A Flawed Investigation

"If her allegations are removed from the investigative and prosecutorial equation, there is no independent, verifiable evidence that links Scott Allen to the murder of Christopher Gailey. In fact there is no independent evidence that he was even at the scene. These facts, compounded by what appears to have been a substandard investigation into the homicide of Christopher Gailey raise multiple, legitimate questions about Scott Allen's guilt for the murder of Christopher Gailey."

- Greg O. McCrary - Supervisory Special Agent, F.B.I (retired), Aug 30 2013

As far as investigative strategy goes, the police apparently only had one: pressuring witnesses to testify against Scott. The investigation simply yielded no results other than statements of persons that were either entering plea deals or were afraid of upcoming indictments. This is baffling and deeply concerning, as there were a multitude of other potential investigative avenues that, if not ignored, could have proven Scott’s innocence or focused the investigation on someone else. Our impression is that, when a drug dealer was found dead in the forest, the police didn’t care enough to mount a proper investigation. And when Vanessa Smith came forward and presented herself as a witness, they didn’t believe it to be necessary anymore.

The affidavit of Gregg O. McCrary, retired FBI agent in 2013 summarizes a lot of the inconsistencies in the case.  You can find it here.

 

Non-Existent Evidence

"..because you're not going to bring in fingerprints on a bag, you're not going to bring in a weapon that was recovered, there's no fingerprints on a knife found on a rock, we don't have any DNA from the well... Oh, gosh, I mean this is -- It looks like a joke. "

- Judge Cromer, 2003 Trial Transcript (Jury not present)

There is no forensic evidence tying Scott to the murder.

The crime scene simply does not match Vanessa Smith's testimony, as discussed in Greg McCrary's report.  According to Vanessa, Chris was shot twice, from behind, at close range and  without warning as they were hiking single file down a narrow path.

The trail where the body was found was 10 ft wide.

No murder weapon was ever found, and the shotgun that Vanessa claimed had been used to shoot Chris Gailey and then buried in the woods was found in the closet of Robert Johnson's trailer.

No explanation was ever offered for the other three spent shells, and multiple live shotgun shells found at the scene.  In fact no testing for fingerprints or ballistic analysis on those shells was ever carried out. 

Vanessa claimed that she heard Gailey empty his handgun as they were leaving the forest at dawn, having waited 7 or 8 hours for him to die.  

 

Based on his examination of Chris Gailey's wounds, The State's own Chief Medical Examiner testified that this could not possibly be true as "it would have been extremely unlikely, considering the amount of blood lost, that a person with those wounds would have
survived even one or two hours." 

  

Neither the undamaged shirt neatly draped on a rock and held down with a stone, the scattered live handgun rounds and magazine, or the single jammed round found in Gailey's otherwise fully loaded handgun fit with Vanessa's story.  A bloody knife found on an opened gym-bag was completely ignored.

A number of other possible suspects with motive to harm Gailey were known to have been in the area at the time, and multiple witnesses saw both Vanessa and Scott at locations and at times that completely contradict her version of events , but no effort was made to investigate any other possible scenario.

The prosecution knew that the crime scene bore no resemblance to that described in Vanessa Smith's version of events, and yet the prosecution chose not to investigate any other possibility, relying solely on the testimony of a bitter and vengeful woman,  despite the fact that ​no fingerprints or DNA evidence linking Scott to the crime scene were ever found.

Is it any wonder the trial judge described the prosecution's case as a "joke"?

 

Ignored & Mishandled Evidence

"Reasonably trained investigators also would have had the spent shotgun shells compared with the shotgun that they seized from the Johnson residence in an attempt to confirm that this was the murder weapon, as alleged by Ms. Smith.

 

Inexplicably, this has never been done. I also have seen no evidence that any of the shotgun shells, spent or live, were examined for fingerprints or DNA. This is important as those shells were likely handled by the murderer.

I have seen no evidence that investigators sought or collected data from the victim's pager. All pages to the victim would be of investigative interest, especially those closest in time to his murder.

I have seen no evidence that the purported blood on the knife found on top of the gym bag near the victim's body was examined to determine whose blood it might be. The victim had no wounds consistent with a knife, therefore, the blood might have come from the perpetrator or someone else at the crime scene. Such information would be of obvious significance.

 

Further, I've seen no evidence that the police checked with local hospitals or walk-in primary care 
health facilities to see if anyone had been treated for an injury consistent with a knife wound in the time immediately following the murder. Reasonably trained investigators would have done so. Based on the material I have reviewed, the investigation into the murder of Christopher Gailey appears deficient and substandard. "

- Greg O. McCrary - Supervisory Special Agent, F.B.I (retired), Aug 30 2013

For those involved in the investigation of this case, the excerpt from Greg McCrary's affidavit above is scathing.

Nothing about the prosecution's theory of what happened on that night adds up to the evidence from the crime scene. Obvious evidentiary leads that suggested anything to the contrary were never followed up.

In one of the medical examiners' reports, a note on a diagram of the knife in question even suggests that DNA testing was not conducted on the blood stained knife at the instruction of law enforcement at the time.

No victimology analysis, blood testing, fingerprint analysis or anything else was sought to even cursorily explore any alternative to the preferred theory advanced by Vanessa's supposed confession.

