Charles Rex Scott, a former Shreveport city judge and Caddo Parish judge who spent the last six years as Caddo Parish District Attorney, was found dead Wednesday morning in his hotel room in Baton Rouge by staffers concerned that he failed to show at a scheduled breakfast event.
The Natchitoches Parish native, born in July 1947, was in the state capital to attend the current legislative session, according to Caddo Parish coroner Dr. Todd Thoma, who will perform the autopsy on his friend and peer Thursday. Thoma said while Scott was found deceased in East Baton Rouge Parish, there were no apparent signs of foul play and state law allows coroners in the decedent's parish of residence to handle their cases.
"Judge Scott was very well respected," Thoma said. "I worked with him closely in several capacities, not only as the coroner but on the board of the North Louisiana Forensic Sciences Center. I had the utmost respect for Charles Scott."
Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator learned of Scott's death through a text from Thoma. "It was a tremendous shock," Prator said, "No one could have foreseen this."
He agreed that high among the lasting benefits of Scott's support and influence is the new crime lab now rising on Linwood Avenue not far from University Health Medical Center. "He worked tirelessly getting funding for the crime lab," Prator said. "He was the president of that commission and he certainly was a champion for that. And he was instrumental in how we were able to get the jail population down."
Scott, who moved to Shreveport in 1971 after attending Northwestern State University and the LSU School of Law, served as an assistant city attorney and special assistant district attorney from 1973 to 1980. In 1980 he ran without opposition to fill a city judge seat made vacant by the death of Judge Nolan Harper.
In 1982, he ran for a new Caddo District Court judgeship, again without opposition, and served until he stepped down as chief judge to run for the DA seat. "Charles loved his life of service to the law and the people of Caddo Parish," said Caddo District Judge Brady O'Callaghan. "He was a fiercely loyal friend and I am one of so many who is devastated by his loss."
Caddo Parish Supervisory ADA Michael Powell knew Scott 52 years and worked with and for him. "He loved what he did and maybe he just pushed himself too hard," he said, still a bit in shock late Wednesday. "Some people talk the talk, but he walked the walk. He loved what he did. He was a true public servant."
The same age as Scott, they met when they were both 15 years old and Scott would visit his mother's family on trips to her native Haynesville in Claiborne Parish. "We became pretty good friends in law school and later on we practiced law together," Powell said. "For me, this was a real personal loss."
Former Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Jeff Victory served alongside Scott eight years on the Caddo court bench and in January 2009 swore Scott in as the new DA. But 14 years earlier the two had battled for the No. 2 spot in a tight three-way general election for the state top court seat. Victory emerged from that scrum in the No. 2 spot and beat front-runner Henry Brown in the ensuing runoff. "He served the public in several different capacities almost his entire adult life," Victory said. "Charles was always someone who was easy to talk to. He was a friend."
Caddo Parish Emeritus Judge Gayle Hamilton, who retired in 1994, worked 22 years with Scott, who became a close personal friend over that span. "The loss of Judge Scott will be felt all over Caddo Parish," Hamilton said. "He was a truly unique individual. He was always able to see all sides of any case he presided over. Then, after retiring from the bench, he made the decision to run for the office of district attorney, a position in which he utilized his many talents. Charles Scott was respected by every person he worked with or came in contact with in his many endeavors. He will be replaced, but not by anyone who has his character, experience and our community interest at heart. He will be sorely missed, a great loss for us all."
In 2008 Scott reentered public life, running for the Caddo District Attorney post that opened when incumbent DA predecessor, Paul Carmouche, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives. In his 2008 race to be DA, Scott faced opposition from local attorney Craig Smith, a criminal defense attorney. It was the first time there had been a contested election for that post since Carmouche ran in 1978.
The Times endorsed Scott in September 2008, describing both him and his opponent as "competent, articulate men of law" but edging in favor of Scott due to his "day-to-day experience inside Caddo District Court." The endorsement noted Scott's focus on violent crime, sex offenders and those who prey on children, but also noted that he also recognized that "punishment alone isn't always the answer."
During his years of public service, Scott was a representative on the Shreveport Arson Task Force, judge ad hoc for the state Second Circuit Court of Appeal, a relief judge for Caddo Juvenile Court and an instructor at the Shreveport Regional Police Academy and paralegal studies at LSU-Shreveport.
He was a member of the Louisiana Violent Crime and Homicide Task Force, the Louisiana Commission on Child Support Enforcement, the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and Caddo Parish Schools' Character Education Commission. He also served as president of the Louisiana District Judges' Association from 1990 to 1991.
Like many sitting judges, Scott rarely spoke on public issues or cases except from the bench, and didn't often make headlines during his years on the bench. Times he did make the papers included an unusual secret ruling after a closed hearing in the 1983 first-degree murder trial of Solomon Birdsong Jr.
Former Shreveport Times and Shreveport Journal reporter Victor Pizzolato Jr., who now lives and writes in Massachusetts, recalled Scott as an interesting public figure to report on. "I remember him sentencing a husband and wife who had two small children to prison over an armed robbery," Pizzolato recalled. "He didn't speak loudly — not a Judge Judy or Judge Mathis — but his words carried a lot of weight."
