Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Christie Bray Scott's Road to Death Row
It was almost two-thirty on the morning of August 16, 2008, when screams accompanied by loud pounding awakened Jennifer Davidson. She rushed to the front door of her 216 Signore Drive home in Russellville, Alabama, to find her neighbor Christie Scott. Scott, who lived at 180 Signore Drive, held her four-year old son Noah, while screaming hysterically that her house was on fire.
Davidson immediately called 911; the call reached the switchboard at 2:31 a.m. Firetrucks arrived at the burning residence within ten minutes, but it was almost five minutes more before Scott, 31, informed the firefighters that her six year-old son Mason was still trapped inside.
Scott indicated the location of Mason's bedroom, an area that was already totally engulfed in flames. The responders looked at the flames broaching the roof and windows and knew that little could be done to save the child from the inferno, yet they worked swiftly to quell the fire, and by 4:00 a.m. responders were able to enter the dwelling. Franklin County Coroner Elzie Malone pronounced Mason Scott dead at the scene.
Christie Michelle Bray Scott was too upset to answer the investigators' questions coherently, but they did learn that Noah Riley Scott had been sleeping in the bed with her while her older son, a victim of Asperger's Syndrome, slept at the other end of the house. Scott's husband Jeremy, 32, an executive with CB&S Bank, was away on business.
Russellville Fire Marshal Bobby Malone surveyed the charred refuse that had been the Scott's home. It was normal protocol to inform the Alabama Department of Human Resources when a child under the age of 18 died. He also decided to call in the State Fire Marshal; Christie Scott had been involved in five fires within the past eight years.
Three days after the death of Mason Scott, pieces of the puzzle that surrounded his last minutes were already falling into place. Russellville Fire Marshal Bobby Malone had called in the Russellville Police Department, the Alabama Fire Marshal's office, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk utilized an accelerant-sniffing dog to determine that the fire was not accidental in nature, but ultimately stated only that the blaze had originated around six-year old Mason's bed. Could the mildly autistic child have been playing with chemicals that some how ignited? Could an arsonist have known that Jeremy Scott was out of town and used that opportunity to settle some real or imaginary score? The third scenario seemed even more bizarre to authorities: Christie Michelle Bray Scott had herself started the blaze that claimed the life of her older son.
It had been less than three years since a fire had destroyed the family's former home at 35 Steel Frame Road in Russellville. There were no injuries in that fire, and Christie had blamed a Glade air-freshener plug-in for the blaze, while investigators had theorized the fire had been intentionally set using cardboard boxes. There had been no physical injuries related to the previous fire, the second within two days; but the home had been insured, and both Christie and her father Don Bray were insurance agents.
The investigation into the previous two fires had been perfunctory at best and intentionally sabotaged at worst. No one wanted to listen to the investigator's theories of arson and pyromania. Christie was a native of nearby Haleyville, the daughter of Don and Kathy Bray, both leading citizens in the small town. Her husband Jeremy S. Scott was an Information Technology specialist for CB&S, a locally owned bank that had been a Russellville institution for over 100 years. Yet the fires on Steel Frame Road had raised suspicions among many in the community--Christie had been involved in two fires at her family home in Haleyville. Now a fifth fire had claimed not only the young couple's new home, but their child.
Mason had started the first grade at Russellville's West Elementary School on August 4. Less than two weeks later he was dead. Many who had observed Christie and Mason together characterized the mother as uncaring. Others in the community were surprised that Scott showed so little emotion during her son's funeral at Russellville's Calvary Baptist Church and in the days that followed.
Christie Scott returned to live with her parents in Haleyville, while her husband Jeremy took their younger son to his parents' home in Russellville. The young father also took out a protection from abuse order against his now estranged wife after Mason's autopsy showed large amounts of sedative in his system, but physicians admitted to prescribing at these dosages in order to calm the hyperactive child. On October 26, Franklin County Judge Terry Dempsey issued a warrant for Scott's arrest after her indictment by a grand jury. Information presented during the hearing indicated that Alfa Insurance agent Christie Scott had taken out an additional life insurance policy in the amount of $100,000.00 on her son the day before his death.
As Christie Scott turned herself in, Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing and Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett held the obligatory news conference and photo op. The bearded Rushing reiterated the basic facts of the indictment--three alternative accounts of capital murder, after which the often beleaguered Hargett mumbled over the sadness of it all, failing to remember if Mason was in kindergarten or first grade.
In the nearby courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Terry Dempsey refused bond in the case, even though both Scott's father and husband, with whom she was now ostensibly reconciled, testified that the former Alfa representative was no flight risk. Adorned in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs, Scott was returned to the Franklin County Jail where she remained.
