August 20, 2009
Years Served: 3
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration:
County of Conviction:
Causes of Wrongful Conviction:
Bismarck Dinius participated in a regatta on Clear Lake during the day on April 26, 2009. One of his competitors in the race was Mark Weber. After the race, the sailors and friends got together for dinner. As it got dark, Dinius and Weber decided to go for an evening sail on Weber’s boat. Three other people joined them, including Weber’s girlfriend Lynn Thornton.
As the group headed back to shore with Weber manning the sails, they were struck from behind by a speed boat operated by off-duty Lake County Sheriff Russell Perdock. All five of the sailboat passengers suffered injuries, and Thornton subsequently died of head injuries.
One year after the crash, following an investigation primarily by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Dinius was charged with boating under the influence and manslaughter committed during operation of a vessel.
Much of the prosecution’s case against Dinius hinged on the sailboat lights. Although multiple witnesses saw the sailboat with its lights on that night, Perdock claimed that the lights were off and that was why he did not see the sailboat. The defense presented expert testimony that, given the bend of the light filaments on the sailboat, as examined after the collision, the lights must have been on (because the filaments were hot enough to bend on impact).
More troubling to the case were the examples of bias and corruption. Sergeant James Beland, on duty the night of the accident, offered to administer a breathalyzer to Perdock after the crash, but a superior ordered him not to do so. Beland testified at trial that he was also ordered to alter his reports from the night of the accident. Perdock’s blood sample was not drawn until over 27 hours after accident – well past the time for it to be a meaningful indicator of blood alcohol content.
Dinius’ trial counsel reached out to NCIP for assistance with the case. NCIP attorneys assisted with research, strategy, trial preparation and general support, even second-chairing the case during trial.
The jury’s response was clear. On August 20, 2009, after seven hours of deliberation, the jury found Dinius not guilty.