Scott Free, страница 1
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Table of Contents
Letter from James Patterson
About the Authors
Staten Island Register
Breaking news update
Playground Killer suspect to be released
Thomas Scott, the man arrested in connection with the Playground Killer slayings, is due to be released from custody this afternoon. According to law enforcement sources, key evidence in the case has been dismissed by a judge.
About forty members of the press are waiting outside the front doors of Richmond County Supreme Court. Extra police officers are being called in to help contain the crowd.
The reign of the Playground Killer began in June, when Billy Taylor, 5, was discovered in the early morning hours, laid out on a slide in a playground on the South Shore of Staten Island. Two more victims followed, arranged in a similar fashion: Mei Zhou, 4, in September, and just a few weeks ago, John Kennelly Junior, 5.
All three children had attended the same day care center, Happy Times, in Westerleigh. Suspicion quickly fell on Thomas Scott, 37, who is a part-time custodian at Happy Times.
Police were unable to obtain a warrant to search his home—a small, one-bedroom apartment in Eltingville. Scott reportedly lives alone and has no known immediate family.
A few days ago, an anonymous source turned over to police evidence found in Scott’s apartment. While police will not confirm, sources have told the Register that it was a collection of photographs of the young victims.
But in a shocking twist, emails uncovered by Scott’s lawyer reveal that Detective Rex Hanlon, the lead investigator on the case, collaborated with one of the victims’ parents to break into Scott’s home to search for evidence.
Judge Kelly Reyes ruled that the evidence was obtained in violation of Scott’s constitutional right to privacy. With the only hard evidence against him suppressed, Scott is due to be released.
Detective Hanlon has been suspended with pay. Law enforcement sources say they’re still pursuing Scott as a suspect.
But many fear a killer may be back on the streets.
“I don’t feel safe with him out there,” said Julie Rodriguez, a mother of two who was playing with her children in Silver Lake Park. “I think I’m just going to take my kids home now.”
Keep an eye on the Register website for up-to-the-minute updates from the scene.
THOMAS SCOTT STEPPED out of the glass doors of the Richmond County Courthouse, squinting in the harsh sunlight. He was greeted by a cavalcade of clicking cameras. The shiny bulbs made the press look like a horde of insects, advancing and ready to devour him. That’s pretty much how it felt, too.
He should have asked if there was another exit out of the building. His lawyer had warned him there would be reporters, but he didn’t think it would be this bad. He’d never seen so many people who wanted his attention at one time.
His heart slammed in his chest and he felt light-headed. He looked behind him, hoping he could retreat to the safety of the courthouse, but saw only a line of stone-faced cops blocking the glass doors.
The reporters kept hurling questions at him, yelling over each other to be heard. Each question cut like a knife.
“How do you feel?”
“What did the judge say?”
“What do you plan to do next?”
“Did you kill those children?”
Thomas felt a hand on his arm and turned to find his lawyer, Mark Amato. The handsome young man didn’t betray any concern or nervousness, just smiled that hundred-watt smile of his and whispered, “Don’t say anything.”
Amato ran his hand through his brown hair—like it was a ploy to draw attention to his artfully sculpted haircut—and put up a finger up in the air. The questions stopped and the cameras turned toward him.
“We’re very pleased the judge agreed that the police violated my client’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy with their illegal search,” Amato said. “Mr. Scott is innocent of these h
Thomas couldn’t help but smile, even though he had been concentrating on looking neutral. Amato warned him that every newspaper tomorrow would run a picture of his face on the front page, and his expression would be endlessly analyzed. Plus, he knew how he looked. His nickname in high school was “Caveman,” thanks to his heavy brow and big hands.
Losing most of his hair in the last few years hadn’t helped anything.
He wasn’t handsome like Amato. The guy was young, probably no more than 30, but he was confident and smooth. He looked like the kind of lawyer you saw on television. When Thomas was first arrested, he got a dozen offers from attorneys looking to represent him. Amato was the only one who made him feel comfortable. It helped that Amato offered to take the case pro bono, too.
