Court upholds Scott convictionPublished 11:21pm Friday, October 5, 2012
For the past three years, Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing has awaited a higher court’s decision on whether or not the verdict and sentence for one of the county’s biggest cases would be upheld, and he received his answer Friday afternoon.
Rushing received word that the guilty verdict and death sentence handed down to Christie Michelle Scott, 34, found guilty of the murder of her 6-year-old son, Mason, in 2008, was officially upheld by the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals.
Rushing said this is the first step in the appeals process and one that he considered crucial.
“If there was any plain error made during the trial that could cause the case to be retried or the verdict to be overturned, the Court of Criminal Appeals would be the ones to find the error,” Rushing said.
“It is a big relief that they not only upheld the decision but that it was a unanimous decision that the verdict and death sentence should be upheld. There wasn’t a dissenting or concurring opinion at all. It was just completely unanimous.”
Rushing said the wording in the 172-page opinion pointed at how strongly the court seemed to feel about their decision.
“At the end of the report, the court stated that ‘ this court independently weighed the aggravating circumstances and mitigating circumstances as required by the Alabama Code of 1975 and is convinced, as was the circuit court, that death was the appropriate sentence for the horrific murder of six-year-old Mason,’” Rushing quoted.
“They also stated ‘this court has searched the record for any error that may have affected Scott’s substantial rights and we have found none.’
“That was great news for us to hear as the case moves forward in the appeals process.”
Rushing said this is the longest it has ever taken one of his cases to receive an opinion from the Court of Criminal Appeals. Scott was sentenced in August of 2009 so he said he’s spent a little more than three years anxiously waiting to hear their opinion.
“The longest I’ve had to wait before this was around one year and the opinions we get back are normally five to 10 pages and this one took more than three years and the opinion was 172 pages long,” Rushing said.
“The court was very thorough and went through the many details the defense brought up as reasons to re-try the case or over-turn the conviction, but in the end, they upheld each decision made by the circuit court.”
Mason Scott died in a house fire that started in his bedroom at the Scotts’ home at 180 Signore Dr. in Russellville on Aug. 16, 2008, at 2:30 a.m.
At the time of Mason Scott’s death, fire officials were unaware of how the fire started, even though they had determined it had started in or near Mason Scott’s bedroom where the child was found after the flames were extinguished.
Christie Scott had managed to escape from the house with her youngest son who was four years old at the time.
Scott’s husband was out of town in Atlanta on business when the fire occurred.
Fire investigations are standard in cases that result in fatalities, and once the investigation commenced, officials said investigators began noticing things that just didn’t seem to match up.
“The first red flag of the investigation was the smoke detector, which seemed to have been ripped from the wall and didn’t match the way a normal smoke detector would have looked if it had still been attached to the wall and fully functional at the time of the fire,” Rushing said.
“That was the first of many oddities and details that pointed to Christie Scott’s involvement in the fire.”
Scott was accused of intentionally setting the fire that led to Mason’s death and was originally charged with Mason’s murder in September 2008 when a grand jury found enough information to charge her with three alternative counts of capital murder – one which accused Scott of intentionally killing her son by starting a fire for the purpose of monetary gain, one which accused Scott of intentionally killing her son as a result of committing first-degree arson, and one which accused Scott of intentionally killing someone who is less than 14 years old.
Records indicate that during Scott’s initial bond hearing, testimony revealed that Scott took out an additional life insurance policy on her son the day before the fire.
Under cross-examination from Rushing, Scott’s father, Donald Bray, gave testimony that affirmed his daughter had also been connected to at least three previous fires.
The original trial began in June of 2009 and testimony lasted for approximately four weeks – the longest trial in Franklin County’s history.
During the trial, the prosecution brought up point after point that they believed proved Scott’s guilt and calculated plan to set fire to the house and kill Mason while defense attorney Robert Tuten continually maintained Scott’s innocence and that the fire was electrical in nature and no fault of Scott’s.
After four weeks of testimony and a little more than two days of deliberating, the jury returned guilty verdicts for all three alternative counts of capital murder.
The jury recommended a sentence of life without parole, but in a sentence hearing on Aug. 5, 2009, Circuit Judge Terry Dempsey overruled the jury’s decision and gave Scott the death sentence stating, “Justice must be served and the only way justice can be served in this case is by death.”
Scott has been housed at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka on death row awaiting her case to go through the appeals process.
Rushing said while this decision from the Court of Criminal Appeals is a big hurdle to overcome, the appeals process is far from over.
“The case will now be reviewed by the Alabama Supreme Court, who could still overturn the case for a different reason or something the Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t consider to be an error,” Rushing said.
“But if the Supreme Court does affirm the other courts’ decisions, it will then move on to the federal appeals process, but we are committed to seeing this case through to the end.”