St. Petersburg Times – January 16, 2000
BOCA RATON — A Chicago investigator who helped exonerate two condemned prisoners is taking on the case of a Florida drifter sentenced to die for the murder of a Boca Raton jeweler and florist.
Paul Ciolino said despite Paul Scott’s partial confession, he does not believe Scott killed James Alessi.
He said the case against Scott, 43, is made of “bad witnesses, bad physical evidence and no physical evidence.”
“Frankly, the evidence I’ve seen is poor,” said Ciolino, who has been investigating homicides for 19 years. “To put this guy on death row with this kind of evidence, a lot of bad breaks have to happen.”
Scott, who had a previous conviction for second-degree murder in California, was sentenced to death in 1979 for Alessi’s death. An 18-year-old accomplice, Richard Kondian, received a 45-year sentence. Kondian, who had no previous record and was, at that time, too young to receive a death sentence, served 15 years.
Scott met Alessi through Kondian, a runaway and prostitute.
Prosecutors said Scott and Kondian planned to rob Alessi at his home in May 1978 but after a night of partying, events turned violent. Alessi later was found nude, bound and bloodied, killed by six blows from a blunt object.
Scott has claimed that Alessi first attacked Kondian. Scott said he then hit Alessi, subdued him and helped Kondian tie up the larger man with electrical cords. Alessi was bound, but alive, when he fled, Scott has said.
Assistant State Attorney Ken Selvig, who prosecuted the case, remains convinced of Scott’s guilt.
“There’s not a question at all – none – that Paul Scott was involved in the murder. The only question that was even arguable was the extent of his involvement,” Selvig said.
After the trial, an investigator working on the case related his disappointment in the Scott verdict to a friend. That friend, country songwriter Bob Pauley, was so inspired by Scott’s situation he wrote a song about him.
Pauley then embarked on a 20-year crusade to free Scott.
Ciolino entered the picture last summer after he appeared on the CBS news magazine 48 Hours. Pauley saw the story about Ciolino’s investigation into the case of another Florida death row inmate and hounded the Chicago investigator until he got a response.
Ciolino said he plans to begin his investigation later this month.
Ciolino has worked with Northwestern University journalism professor David Protess and his students on the investigations of two Illinois death row cases. In February, Anthony Porter, 43, was freed after 17 years on death row in Illinois when key witnesses to a murder recanted their testimony and Ciolino obtained a taped confession from another man.
In 1996, four men convicted of the 1978 rape and murder of a Chicago couple were pardoned after Protess, his class and Ciolino proved a witness had lied.