Death row-worthy crimes largely committed by men


By Dennis Sherer
Staff Writer

Published: Sunday, July 12, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 at 10:58 p.m.

RUSSELLVILLE – If a Franklin County judge overrides a jury’s recommendation and sentences Christie Michelle Scott to die by lethal injection, she would be the first woman in the county to receive the death penalty.

Franklin Circuit Court Judge Terry Dempsey will impose her sentence Aug. 5. The jury who convicted her of killing her 6-year-old son, Mason, recommended Friday that she be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Dempsey is not obligated to accept the jury’s recommendation and could instead sentence her to death.

A death sentence for Scott, who was convicted of three counts of capital murder Wednesday, would also make her one of a few women in Alabama ever to be sentenced to die for a crime.

Since 1973, only 10 women have received death sentences in Alabama, said Richard Dieter, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit that tracks capital punishment in the United States. Only one of those women, Lynda L. Block, who was convicted in 1994 for killing an Opelika policeman, has been executed. She was executed May, 10, 2002, and since then no other woman has been executed in Alabama, according the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Only four women have been executed in Alabama since 1927, according to state corrections statistics. During that same period, 192 men have been executed.

There are 199 men and four women on Alabama’s death row.

Bryan K. Fair, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, said the wide margin between the number of men and women being sentenced to death is not a result of courts being more lenient on women. Instead, it’s a result of fewer women committing crimes that meet the criteria for capital punishment, such as a homicide committed during a robbery or rape.

“The kinds of offenses that can be punished by death are typically committed by men,” Fair said. “In our society in general, violent crimes are committed most often by men.”

Dieter said Alabama is not alone in having far fewer women than men on death row.

“Most of the women who are on death row were convicted of killing their husband or someone they knew,” Dieter said. “Women rarely kill a stranger, such as during a robbery, because women do not typically commit violent crimes.”

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing calls the crime Scott committed the most heinous ever in the county.

“There’s nothing worse than a mother murdering a child for insurance and because they didn’t want him,” Rushing said at trial.

During the trial, which lasted five weeks, Rushing contended Scott started the fire in her home and left her son alone inside to die so she could collect on three life insurance policies that totaled $175,000. He also contended she disabled the home’s smoke alarm to ensure he would not wake up during the fire.

Defense attorneys argued that the fire was accidental. Scott testified she was innocent.

Because of the heinous nature of the child’s death, Rushing said he will ask Dempsey to consider the death penalty at Scott’s Aug. 5 sentencing hearing. He said five of the 12 jurors supported sending Scott to death row.

“Obviously, from the split in the verdict, you could tell there were a lot of strong opinions both ways,” Rushing said. “Of course, that puts a lot of burden on the judge when there is such a split.”

Rushing does not believe jurors recommended that Scott spend the rest of life in prison instead of being sentenced to death because she is a woman. He said her being a mother might have been more of a factor.

Several of the 29 family members and friends who testified Thursday that Scott’s life should be spared said a life sentence would allow Noah to continue to visit his mother.

“The fact she had so many people speaking on her behalf, there could be a lot of factors,” Rushing said.

“I have not spoken to any of the jurors, but in a case like this, (with) circumstantial evidence, with her having another child and some of the other factors that were in play – the number of people she had on her behalf – I’m sure that had weight in the jury’s decision.”

Dieter said juries might take into consideration whether a woman has children when deciding whether she be sentenced to life in prison or receive the death penalty.

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Please note:  AWRN does not advocate for the death penalty.

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