When Christopher Scott walked out of the Dallas courthouse a free man after 12 years of wrongful imprisonment, Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins declared that it might be the biggest case yet for his office. Not only had they exonerated two people (the other was Claude Simmons Jr.) involved in the same murder case, but they did it without DNA evidence. Watkins said that the case would likely cause DA offices across the country to take non-DNA exoneration requests a little more seriously.
Christopher Scott’s case was strange from the beginning. He was arrested one night in 1997 after driving past the scene of a murder, from which the police followed him home. Scott was taken to the police station and handcuffed to a bench, where they brought in the murdered man’s widow. According to Scott, she was crying hysterically and the police asked her if Scott killed her husband. She said yes.
At the trial, there was absolutely no other evidence against Scott other than the mistaken witness identification. Nevertheless, Scott’s lawyer, who had only spoken to him once before the trial, was not able to provide a good enough defense. In an interview with the Texas Observer, Scott said:
“I couldn’t have gotten a fair trial. Listen, I’m not a racist. But I had 12 white jurors, a white judge, a white prosecutor, a white lawyer. I was the only black person in the courtroom. When I walked in, I knew I was going to be found guilty. That’s just how the stage was set.”
Scott was sentenced to life in prison. The fact that there was no DNA evidence to implicate him also made it harder for him to ever prove his innocence. A lawyer told him there was a one in a million chance that he’d get out.
Scott remembered that moment in an interview with WUNC at the Innocence Network Conference in Charlotte.
“I think it’s the first time I actually cried, when he told me I had a million to one chance to make it,” Scott said. “I went back to him the next day and I told him, ‘You gave me a million to one chance to make it. I’m gonna be that one out of the million.”
And eventually, he was.
In 2005, a man named Scott Hardy confessed to the crime for which Scott was serving time. There was a retrial, and after a two-day jury deliberation, Scott was found innocent. He’d spent nearly thirteen years behind bars.
Once he got out, Scott couldn’t sit still. He wanted to change the system that wrongfully put him in prison. He also wanted to help other innocent people who’d been incarcerated.
“I’m a leader,” he said in the trailer for a documentary film called Freedom Fighters that’s telling his and other exonerees’ stories. “I’m the go-getter. I’m the one that brings the momentum.”
Scott started an amateur detective and lobbying agency that he runs now with other exonerees called House of Renewed Hope. They have lobbied Texas legislators for more compensation for exonerees and more public services, such as access to health care. House of Renewed Hope also investigates the cases of other wrongfully convicted individuals. They are currently working on the case of Jimmy Lee O’Steen.
- Texas Observer story about Scott and other exonerees working to free others
- NPR story about Scott and other exonerees
- Coverage of Scott’s exoneration at the Innocence Project
- House of Renewed Hope