'We don't look back'

By SYDNEY P. FREEDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 4, 1999

When Bradley Scott returned home after 31/2 years on death row, his clothes were in the closet just as he had left them. But there was a stranger in the house -- his son Jonathan, who had just celebrated his 5th birthday. 

"I was scared of him," says Jonathan, now 13. 

Jonathan was 2 days old when his father was arrested for an 8-year-old murder despite a seemingly strong alibi. Someone had killed Linda Pikuritz, 12, and left her burned corpse in a field in Port Charlotte. Scott, a lawn-sprinkler installer, was a convenient suspect: He had done time for slapping a hitchhiker who refused his sexual advances after a night of beer. 

Scott, now 48, contended he had been in Sarasota, 50 miles away, the night of the murder, and even bought a suede jacket there. But records to support his alibi were lost over the years, and he was convicted and sentenced to death in 1988. 

Looking back, Scott says he had something that many on death row don't have -- a family to cling to. "A lot of guys on death row have no one, nothing," he says. "I used to take my family for granted, but no more. Without them, I'd be dead." 

Scott's arrest, conviction and absence were a huge strain on his wife, daughter and son. His wife, April, went on welfare. Seeing no end in sight and feeling pushed to the limit by seven-hour treks to Florida State Prison, patdowns and diaper searches, she decided to "grow up." She completed a degree in criminal justice and began a career as a professional investigator. 

"It's embarrassing," says April Scott, the daughter of Christian missionaries. "Even if a person is innocent, you have to justify yourself. People say, "Of course, she's gonna say that; that's his wife.' " 

On death row, Scott spent his days drawing with crayons and writing cheerful letters home. Christmastime was especially lonely, and he occasionally thought of suicide. One of his grimmest memories is the time he was shackled to a chair in the tiny infirmary cell so a dentist could pull 24 teeth -- 14 one day, 10 the next. "Why," he wondered, "are they giving me new teeth when they want to kill me?" 

In May 1991, to his surprise, the Florida Supreme Court not only overturned his conviction, but also ordered him acquitted. 

His alibi, which authorities had accepted at the time of the murder, could no longer be corroborated when he went to trial almost 10 years later, the court found. Witnesses had died; other evidence favorable to Scott had been lost. "Suspicions cannot be the basis for a criminal conviction," the court said. 

Suddenly, Scott, 40, was free. When he came out of prison in 1991, he had only a brown grocery bag with two pairs of underwear. 

He also had his family. 

With the help of April's parents, Scott hit the ground running. The day after his release, he was at work as a property manager and beginning to rebuild shattered relationships. He shared household chores with April -- cooking, cleaning, driving the children to appointments. "Movies, pizza, canoeing -- we do everything all together," he says. 

Scott eventually landed two better-paying jobs, as a limo driver and an independent contractor for a courier firm. A few years ago, the Scotts bought their "dream house" in Palm Beach County, a three-bedroom ranch with french doors and a swimming pool. They also added two dogs -- a Yorkshire terrier for Jonathan and a Bichon Frice for Stormy, now 15. 

These days, Scott cruises the Internet with Jonathan and watches closely over Stormy as she approaches "dating mode." 

Death row still haunts them. April Scott, who worries what her bosses think, doesn't want it known where she works. Scott can't bear to watch movies with scenes of prison life. And questions about the five-year gap on his resume won't go away. "What are you going to say? I've been on death row, but I didn't do it?" 
 



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