New film about James Scott takes look back at Flood of 1993, questions his life sentence

QUINCY — A 25-minute movie on the Vice Network’s YouTube page reviews the flooding of the Mississippi River in West Quincy, Mo., during the summer of 1993 and whether James Scott is actually innocent of the crime he was eventually convicted of.

The midwestern section of the United States was submerged in 1993 by extreme rainfall and historic flooding. It resulted in tens of deaths, billions of dollars in damages and a breach of levees along the Mississippi River. 

Scott, 24 at the time, was convicted under an obscure 1979 Missouri law for intentionally “causing a catastrophe.” His crime was causing the West Quincy, Mo., levee to fail. His alleged motive was to strand his wife on the other side of the river so he could be free to party and go fishing with his friends. 

Though no one died in the levee breach, Scott is the only person in Missouri history convicted under this law. He is serving a life sentence. 

Journalist Adam Pitluk is the author of “Damned to Eternity,” a 2007 book that takes look back at the Flood of 1993 and a possible miscarriage of justice that ensued. “Most readers will come away believing that Scott was railroaded, the victim of his own big mouth and his community’s desire to find a scapegoat,” read a review from Publishers Weekly. 

Pitluk recently returned to Quincy to film an episode of “Overlooked” for the Vice Network. He investigated further how local community and law enforcement officials firmly placed the blame on Scott. He maintains to this day he didn’t do the crime. The episode was posted on YouTube on Nov. 29.

Pitluk interviewed former Quincy mayor Chuck Scholz, former Quincy Herald-Whig reporter Rodney Hart, former Fabius River Levee Drainage District chairman Norman Haerr and Jon McCoy, former chief deputy with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. 

The film includes an interview with Scott’s mother, Sharon Scott, who passed away after the filming. Pitluk also interviewed David Hammer, professor emeritus civil and environmental engineering at the University of Missouri. Hammer said in “Overlooked” he believes evidence shows the levee was eventually going to be breached and Scott is innocent.

Hammer says he’s going to attempt to get a pardon for Scott, when he is eligible. 

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