Dallas Morning News
recently published an
with Christopher Scott who was exonerated in Dallas in 2009. In the interview, Scott, who was cleared of a 1997 capital murder conviction, speaks about
the documentary which is wrapping up production and is scheduled to be released next year. The film follows Scott and other Texas-based exonerees who work with him at House of Renewed Hope, the organization that Scott founded to investigate cases of other wrongfully convicted people. Last year, the Innocence Blog interviewed Scott about the film project, about his case and about his life’s work post exoneration. This is what he had to say:
When did you get the idea to start House of Renewed Hope?
It was before I got out of prison. You have a lot of things to think about, lying in a prison bed, thinking about how you can help other individuals who are in your position. So, it was a no-brainer for me to start my own organization. I was tired of hearing people say that they were in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. And I know how it feels to lie in the bed every night knowing that you’re innocent but that you were convicted of a crime that you didn’t commit.
There are other organizations that have been formed that help exonerees with job training and housing, but you decided to go into investigating cases. You had a definite vision of what you wanted the organization to be and what your mission was going to be. How did you decide to bring exonerees and other people on board?
When I first got out, a group of exonerees was already going to Austin to lobby for laws and certain bills to get passed. I was the new guy out. I observed everybody who was already in the group. I wanted people who were going to be able to say something and do something. It took just a few months to get the people who I thought were going to be able to help my cause.
There were also people like Michelle Moore. She was part of the interrogative unit that got me out of prison. And we had Jaime Paige; she was a professor at Texas A&M University-Commerce. When I saw these ladies fighting for justice, they were the ones I wanted to surround myself with. They’re smart ladies, and they’re like pit pulls. They’re not going to back down. I realized that these were the people I needed. And when I brought them to my team, they made me a better person.
How do you decide which cases you’re going to accept?
What we do is basically the same as any other innocence organization. People write to us
We read the cases and once we identify the ones that we feel have the greatest merit, we have a group meeting and then call Michelle Moore, who serves as the attorney on our board. She’s the chief public defender in Burnet County. She’ll come down, and we’ll discuss what the process is to help these guys. And then, we start the investigation.
How many cases have you worked on?
We’ve worked on nine cases, and they’re still open cases. When we got the cases, they were cold cases.
Are most of the people who write to you from Texas?
We get cases from Texas, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston. We’ve gotten a case from China, you know that? Right now we can only takes cases in Texas, but we’re taking a private investigation course. After we graduate from this course, we’ll be able to investigate cases from all around the world.
At that point, will you have additional people join your organization?
I like a small group. I have a group of eight right now. And they’re such a hardworking, dedicated group of people. I haven’t seen a team like this since the 94 Cowboys. I have a team of champions.
What has been your biggest surprise in running the organization
My biggest surprise has been the notoriety that that the organization has brought. It led me to be awarded Texan of the Year in 2012. That helps gives me leverage. Now, when I go down to Austin to lobby, I’m taken more seriously. I testified on behalf of the segregation bill (Bill 1266), which got passed in the last legislative session. That was one of my proudest moments, knowing that I was a part of something that will help other people in prison.
What has been one of the greatest challenges that you’ve come across in heading up the organization?
The biggest challenge is getting our clients out of prison. That’s the biggest challenge in front of me right now because we haven’t got an exoneration. That just makes me work harder to get someone exonerated. I know how it feels to be on the end of having the case go so far but then getting rejected.
What do you tell clients to keep them realistically hopeful?
I tell them to look at me. The fact that I walked out of the courtroom means that anything is possible because I didn’t have any DNA evidence in my case. I tell them to do what I did. I kept my head on faith. I kept hope alive that one day I was going to be free. You can never give up. If you’re fighting for your innocence and you know that you’re not guilty, never give up. I think that if I would have been 90 years old, I would have still been fighting for my freedom.
There’s a documentary that’s being made about you and House of Renewed Hope. How did that project come to be?
: They are professors at Stanford and their main focus is documentaries. They’ve been doing a really fine job. It’s exciting to be a part of that because I never thought that people would want to get involved. I have lot of people saying that they’re ready for the doc to come out because they’ve never really seen exonerees working on cases to free other people. That’s a real blessing.
We’ve been winning grants to keep the project funded. We just won a MacArthur grant. They gave us $150,000. There were 500 applicants and 18 won. We were one of the 18. I was really proud about that.