Summary of Offense:
Convicted and sentenced to death on August 5, 2009 in the August 16, 2008 burning death of her six-year-old son Mason Scott.
Summary of Offense:
Convicted and sentenced to death on August 5, 2009 in the August 16, 2008 burning death of her six-year-old son Mason Scott.
August 6, 2009
Judge Sentences Christie Scott to Death
Jury had recommended life in prison for Scott
RUSSELLVILLE, AL – A Franklin County judge has sentenced Christie Scott to death by lethal injection. Judge Terry Dempsey issued the sentence shortly after 9am.
In July, a jury found Scott guilty of three counts of capital murder for setting a fire in her home that killed her six-year-old son, Mason. Seven of the jurors in the case recommended a sentence of life in prison without parole.
However, Judge Terry Dempsey said in his ruling the child’s death was more heinous, atrocious and cruel than many other capital cases and ordered Scott to die.
“The Court is a great believer in the jury system and following the jury when at all possible,” Judge Dempsey wrote in his sentencing order. “Killing your own child for money by burning him alive is too much to overcome.”
Judge Dempsey also wrote in his sentencing order, “To intentionally murder your child by burning him is shockingly evil.”
During the trial, the state presented evidence that Mason, who was autistic, had a total of $175,000 worth of life insurance when he died. Christie Scott took out a $100,000 policy the day before her son died. Someone had also removed expensive jewelry and pictures from the home. Investigators also found an undamaged smoke detector in the ashes. It was believed to have been taken down before the fire.
Defense attorney Robert Tuten argued the fire was accidental and there was no proof Scott set the fire. Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing contended Scott set the fire to collect her son’s life insurance money and to relieve herself of the burden of caring for an autistic child. Rushing pushed for the death penalty.
“To me, the fact that she chose that manner of death for a child that was scared of fire puts her in a category that not only is possible for death, it definitely deserves the death penalty,” says Rushing.
During Wednesday’s sentencing, Christie Scott took the stand and asked the judge to spare her life. Scott told the judge, “I am asking you to spare my life because I am innocent. I believe in time that I will be proven innocent.”
Scott’s father and husband also asked the judge to let her live for their sake and the sake of her other son, Noah, who survived the August 2008 fire at the family’s home.
However, that wasn’t enough to sway the judge’s decision.
“Justice must be served,” the judge said. “The only way justice can be served in this case is by a sentence of death.”
When she addressed the judge, Scott also accused jurors of not paying attention during the trial and making mean faces at her during her testimony. Scott, her family, and defense attorney Robert Tuten all feel scott did not receive a fair trial.
“There is significant error in this case and this conviction and sentence will not stand,” says Tuten.
Almost immediately after the judge’s ruling, Tuten filed a motion for a new trial. Prosecutors, however, are very confident the conviction will be upheld during the appeal process.
“I think the judge’s emphatic statement in the sentencing that not only was he was sure, he had no residual doubt about the defendant’s guilt should put a lot of people’s fears to rest that she was wrongly convicted,” explains Rushing.
In their verdict, jurors found Scott guilty of three counts of capital murder:
* Capital murder for pecuniary/monetary gain
* Capital murder committed during first-degree arson
* Capital murder of a person younger than 14 years of age
Judge Dempsey ordered Christie Scott to be turned over to the Alabama Department of Corrections. At this time, it’s not known how long she will remain in the Franklin County Jail.
The Scott murder trial was the longest in Franklin County’s history. With this sentence, Scott joins four other women on Alabama’s death row.
Sometimes I wish states would pass an "Eye-For-An-Eye" bill, that would then subsequently be enacted into law. In these instances, the offenders sentenced to death would be forced to die in a manner just like their victim. Obviously that is nothing more than a pipe dream, for such a bill would never stand a chance. Lethal injection is much too kind for Christie Scott, who murdered her six-year-old autistic son (who was terrified of fire) by burning him alive for her own monetary gain. If given the chance, I would gladly strike the match that would do unto her as she did unto her own son.
All criminals turn preachers under the gallows.
Appeals court upholds Ala. woman's death sentence
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - A state appeals court has upheld the death sentence given to a Franklin County woman charged with setting the Aug. 16, 2008 house fire that killed her 6-year-old autistic son.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the sentence given to 34-year-old Christie Michelle Scott. The unanimous opinion said the appeals court found death was the appropriate sentence for "the horrific murder."
Court testimony said the fire appeared to have been set in the bedroom Mason shared with another child. Prosecutors accused Scott of setting the fire to collect on insurance policies. The court rejected Scott's arguments for overturning her conviction, including that her trial should have been moved out of Russell County because of publicity the case received.
Scott is 1 of 4 women on Alabama's death row.
Court upholds Scott conviction
This week the Alabama Supreme Court upheld the conviction in one of the biggest cases in the county’s history.
