In­mate re­cants his mur­der story

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY ANASTASIA DAW­SON Times Staff Writer

His con­fes­sion with­ers, weak­en­ing ef­forts of the slain woman’s hus­band to get a new trial.

BARTOW — Jeremy Lynn Scott hung his head and closed his eyes as he tes­ti­fied Thurs­day morn­ing, avoid­ing eye con­tact with the court­room crowd as he con­fessed to mur­der­ing Michelle Saum Schofield on a rainy Fe­bru­ary night in 1987.

But she isn’t the only one Scott ad­mit­ted killing.

In Fe­bru­ary, he wrote a let­ter to the State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice con­fess­ing to “all 1987 to 1988 mur­ders” in Florida. And af­ter two hours on the stand Thurs­day, chok­ing back tears as As­sis­tant State At­tor­ney Vic­to­ria Avalon pointed out dis­crep­ancy af­ter dis­crep­ancy in his story, Scott took back his lat­est con­fes­sion.

“No, no, I didn’t do that,” Scott said, as Avalon de­manded he open his eyes, turn his face and look at a photo of Schofield’s body taken at the crime scene.

The about-face dealt a blow to an ef­fort by Schofield’s hus­band, 51-year-old Leo Schofield, to get a new trial in the case. A jury con­victed him of first-de­gree mur­der in the death of his 18-year-old wife, and he was sen­tenced to life in prison in 1988. Schofield, who

has main­tained his in­no­cence in court, won’t be el­i­gi­ble for pa­role un­til 2023.

The hear­ing in his two-day bid for a new trial, in which the de­fense pre­sented new writ­ten and recorded state­ments of Scott con­fess­ing to the mur­der, opened Thurs­day in Bartow with Scott’s tes­ti­mony. He was fol­lowed by his for­mer prison room­mate at North­west Florida Re­cep­tion Cen­ter, Paul Kline; a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tor with the State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, Thomas An­drews; and St. Peters­burg lawyer Sean Costis, who heard Scott con­fess to Schofield’s de­fense at­tor­ney, John Craw­ford, in 2016.

But un­der the pros­e­cu­tor’s ques­tion­ing, Scott cast doubts on his prior con­fes­sions.

He said he couldn’t re­mem­ber if the vic­tim had a purse, the kind of car she drove or if she wore a skirt or pants that night.

He tes­ti­fied un­der oath that he had lived with the guilt of the mur­der for 38 years, but it has only been 30. He shifted ner­vously as Avalon re­cited por­tions of state­ments from as early as 2005, all re­peat­edly deny­ing he was re­spon­si­ble for killing Michelle Schofield.

The tears came again when Avalon asked Scott if he had lied to his grand­mother about a key piece of ev­i­dence when he called her once from prison around 2004, when he first be­came tied to the case. De­layed foren­sic ev­i­dence matched him with uniden­ti­fied fin­ger­prints found in Michelle Schofield’s or­ange Mazda, which was aban­doned off In­ter­state 4 the night she dis­ap­peared.

Scott told his grand­mother, who lived near the area where the dead woman was found, that he didn’t know the Schofields. In­stead, he said, he as­sumed the car was one of many he had bro­ken into over the years.

“No. No, I don’t want to an­swer that ques­tion,” Scott replied at first, then added, “No, I didn’t lie to my grandma.”

It’s the same story he told in 2006, when a Polk County judge de­nied Schofield’s first mo­tion for a hear­ing to prove the fin­ger­prints were Scott’s, and re­peated in 2010 when an ap­peals court over­turned that rul­ing and granted the hear­ing. Af­ter two days of tes­ti­mony, Cir­cuit Judge Keith Spoto de­nied the ap­peal, say­ing he had no rea­son to doubt Scott’s claims he only stole the car’s stereo.

But Mon­day, he waf­fled be­tween that ac­count and the one he told mo­ments af­ter be­ing sworn in of how he mur- dered the young woman. He was drunk that night and his mem­ory was hazy, he said at one pointed. Then he con­firmed a state­ment from a prison in­ter­view in which he said he, “could never do that to a woman,” but also said he could “bash a b---- in the head if they do me wrong.”

“Why are you bash­ing me?” he asked the pros­e­cu­tion. “I just want to go back to my cell.”

Leo Schofield sat stone-faced as Scott took back the story he had just de­liv­ered, with eyes open and star­ing straight ahead, only mo­ments ear­lier.

In that tes­ti­mony, Scott said he had ap­proached Michelle Schofield while she talked on a pay phone out­side a Tex­aco gas sta­tion near Lake­land, asked her for a ride to a nearby mo­bile home park and in­stead di­rected her to a “make­out lake” where he stabbed her 26 times and left her body in a canal.

A crowd of about 20 of Schofield’s friends, fam­ily mem­bers of both him and his late wife, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the In­no­cence Project of Florida and staff he be­friended while im­pris­oned from Hardee Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion were vis­i­bly up­set by Scott’s wa­ver­ing story. But they waved and told Schofield “we love you” as he was es­corted from the court­room.

“My feel­ings are too com­pli­cated,” Schofield’s sec­ond wife, Crissie Carter Schofield, said af­ter Mon­day’s hear­ing. “We have em­pa­thy for Jeremy, we pray for his sal­va­tion, but we want Leo home. It’s been too long.”

Scott has been im­pris­oned in a men­tal health cen­ter and suf­fers from mul­ti­ple psy­chi­atric dis­or­ders. When he wrote the letters ad­mit­ting the mur­ders, he was off his med­i­ca­tion, he tes­ti­fied Mon­day.

Scott was never of­fered any deal for con­fess­ing to the Schofield killing, he said. He is al­ready serv­ing two life sen­tences, one for a rob­bery and another for killing a man in 1989 by stran­gling him and bash­ing in his head with a grape juice bot­tle.

He said he had hoped that con­fess­ing to more mur­ders would land him on death row. In­stead, he’ll be re­turned to county jail be­fore be­ing sent to yet another “close man­age­ment” cell in prison.

“I’m go­ing to be in a cold cell,” he said, “sleep­ing on the floor, eat­ing with my fin­gers, in a place where I can’t get no help.”

The Ledger

Leo Schofield Jr., cen­ter, stands next to his at­tor­ney An­drew Craw­ford af­ter lis­ten­ing to Jeremy Scott’s tes­ti­mony Thurs­day.

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