Mon, 25 Feb 2013 23:44:35 GMT — EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a story from 2013.
It's been 20 years since the great flood of 1993.
For anyone who witnessed that incredible destruction, it might not seem as if that much time has gone by. For one man, time has moved slowly.
James Scott has spent most of the past 20 years serving a life sentence for intentionally breaking the West Quincy levee on July 16, 1993.
I received a letter from Scott a few weeks ago, completely out of the blue, and I got permission to talk to him in the Jefferson City prison where he's doing time.
The levee breaks.
James Scott looks a bit older and thinner, in part due to his treatments for cancer. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma last year, and has been in remission since November. Now he spends part of his days at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, training dogs.
He also thinks a lot about his convictions for causing a catastrophe, and the day that led to those convictions.
Jimmy, as he was called then, was one of hundreds of volunteers on the West Quincy levee. It wasn't the first day he'd spent working on the levee. He says it was part of his efforts to better himself. He'd gotten out of prison in 1991, and had been in and out of trouble since he was a kid. On that morning, he says he was patrolling part of the levee with another man.
"We noticed a trouble spot, or problem spot in a section of the levee."
He says he reported the problem, then left West Quincy. He came back to the levee levee around 5:30 or 6 o'clock that evening.
"I moved sandbags from the brim to the cap - maybe four, maybe five, probably less."
Jimmy Scott was still in West Quincy when the levee there broke. He appeared on local television at the scene.
"Right then, the fingers started pointing - 'there's no way he's over there doing good, he did this and that' - it went on and on and on."
Scott says many officers interviewed him many times over the next 2 1/2 months before his arrest on October 1.
"I was asked before by guys here, and actually family and friends - if you had to do it all over again, would you go back to West Quincy on July 16? Yes, I would. Would the levee have failed July 16? Probably would have. But it didn't fail because of me."
Two different juries disagreed with Scott about that. He was convicted in 1994, and again during a retrial in 1998.
He is not eligible for parole for another ten years, but he's still fighting to get out of prison.
Convicted of causing a catastrophe.
"I want people to look at this and actually ask themselves, 'Maybe he didn't do this.'â??
James Scott has another ten years in prison before he's eligible for parole. He's the only person in the state of Missouri ever convicted of causing a catastrophe.
Jimmy, as he was called in 1993, admits he moved sandbags on the West Quincy levee shortly before it broke on the evening of July 16, 1993.
"If my actions caused it to fail, that wasn't my intention. But, you know, to this day, I don't believe my actions caused the levee to fail."
Two different juries disagreed. He was convicted in 1994, then again during a retrial in 1998. Scott says he, his family and friends still are trying to free him.
"We're in the process of, for lack of a better term, blowin' this out of the water."
Scott claims someone from the Quincy area might speak out on his behalf, and that it could happen within the next six months.
"There are people out there who believe I'm guilty, but I believe there's a lot more now who believe I should not be locked up."
Scott says he has no appeals left, and no longer has legal help working to overturn his conviction.
The arresting officer says there was an admission of guilt.
The man accused of breaking the West Quincy levee in 1993 has spent almost all of the time since then in prison. James Scott is eligible for parole in 10 years. He will have served almost 30 years of his life sentence then.
While Scott claims his actions on July 16, 1993 did not cause the levee to fail, the officer who arrested Scott in October 1993 does not agree.
Neal Baker is a retired detective from the Quincy Police Department. On July 16, 1993, he returned to Quincy from FBI training at Quantico. That evening, he saw Jimmy Scott interviewed on television about the levee break that had just happened.
"He looked suspicious, he acted suspicious, he wasn't dirty like he should have been if he had been working on the levee, he didn't have on a life vest, he didn't have a partner with him like you're supposed to have, nothing he said made any sense, so at that point, I was very suspicious," Baker said.
Baker says he knew Jimmy Scott before the flood; he says he had arrested Scott for some arsons in the late 1980s. By the time Baker and his brother, Bruce - also a detective at that time - talked to Scott on October 1, they wanted to interview him about five crimes altogether, including the levee break.
"Everything kept coming back to this guy, so by the time I sat down and talked with him, I had quite a bit of information and I knew if he was telling me the truth or wasn't telling me the truth and we just got through it to where he was able to admit he did it."
Baker says Scott admitted to three crimes during that interview, including the levee break. Baker also disputes Scott's current claims that he was trying to solve a problem by moving sandbags. Baker says back in 1993, Scott told him he took sandbags of a depressed area in the levee.
"He said he moved some sandbags and that caused the levee to break," Baker said.
Baker says he has no doubt about Scott's guilt, but he has no axe to grind, then or now.
"I mean, I personally like the guy. I mean, if you've met him, he's a likeable enough guy," Baker said. "But he does scare me."
Baker told me he does not believe Scott's conviction will be overturned, but thinks Scott would have a pretty good chance of being paroled, if he has done well in prison.
Scott will not be eligible for parole until the year 2023.
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