On Friday, Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing received word that the guilty verdict and death sentence handed down to Christie Michelle Scott, 36, found guilty of the capital murder of her 6-year-old son, Mason, in 2008, was officially upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court in a 5-1 decision.
The decision comes almost two years after the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and death sentence in a unanimous decision.
“The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the decision without an opinion, which just shows they were confident in the decision made by the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Rushing said.
“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. Since they didn’t point out anything in the entire 172-page opinion they issued, that shows pretty strongly that they were confident in the verdict and sentence.”
In fact, Rushing said the end of the report issued by the Criminal Court of Appeals stated, “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 said he was glad to have both of these courts affirm this case.
“It was a huge relief to receive the initial affirmation from the Court of Criminal Appeals and it’s a great relief to have the Alabama Supreme Court even further affirm this case.
“When you have a four-week trial with all the testimony and witnesses that we had in this case, there are so many issues that can come up that might present a problem in the appeals process, so this is a testament to the great job our circuit court did and all the others who played a role in this case.”
This second affirmation comes more than five years after Scott was sentenced in August of 2009 for killing her son.
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 the decisions from the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court were the two biggest hurdles to overcome, but the appeals process will still continue.
He said the case will move forward now to the federal appeals process.
A uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.
Just 5 years to get to the federal appeals, it will take a while, but I say before 2035 is when he'll die.
Not on federal appeals yet. This was just the direct appeal. She'll file an appeal at SCOTUS before touring the state courts on postconviction matters before going through the federal courts. Wouldn't be likely to face an execution day for ten years yet.
Justices May Review Capital Cases in Which Judges Overrode Juries
WASHINGTON — In 2009, an Alabama jury convicted Christie Scott of murdering her 6-year-old son by setting a fire in her home. It then voted to spare her life.
Judge Terry L. Dempsey of the Circuit Court in Russellville rejected that verdict and sentenced Ms. Scott to death. “This jury was probably emotionally and mentally worn out,” he said, adding that jurors might have been swayed by testimony from the victim’s family seeking leniency.
A year later, on the other side of the state, a jury unanimously recommended that Courtney Lockhart, a veteran of the Iraq war, be spared the death penalty for murdering Lauren Burk, a college student.
Judge Jacob A. Walker III of the Circuit Court in Opelika overrode the jury’s verdict and sentenced Mr. Lockhart to death — but for the opposite reason. Judge Walker said Ms. Burk’s family had asked for the death penalty, which “weighs in favor of judicial override.”
The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear one or both of the cases — Scott v. Alabama, No. 14-8189, and Lockhart v. Alabama, No. 14-8194 — and to take a new look at the unusual power Alabama gives to its judges.
The court has lately been interested in other aspects of capital sentencing, agreeing on Monday to consider a challenge to Florida’s system in Hurst v. Florida, No. 14-7505.
Alabama is one of three with laws on the books allowing judges to reject juries’ sentencing recommendations in capital cases. In the past decade, it has been alone in sending defendants to death row after juries determined that the just sentence was life in prison.
Alabama law allows judges to override jury recommendations in either direction: from life to death or from death to life. But Alabama judges mostly choose death.
Since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, judges in Alabama have overridden recommendations of life 101 times and of death just 10 times.
Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court upheld Alabama’s capital-sentencing system. But at least two justices seem ready to reconsider that ruling.
In a 2013 dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, said it was time for the court to re-examine a system that let “a single trial judge’s view to displace that of a jury representing a cross section of the community.”
Alabama jurors are not notably squeamish about the death penalty, and those opposed to it are automatically excluded from service. In Mr. Lockhart’s case, the prosecution excluded 10 potential jurors based on doubts about their commitment to capital punishment.
Delaware and Florida also allow overrides. But no one has been sentenced to death in Florida as a result of a judicial override since 1999, and no one is on death row in Delaware as a consequence of an override.
In Alabama, by contrast, more than 20 percent of the inmates on death row are there because of judicial overrides.
Mr. Lockhart’s case is already on the Supreme Court’s radar. Justice Sotomayor’s dissent, in a case involving a different condemned inmate, included an unusual footnote about Mr. Lockhart. She seemed to want to describe an extreme case.
Justice Sotomayor wrote that the jury’s 12-to-0 vote in favor of sparing Mr. Lockhart’s life had been “influenced by mitigating circumstances relating to severe psychological problems Lockhart suffered as a result of his combat in Iraq.”
“Lockhart spent 16 months in Iraq; 64 of the soldiers in his brigade never made it home, including Lockhart’s best friend,” she added. “The soldiers who survived all exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological conditions. Twelve of them have been arrested for murder or attempted murder.”
“The trial judge nonetheless imposed the death penalty,” Justice Sotomayor concluded.
Mr. Lockhart is one of five inmates on Alabama’s death row in spite of life verdicts from unanimous juries, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, which represents Mr. Lockhart and Ms. Scott. (The vote in favor of life in Ms. Scott’s case was 7 to 5.)