Former Shreveport musician and educator Brad Kozak, who now lives in Texas, also recalled Scott. "Years before he became a judge and then the Caddo Parish DA, Charles was in private practice in Shreveport," he wrote The Times. "He and my dad were friends and when I needed an attorney, my father recommended him. I don't know that I've ever met anyone who was as fair and even-handed as Charles. He was the kind of man you want in a position where he's called on to enforce the law, because he would be fair to all parties involved. He's left a huge void in Caddo Parish. He will be missed."
Prator also said he will long remember Scott as "a judge who took care of business. He'll be missed. Without him in the criminal justice system at some level, it will be a whole different system."
Social media also mushroomed with observations on Scott and his legacy. "Terrible loss to the legal community and Shreveport," Shreveport Bar Foundation President Julie Lafargue tweeted. "Prayers to Judge Scott's family."
Sports broadcaster Patrick Netherton also wrote that Scott's death was "a huge loss for our area. He was a personal friend and a great supporter of NSU."
Scott was married for almost 45 years to the former Alexis Pharris, an educator in Caddo Parish Schools. He was the father of two grown children, and a grandfather.
Services for Charles Rex Scott
When: 1 p.m., Monday
Where: Broadmoor Baptist Church, 4110 Youree Dr., Shreveport
Burial is private
A federal grand jury indictment, according to United States Attorney Walt Green for the Middle District of Louisiana, involving several men operating a drug trafficking network in Louisiana and California, was unsealed this week.
As part of Operation Armageddon, agents executed federal search warrants that resulted in the seizure of more than nine kilograms of high-grade methamphetamine with a potential retail value of more than $1 million, eight pounds of marijuana, and various weapons, including an AR/15 assault rifle.
The methamphetamine seizure, according to the U.S. Attorney's office, is the largest in the history of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office, which was one of the participating agencies.
Nine individuals were indicted on drug trafficking, money laundering, and firearms offenses.
Oscar Machado-Galeana, 32, and Alexander P. Nava, 45, both of Baton Rouge, were both indicted on a laundry list of charges including: possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine; heroin and marijuana; conspiracy to launder monetary instruments; distribution of five grams or more of methamphetamine; four counts of distribution of fifty grams or more of methamphetamine; distribution of heroin; distribution of marijuana; possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime and forfeiture.
Devin Joel Martin, 25; Lori Lee Landry, 39; Gregory John Landry, 39; Roy Martin Herrera Romero, 38 and Mervin Ronald Spencer, 24; who are all of Baton Rouge were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana; and forfeiture.
Victor Hugo Sandoval-Quinonez, 36, of Breaux Bridge, was also charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana; and forfeiture.
Marco Antonio Lopez-Sandoval, 20, of California, is charged with conspiracy.
If convicted, these individuals face significant terms of imprisonment, fines, and the forfeiture of proceeds from the illegal activity.
NEW ORLEANS — A man who had been serving life on a murder charge is free — the first person to have a conviction reversed by what is described as an unprecedented partnership between prosecutors and a group that works to free people who were wrongfully convicted.
Criminal District Judge Darryl Derbigny overturned the conviction and granted Kia Stewart a new trial Monday, and prosecutors dropped the murder charge, Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, said in a news release. "It is certainly the first tangible result" of the Conviction Integrity Project, a collaboration between prosecutors and Innocence Project-New Orleans, Emily Maw, director of the local Innocence Project office, said in a telephone interview.
The joint venture was announced in August but did not get funded until January, she said. The city is paying the salaries of an assistant district attorney, an investigator and a records clerk to work full-time on the pilot project, and a grant from Baptist Community Ministries is paying for two Innocence Project-New Orleans staffers to do the same, she said. "A lot of what we're doing is records review — massive records review," Maw said.
A jury convicted Stewart in 2009 as the man who killed Bryant Craig Jr. in July 2005. A man who had been walking nearby told police that Craig was shot during an argument after his vehicle nearly hit a pedestrian. Stewart was 17 when he was arrested three weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit the city, and he was jailed for four years before his trial, Maw said. The second-degree murder conviction carried a mandatory life sentence.
Bowman said investigators found "numerous witnesses — including multiple eyewitnesses," who either identified a different killer or said Stewart was not the killer.
Maw said her organization was looking into Stewart's case before August, and it "was one of the things that inspired the project."
Another, Cannizzaro said last year, was the case of Reginald Adams, whose second-degree murder conviction was reversed in 2014 after a judge agreed with authorities that former prosecutors and detectives withheld evidence that might have acquitted him. Adams had spent 34 years in prison.
Both Maw and Cannizzaro said in August that the collaboration was the first of its kind. Stewart's case did not involve any misconduct by prosecutors — the judge found that Stewart's trial attorneys did a poor job, Bowman emphasized. "Second, and more important, it is disturbing to me that all these witnesses were available for the 2009 trial but for a myriad of reasons did not participate in it," he said.
Maw said the joint venture is looking at about 10 other cases and had numerous other possibilities. "This is just what we're looking into at the moment."
Maw said Stewart, now 27, celebrated his freedom with a chicken salad lunch. That "is what he wanted for his first meal," she said. "We said, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yes.'" He will stay at first with his mother, but may want to "explore other states, other places," Maw said.
She said that, as a relative newcomer to the Louisiana State Penitentiary, he had limited training choices during his six years there. "He already has his GED. He is an excellent sportsman. I think he would love to coach kids in sports," she said.