But while he was good, he wasn’t that good. The press didn’t want to hear that there’d be no further statement. They continued to shout questions, pushing closer. Beyond them were people screaming “monster” and “murderer” and “psychopath.” Thomas felt like if the press wasn’t in between him and them, the crowd would tear him apart.
Amato gripped Thomas’s arm and pulled him through the crowd. One of the reporters grabbed his other arm, trying to get his attention, and Thomas yanked it away. Anger and fear and confusion were buzzing in his head like a swarm of flies. He tried to distract himself as they pushed through the crowd. Focus on something good.
He thought about home. He wondered if it had gotten dusty in the five days that he was gone. Probably did. He’d have to sweep, but then he’d have to mop, too. Just to be sure. That’s the thing about dirt—it’s a constant battle just to keep it at bay.
He thought about his bathroom, too. His clean bathroom. It would be a welcome sight, after the cold metal toilet bolted to the wall in his cell. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since it was installed. Thomas couldn’t bring himself to sit on it. He had to hover over it, his legs aching and cramped because of the awkward angle.
Early on, Amato had been hopeful the judge would set bail, but given the high profile nature of the case and the clear and present danger to the community, Thomas was remanded to Rikers Island. Amato warned him it wasn’t going to be a pleasant visit, that anyone who was believed to have perpetrated violence against children wasn’t safe in a prison setting. There was a hierarchy, and an alleged child-murderer would be at the bottom.
That became clear on the first day. Thomas was waiting to use the phone to call Amato when a young man called him a kiddie-killer and cracked him in the jaw. He went tumbling to the floor and a group of inmates surrounded him. Through their kicking feet he could see one guard rushing to help him—and another guard step in his way, to make him wait. To give the inmates a few minutes to beat on him.
After a doctor who wouldn’t look Thomas in the eye confirmed he didn’t have any cracked ribs or internal bleeding, the guards decided to put him in solitary confinement. “The Bing,” people called it.
It was a small room with a cot, a thin foam mattress, and a toilet/sink combo. He was alone for twenty-three hours a day. That lone hour of freedom was for the shower, or walking around in a circle in a small activity room.
In the beginning it wasn’t so bad, outside of the pain. He would roll over in his sleep and a jolt would travel through his torso and he’d wake up. But Thomas didn’t mind the rest. The solitary part. He was used to being alone.
It was the filth that got to him. Being locked in a place where dirt had won the war, it was pretty much his worst nightmare come true.
The grimy window and the crud on the toilet. The dirt in the corners that he couldn’t quite wipe away with a wad of wet toilet paper. The occasional roach that would scurry across the floor. He could never figure out where they came from. They just appeared. He asked a corrections officer for a bucket of cleaning supplies, figuring that cleaning would help pass the time. The officer just laughed at him. Thomas didn’t understand why. He wanted to help.
All he ever wanted to do was help.
It turned out, though, he wasn’t safe just because he was alone. The guards would push him, yell at him. One guard in particular would shove his food tray hard enough through the slot that it would clatter to the floor, the contents spilling across the concrete. Thomas would do his best to clean it up but couldn’t bring himself to eat any of the spoiled food.
By the fourth night, he was crying himself to sleep, his sobs drowned out by the sounds of the men screaming and yelling in the cells next to him. If there is a Hell, that was what it is like.
But that didn’t matter anymore, because he was out.
As Thomas and Amato approached the curb, where a shiny black car Amato had arranged was waiting, they were peppered with more questions.
“What do you think about the judge’s decision?”
“Do you still trust the police?”
“Do you have anything to say to the parents?”
And then, a yell cut through the crowd.
“You son of a bitch!”
The press parted, turning their clicking cameras and outstretched recorders toward the man barreling Thomas’s way.
He was a big guy, heavy around the midsection, sandy hair thinning, meaty fists balled up. The kind of guy who’d played football in college and could still do some damage. And damage seemed to be his goal.