To make this even worse, any evidence that could still have been tested and could have shown a different scenario to that presented at trial was improperly stored, mishandled, and in some cases even 'lost' by those in charge of the evidence.  

Treatment of Witnesses

".. I was interviewed by the SBI about the shooting death of Chris Gailey and later testified at Scott's trial.  Although I tried to tell the truth on both occasions, I feel like I was pushed into saying certain things by the SBI and the prosecutor that were not entirely accurate.  I would like to set the record straight"

- Affidavit of Dustin Maness, May 2007 

A number of the witnesses that the prosecution relied upon to build their case have since recounted their experiences during the investigation.

The most important of these being Vanessa's desperate attempt to reveal the truth of how she was treated following her accusation and how she was put under pressure to say what the prosecution needed to ultimately convict Scott of first degree murder.

As she states in the video interview:

 

"They … everybody that they have for a witness, they threatened everybody “You are going to go to prison for the rest of your life.” And they would bring my son in there and let me see my son and be like “Do you wanna … “ …you know … just use him against me."

In Dustin Maness' affidavit from 2007, he describes his experience with the SBI and during his testimony at trial:

"I was interviewed by SBI Agent Reid on October 15, 2003 about the shooting death of Chris Gailey.  The entire interview was misconstrued by Reid... Reid kept putting words in my mouth that I did not say or mean.

The same thing happened when I testified at Scott's trial.  I tried to testify truthfully, but I felt that the prosecutor was pushing me to say things from Reid's report that I really didn't believe or remember"

In her 2007 affidavit, Tanzy Lanier states:

"We really went through something during that time after Chris's body was found. The police raided our trailer a bunch of times. They also tapped our telephone line and would park by our trailer and just sit watching us. The police came to the trailer and searched; they even poured the ketchup and mustard out of the bottles. They eventually locked up Robbie, Danny and Shannon. The day they were arrested, I came home and I was scared because I didn't know where any of them were.

 

The police kept coming to the trailer.  The police told us we were under investigation to be arrested as accessories."

You can see the kind of pressure these people were under.  One of them, Robert Johnson, was called to testify at trial over the question of how long Vanessa had been gone from the trailer on the night of the murder. Vanessa said 7-8 hours, Robert Johnson said  3-4 hours, which would have been just enough time for Vanessa to get to the crime scene and back (but not for her to have allegedly watched Scott throw rocks at his friend's body until dawn.)

 

Robert Johnson testified with the understanding that his co-operation with the State might help him deal with a number of pending charges, and the possibility he would be charged with possession of Gailey's shotgun.

 

However, the only sober witness that night, Tanzy Lanier, clearly states in her affidavit that Robert Johnson was passed out on the floor from partying when Vanessa returned to the trailer 1-2 hours later.

 

The prosecution knew that in all likelihood Vanessa could not even have been at the location at the time of the shooting. They knew Vanessa could not have been cowering in the forest for hours while Scott supposedly threw rocks at the body of his friend.  They knew she did not leave at dawn hearing Gailey fire off shots.  They knew she was lying, and then they put their own words in her mouth.

 

So- why would the prosecution, knowing that Vanessa was lying and knowing there was no other evidence putting Scott at the crime scene, be so insistent that they'd got the right guy that they'd feel the need to put witnesses under pressure or put words in their mouths to build their case against Scott and ultimately condemn him to a death sentence? 

Dubious Motivation

"Q. An it was as a result of that that Lieutenant Bunting blamed you for Chris Gailey's death?

A. I think he was --  this was a case, a church case and there was a lot of heat, I think, because for some such reason no offer was ever made and he felt like he came too easy on that case and he would not have been out otherwise

Q. He, being Scott Allen, got out -- came out too easy--

A. That's what --

Q. Following that case?

A. That's what he felt, yes"

- Transcript of evidientiary hearing testimony by Pierre Oldham, Scott's 2003 trial attorney, discussing the involvement of Lt. Barry Bunting in a prior case involving the same 'witness' .

Scott had been previously brought to trial accused of a church break-in back in 1994.  At trial, the state's witness recanted her statement.  She admitted it was untrue, but was pressured into making it and that parts were even written for her.  After this court room revelation, the judge presiding offered a plea deal to bring the flawed prosecution to a close, an 'Alford' plea that involves no admission of guilt- infuriating the law enforcement involved.

 

History was to repeat itself in Scott's 2003 capital trial, involving the same law enforcement and the same 'witness'- Vanessa Smith.

In an unkind twist of fate, the same Lieutenant who had tried and failed to follow through on this falsely obtained statement was the first law enforcement officer to be informed of the discovery of Chris Gailey's body, for no other reason than he lived nearby.  Despite examination of the county boundaries indicating that the crime fell under the jurisdiction of a neighbouring county, rather than that of Lt. Bunting, he remained involved in the investigation and testified at trial.

Lt. Bunting was also left in charge of the evidence collected at the crime scene.  Including the possibly exculpatory evidence that went 'missing', was untested, or was so improperly stored as to render it almost useless to any further investigation conducted on Scott's behalf.

This time round, however, Vanessa, under the perceived threat of losing her son and in possession of an agreement with the State of North Carolina for her testimony against Scott, stuck to the concocted story in court, and Scott was given a death sentence. A death sentence based solely on the testimony of a mentally unstable 'witness' who had already demonstrated her susceptibility to police coercion.