Justice Sotomayor said she had a theory about Alabama judges’ “distinctive proclivity” for overrides in favor of death.
“The only answer that is supported by empirical evidence,” she wrote, “is one that, in my view, casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.” She cited a study showing that overrides were more common in election years.
Judges in Delaware, by contrast, are appointed. They generally use their authority to reject death sentences.
But even appointed judges are more prone to sentence defendants to death than juries are. A study in the current Journal of Empirical Legal Studies that looked at three decades of data from Delaware, which has experimented with several systems, found that “the shift to judge sentencing significantly increased the number of death sentences.”
Three veterans’ organizations and the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, filed a brief supporting Mr. Lockhart. It said Alabama’s judicial overrides interfered with the jury’s role in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
But the more promising line of attack may be under the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.
In a 1988 dissent, long before Alabama found itself alone in using overrides, Justice Thurgood Marshall said that allowing judges to overrule juries could not be reconciled with that amendment.
“The death penalty’s cruel and unusual nature is made all the more arbitrary and freakish,” he wrote, “when it is imposed by a judge in the face of a jury determination that the appropriate penalty is life imprisonment.”
U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear death row inmates' appeals in Auburn and Franklin County cases
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear appeals by two Alabama inmates who were sentenced to death by judges who overrode jury recommendations for life without parole.
Justices - with two dissenters - declined to hear the appeals of Courtney Lockhart and Christie M. Scott based on Alabama's judicial override - a practice that has become part of the debate over the death penalty.
Lockhart is on death row at Holman prison for his conviction in Lee County for the March 2008 slaying of Auburn student Lauren Burk.
Scott is on death row at Julia Tuwiler prison for her conviction in Franklin County for the August 2008 arson fire that killed her 6-year-old autistic son, Mason.
The juries in both the Lockhart and Scott cases had recommended they be sentenced to life without parole. But the judges in both of the separate cases overrode the juries' recommendations and sentenced Lockhart and Scott to death.
Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Montgomery-based Equal Justice Initiative represented both Scott and Lockhart in their appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court attacking the Alabama practice of judicial overrides.
Efforts to reach Stevenson for comment prior to the publication of this story Monday were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile on Monday a Jefferson County judge was faced with whether to override, for the second time, a jury's recommendation for life without parole.
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Clyde Jones had overridden a jury's recommendation (a vote of 10-2) for life without parole and he sentenced Jeffery Tyrone Riggs to death after Riggs' first conviction in the case in 2010. Riggs won a re-trial based on an appeal regarding jury instructions given at the first trial.
At Riggs' second trial this year a jury again convicted him of capital murder and in an 8-4 vote recommended Judge Jones sentence Riggs to life without parole. Jones at Monday's hearing, however, did not override a second time after a prosecutor told him they were now pushing for life without parole to get closure for family in the case.
Riggs had been convicted in the 2008 shooting death of his estranged girlfriend, who also was his cousin.
In Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen G. Breyer were the only two on the high court to argue for a review of the Lockhart and Scott cases.
While a written dissent by Sotomayor and Breyer was not available, the two justices had dissented when the court refused in 2013 to review a similar judicial override in Alabama in the case of Mario Dion Woodward.
Woodward was convicted by a jury of capital murder in the shooting death of Keith Houts, a city of Montgomery police officer. The jury, by a vote of 8 to 4, had recommended he be sentenced to life without parole instead of death.
Justice Sotomayor, who wrote the dissenting opinion in the Woodward case, stated that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1995 upheld the Alabama law allowing judicial overrides but she still holds deep concerns that the practice is unconstitutional . "Eighteen years have passed since we decided Harris, and in my view, the time has come for us to reconsider that decision," she stated.
"Since Alabama adopted its current statute, its judges have imposed death sentences on 95 defendants (including Riggs) contrary to a jury's verdict. Forty-three of these defendants remain on death row today," she wrote in the 2013 dissent.
One of Riggs' defense attorneys, Deputy Jefferson County Public Defender Texys Morris, cited the dissent by Sotomayor and Breyer in a sentencing memorandum arguing for a life without parole sentence for Riggs.
"Two other states, Delaware and Florida, allow judicial override but the override in favor of death is rarely- if ever- applied," Morris wrote. "Delaware has no one on death row due to judicial override and Florida has had no override for death since 1999."
"The standard required for judicial override in Florida reflects a far greater respect for the jury's verdict and the sanctity of life than the system used in Alabama," Morris wrote.
"I realize this may sound harsh, but as a father and former lawman, I really don't care if it's by lethal injection, by the electric chair, firing squad, hanging, the guillotine or being fed to the lions."
- Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian
"It's messed up that SCOTUS still decides cases by tying up a goat in front of Mt. Rushmore and seeing if the presidents eat it."
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