff out the scent of a decomposing human body. But Maggie and other similar dogs can also "hit" on a decomposing pig, which testimony shows has the same odor and chemical make-up as a human cadaver.
Defense attorney Doug Woodruff asked Higgins about the accuracy of Maggie's nose and if there is any scientific proof that shows these type of dogs only get aroused by cadavers.
"Scientifically, no," Higgins replied.
Upon further cross examination Higgins said Maggie has only shown accuracy on occasions when other physical evidence points to where a body has been dumped.
We also saw video played in the courtroom to demonstrate how another dog, Eddie, found a sample pair of pants hidden in the Walker County Jail that was perfumed with a cadaver scent. Eddie is an English Springer Spaniel belonging to Martin Grime, a world-renown forensic K-9 expert based in the United Kingdom.
Grime testified he was paid $450 a day, plus travel and living expenses, by the FBI to search some areas in Walker County in connection with Teresa Parker's disappearance.
During a visit to Parker's home back in September 2007 Grime said he and Eddie sniffed around their garage.
"He immediately gave a positive bark response within the garage between a truck parked to the left of the entrance and a boat parked to the right," Grime said.
Grime added Eddie did not seem interested in the vehicles but in a scent that was wafting in the air, based on the way the dog held his nose upward. Grime said Eddie then "hit" on an abandoned house next door. Testimony shows that house was never repaired after a fire gutted the inside and killed a child several years ago.
During lengthy cross-examination Grime said there is no evidence to show Eddie smelled anything incriminating against or linked to Mr. Parker. Like Higgins, Grime said cadaver dogs can only prove useful when there is other evidence that corroborates the dog's "hits."
The FBI has a keen interest in the outcome of this case. If Parker is convicted the case could pave the legal way for future prosecutions where there is no evidence other than dog "hits" in connection with a person accused of murder.
Toward the end of the day Judge Wood learned that while Grime has international acclaim he has never testified as an expert witness in the United States.
Testimony ended Tuesday with a couple Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents saying Mr. Parker has always been cooperative with the investigation and allowed them to do whatever they wanted on his property.
A third day of testimony begins at 9:00 a.m. Wednesday.