Don Bray, a successful Woodmen of the World insurance agent in Winston County and self-proclaimed world's greatest chef, arranged for Huntsville defense attorney Robert Barry Tuten to represent his daughter. Tuten, a summa cum laude graduate of Jones School of Law, specializes in capital murder cases and has in the past represented such defendants as Natashay Ward, the Huntsville woman accused of starving her three children to death, as well as Andrew Pakhomov, the UAH physics professor tried for the murder of his wife.
Tuten also asked for a change of venue, another request denied by Judge Dempsey. Dempsey stated the jury pool for Scott's trial would be increased by 300, bringing the total to 500 individuals in hopes of selecting a fair and open-minded jury. Tuten announced the jury selection process might take as long as five days.
Franklin County is no stranger to murder cases in which a young child was the victim; however, this was perhaps the first case involving someone of Christie Michelle Bray Scott's socio-economic standing in the community. Her family's money and position bought her the best defense attorney; but it remained to be seen if such factors would influence jurors from provincial Franklin County after they saw the photos of Mason's charred body.
After a trial lasting two weeks, a Franklin County jury convicted Christie Bray Scott of three counts of capital murder. During the trial, the prosecution produced evidence of insurance fraud and an emotional affair with long-time family friend William Markham, a former insurance agent who agreed to hold personal items for Scott the day before the fire.
In his closing statements, Joey Rushing said convicted murderess Christie Michelle Bray Scott should die. Joey Rushing, as usual, said a lot of things. The Franklin County District Attorney was quoted in the TimesDaily as stating:
There's nothing worse than a mother murdering a child for insurance and because they didn't want him.
We're not sure to whom the word "they" refers. Observers said Christie couldn't handle the child. Friends said Jeremy was more interested in work and possessions than he was his own son. William Markam, the man who admitted on tape to being Christie's emotional lover said he didn't care for the child, a child he thought should have been "whooped" more.
Surely, these others in Mason Scott's life deserve some of the blame for his death. No, they didn't murder him, but they apparently made no attempt to intervene in what was obviously a pathological situation, a textbook dysfunctional family.
Joey Rushing requested that Judge Terry Dempsey sentence Christie Scott to death by lethal injection, an Old Testament eye for a eye. Surely spending the rest of her natural life in the hell hole that is Tutwiler Prison would have been enough punishment for this sick, sick woman. Despite the jury's recommendation of life in prison without the possibility of parole, on August 5, 2009, Judge Dempsey sentenced Scott to die by lethal injection.
Louise Harris from Montgomery, Tierra Gobble from Houston, Shonda Johnson from Walker, and Patricia Blackman from Houston--all prisoners at Tutwiler with a "Z" before their Alabama Inmate System Number, all women who expect to die in prison, all females sentenced to death for heinous crimes. Now, Christie Michelle Bray Scott of Franklin County will join them.
In less than 30 days, the State of Alabama will forward paperwork to the Franklin County Jail ordering deputies to transport Scott south to Elmore County, home of the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. In all probability, Scott's journey will take place at night. Unannounced, a female jailer will enter her cell, command her to dress, shackle her, and escort her to a waiting transport. Marked police vehicles are allowed to speed down the state's roadways, and Scott should reach Tutwiler shortly after dawn.
Most transfers are shuttled into a holding pen outside the prison, but a prisoner with a death sentence should be given special escort into the building. There Scott will be told to disrobe and shower. Prison workers will delouse Scott, a barber will cut her hair to collar length, and she will be handed a unisex white uniform along with a minimum of toiletries. Now Scott is ready to be taken to her new home--a small cell measuring approximately 10' x 10'.
There are only four death row cells at Tutwiler, currently all full. It's likely Scott will be placed in one of the adjacent segregation cells. It's also likely prison personnel will make it clear to Scott that she is a burden to them, since she is only adding to their time-consuming death row routine.
Now, Christie Scott is alone, alone with four books, a television if any of her family should desire to provide her one, and possibly a small animal. Yes, Scott will have the luxury of a bird or a cat, as long as her family provides its upkeep. She will also get to shower every other day and walk for one hour each day in a small private garden. Even her meals will be delivered to the small cell that will become her home.
For 30 days, Scott will be allowed no visitors. After that period, immediate family may make arrangements to visit during approved hours. Then Christie Scott will be alone again, alone in a cell where all lights are turned off at ten o'clock at night, alone with her thoughts and her guilt.
This is the life for which Christie Michelle Bray Scott traded her son Mason. Let us all pray for her family.
The preceding account was taken from Shoalanda Speaks columns published between June 6 and August 5, 2009. On August 7, 2009, Christie Michelle Bray Scott was transported to Julia Tutwiler Prison where she remains waiting an appeal.