Thomas recognized him. John Junior’s father.
John Junior was—had been—smart and funny and energetic. Always said hello to Thomas, asked him how his day was. Always said please and thank you. He was a good kid.
His father didn’t look nearly as amiable.
John launched himself into Thomas, hitting him in the midsection, and the two of them tumbled to the ground. Thomas felt his head smack off the pavement, pain radiating through his skull and his still-bruised torso. He tried to roll over. Some reporters were caught in the scuffle and knocked down with them. Others were throwing elbows and swinging cameras, jockeying for position, trying to get the best view of the melee. And as a result, more of them ended up falling into the tangle of limbs.
Thomas tried to extricate himself from the scrum and felt a fist bounce off his chin. He looked up and saw John Junior’s dad, rearing back to hit him again. So completely consumed by anger, he looked like a wild animal. Two cops appeared and pulled him away, his feet kicking into the air.
Thomas climbed to his feet and stood there, numb, as Amato dusted him off and said, “Let’s get to the car. Now.”
Thomas turned to his right and found a cop staring at him. An older, lanky guy with a bushy mustache. The cop leaned in, getting so close to Thomas’s ear that Thomas could feel his hot breath. He grabbed Thomas’s elbow, digging his thumb into the funny bone nerve. Thomas tried to twist away and found he couldn’t, pain throbbing from his hand to his shoulder.
“I had my way, I’d lock you in a room with that guy and let him rip you apart,” the cop said, nearly whispering. “You’re lucky there are so many cameras here.”
The cop let go, leaned back, smiled, and winked.
Thomas was struck by a wave of terror and looked around, hoping one of the reporters might have heard it, but of course, no one had. He turned and leapt for the car, yanking the door open and climbing across the seat. Amato followed and pulled the door shut. The reporters descended, some of them pressing the cameras directly onto the window, but the sound of their questions was muffled by the glass.
“Are you okay?” Amato asked.
“No,” Thomas said.
“We can press charges…”
“He tried to kill you.”
“I just want to go home.”
Amato nodded and fell back into the plush leather seat, unbuttoning his navy suit jacket. The driver inched the car forward, careful not to run over any of the reporters blocking their path.
“I just want this to be over,” Thomas said, putting more emphasis on the words, annoyed that he had to. For a smart guy, Amato didn’t always seem to be good at listening.
“That bastard was intent on seeing you spend the rest of your life in jail,” Amato said. “And for what? So he could say he closed a case?”
Thomas turned toward Amato and looked him in the eye, hoping that would convey how serious he was. “I want this to be over.”
Amato recoiled in the seat a little. It made Thomas wonder what Amato thought of him. If the lawyer was just as scared as most other people seemed to be. He thought maybe he should apologize, but he just turned and looked out the rear window of the car as the driver pulled forward and made a hard left toward Bay Street.
As the assembly of press disappeared from view, Thomas thought about the quiet sanctuary of his empty apartment.
And the clean bathroom.
THOMAS SCOTT’S APARTMENT hadn’t accumulated any dust.
The surfaces were so cleanly polished they seemed to glow, even in the dim light. It had the quality of a magazine catalogue—the design sparse and minimalistic, everything carefully arranged, so tidy that dust would fear to tread.
John Kennelly wasn’t sure what to expect from the apartment of his son’s killer, but he knew it wasn’t sterile neatness.
Scott’s shirts, even his t-shirts, were ironed and hanging in the closet. The socks in the dresser were folded into pairs. In the pantry, boxes of cereal and pasta were lined up in size order. As John opened the cabinets and checked in the closets, the word that kept coming to him was meticulous.
It wasn’t until he got to the DVD rack, sitting on the floor next to a small flat-screen television mounted to the wall, that he paused, dread rolling in like an oncoming storm.
The rack was completely filled with stuff for kids. Disney movies, from the old cartoon stuff like The Little Mermaid up through the newer Pixar films. Box sets of the Batman and Superman cartoons. The entire SpongeBob SquarePants series.