This is a “conversation in the community” feature and one of several ongoing conversations to bring local voices to the front pages.
Fayette County Assistant Prosecutor John Scott began working on the murder case of Venancio Garcia-Arquimides in the summer of 2016. Scott is no stranger to working homicide investigations in Fayette County. He worked with the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office in 1995 on a double murder at a residence in Washington Court House.
Scott has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and did two years of schooling for a master’s degree in behavioral sciences with a thesis on anger and aggression in the workplace. Scott said he took a constitutional law class at Wright State University and liked it so much that he changed his mind and decided to begin studying law in 1991.
In addition to working on homicides, Scott has worked on Fayette County cases involving robberies, drugs and sex crimes. The Record-Herald sat down with Scott to ask him what brought him to Fayette County.
How did you get here, anyway?
John Scott: I first worked as an assistant prosecutor in Fayette County from June 19, 1995 to March of 1996. I left and went to work in Montgomery County when my wife and I were expecting our first child.
Have you always worked as a prosecutor?
John Scott: For three months I worked as a public defender in Montgomery County. It was always my intention to get back into prosecution. My wife’s uncle was a detective with the Miamisburg Police Department and heard of an opening at the prosecutor’s office in Montgomery County, and so I started there in July of 1996. That was 10 days before my first son was born.
The whole reason for moving to Montgomery County is that we wanted to be close to grandparents who would be nearby. It was a family decision that that was what we were going to do and so, I put 12 years in as assistant prosecutor in Montgomery County. I did everything from child support cases to murders.
That’s a lot of cases, right?
John Scott: Once I got into the criminal division, which was 1998, I averaged about 200 to 250 cases per year.
You then moved to Indianapolis and worked as a prosecutor. What did you do there?
John Scott: I was doing murder cases for the first few months and then they decided to switch me up and interweave me into working on some robbery cases that were weird. It had to do with a bike route — these people would go in, just as it would turn to dusk, and they would grab people up off the bike route and rob people on the trail. There was a long timeline on that case.
It wasn’t long after we moved to Indianapolis that we had a lot of serious health problems for my family.
John Scott: I lost my mom. Within two weeks of getting our family moved into our house in Indianapolis, my mom died. A few months later my father was diagnosed with cancer. We decided Indianapolis wasn’t right for us so we moved back to Ohio. At that point, there wasn’t a lot of hiring going on in 2009, so I went into private practice. I did that for three years.
How did you get back into working at the Fayette County Prosecutor’s Office?
John Scott: I saw that Fayette County Prosecutor Jess Weade needed an assistant, so I put in my resume in 2012. I called (Fayette County Sheriff’s Office) Lieutenant Charlie Wise and asked him if he would be willing to put in a good word for me and he said yes. Lt. Wise was the lead investigator when I left in 1996. He remembered working with me on the Haymaker murders in 1995, which is the double murder I was talking about where a guy broke into the Haymakers’ house to get their keys to steal their car and killed (Mr. and Mrs. Haymaker) and the keys were already in the car. It happened just before Christmas in 1995.
That’s how I got back to Fayette County after 16 years. Now I’ve been here for five years.
Why do you do it? What keeps you coming back every day?
John Scott: I know it sounds cliche, but working for justice for the victim of a crime is what keeps me going as a prosecutor. It sounds like a convenient answer to say that you do it because of the victim, but really you do. If there weren’t victims to help, this job would dull your senses and numb you. There’s so much going on, with people selling drugs, using drugs, there’s so much of that but when there are victims and the victims need you to take on their cases, that’s what makes you want to come back and keep doing it.
Can you give an example?
I won’t say too much, but there was a rape case where a victim was raped and physically assaulted by a man. She was a prostitute — everybody knew. The thing is, nobody ever believes prostitutes. She had been robbed before, and people had said to her, “What do you expect leading the life you live?” and so, during the investigation we let her talk and tell her story.
When it came time for trial, she had already moved to another state, connected with her family and was going to school. She rode a bus back here for the trial and it took three days for the trial. When the jury came back they found the guy not guilty, and the jury said, “We believe what she is telling us, but we don’t think that’s enough to convict him.”
That’s what you run into with cases. I had to explain to her that they did believe you, they just didn’t believe your testimony alone was enough to convict someone of kidnapping, felonious assault and rape. I certainly believed her. After that, she used to call yearly and give us updates and see how I was doing. She would call and thank everyone at the prosecutor’s office and the victim witness division for believing in her and for helping her to turn her life around. That’s the kind of case where you can say it was worth it.
It sounds so cliche, but the truth of it is, the conviction is the belief. I’ve had cases here that we didn’t win, but the victim was still satisfied because they got to go to court, they got to confront the person and they got to tell their side of it. Of course, it’s much better when the jury comes to the decision that we’re a proponent of, but it doesn’t always work that way.
Have you ever been surprised with anything during a trial?
I had a case in Montgomery County once where I had to drop it right in the middle of trial because a witness testified differently than what they had told me a week before when I had interviewed them prior to trial.
I had talked to them about what had happened and they came into the trial — they were my I.D. witness and they couldn’t identify the person. I had to go to my direct boss and say, “They can’t identify and that’s the only person who can identify. They could identify last week and now at the trial date, they can’t identify the person, so what do I do?” And he said, “Dismiss the case.” So I told the judge, “We can’t go on.”
There have been some cases like that that have happened here in Fayette County, but I won’t speak to those.
I used to listen to the old-timers when I was in Montgomery County and now I’ve become one. The information that they had and all of the cases they had been through does not accumulate quickly but then after a career in it, it leads to some interesting and surprising stories. I’ve been prosecuting on and off for about 20 years — I’ve had some surprises along the way.
In regards to the heroin and opioid crisis, what is the most surprising or interesting thing that you have noticed about that?
There are still people who are first-time users — that’s what has been the most surprising and interesting aspect of it. We all know that the heroin is potentially laced with fentanyl and carfentanil, which are killing people when they’re not administered properly at a hospital (as a pain medication). That stuff is drifting in, and sometimes people get straight fentanyl, or sometimes it’s laced in with heroin, and we’ve had a case where it was laced with cocaine. There’s been a large number of people who can say, “That person died because of a combination of heroin and fentanyl.” If you stick that needle in your arm, there’s a good chance now that there’s going to be fentanyl in it. There have been a lot of first-time users with that and that has been a big surprise.
Contact Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or connect on Twitter by searching Twitter.com for @ashbunton