The Deans’ last “big hope”

Former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean has one final chance at freedom and, while his family is praying for a miracle, they are also bracing for the worst

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The Deans’ last “big hope”

It was Halloween, and Renee Dean was busy in her Harlem home helping her two youngest boys get dressed in their costumes.

The phone rang.

It was her husband’s attorney, Pete Theodocion, calling.

She answered the phone only to learn that Superior Court Judge James Blanchard Jr. had denied a request by her husband, former Columbia County Commissioner Scott Dean, for a new trial.

The weight of the judge’s verdict suddenly came crashing down on Renee Dean.

“It was devastating,” Renee Dean said. “I was so upset because it is so unbelievable how unjust this whole process has been for our family. You start out believing in the system and you start out trusting that justice will be done, but here we are three years later, completely jaded about the system and not trusting anything.”

The Deans were hoping to be granted a new trial based on the fact that their 19-year-old adopted daughter, Silda, admitted that she lied during her testimony in 2011.

Silda, who was adopted from Guatemala, along with her other four siblings, in 2008 by Scott Dean and his wife, alleged in 2010 that the former county commissioner and former mayor of Harlem had inappropriately touched her “between the legs” when she was 15. She also accused Scott Dean of exposing himself to her while propositioning her for sex on a separate occasion.

Silda was at the center of the district attorney’s child molestation case against Scott Dean.

In October, Silda, now 19, testified in court that she made up the entire story.

“It was a lie,” Silda plainly told Blanchard on the stand.

But instead of a new trial, Blanchard’s ruling meant that Scott Dean was headed back to Georgia State Prison in rural Reidsville, Ga., to serve out the remainder of his 20-year sentence.

“I was literally getting the boys in their costumes when the call came with the news,” Renee Dean said. “And I remember thinking, ‘How do I do this? How do I go trick-or-treating?’”

She recalls looking down at her boys, who were excited about the day’s Halloween adventures, and realizing she didn’t have a choice.

“I’m the mom. How do you not?” Renee Dean said. “You have to keep the kids’ lives as normal as possible. You have to stay with your routine and you have to stay calm for them because they pick up on my stress.

“I can’t hide from the world. I just keep going. I do it because I have to. My kids need me.”

For the past three years, this has been Renee Dean’s life. A horrible roller coaster of emotions that is on public display for everyone to see.

“Scott’s problem in this whole situation is he is too isolated in prison, but my problem is the opposite,” said Renee Dean, sitting at a table inside the family’s bed and breakfast hotel, Red Oak Manor, in downtown Harlem. “I’m the one out here dealing with all of this.”

The mother of two natural sons and five adoptive children doesn’t expect any sympathy from anyone. She is simply focused on taking care of her family, trying to pay the bills and fighting to get her husband out of prison.

Currently, her two natural sons and the two youngest adopted children live with her at the Dean home in Harlem. The two oldest adopted girls live with Scott Dean’s former campaign manager, Sarah Harper Scott, and the middle adopted daughter is still with foster parents in Thomson, Ga.

“It’s not easy. Every day is a struggle,” Renee Dean said. “Going to the post office, I get 20 questions and it takes 30 minutes to go to IGA to get a loaf of bread. Most of it is very well meaning because this town knows Scott and they know me and they know what kind of parents we are, so they know Scott is innocent. But while most of it has been very well meaning, it is still difficult to hear.

“Sometime it is harder to get a hug than a dirty look because a hug makes you cry all over again.”

But Renee Dean says she finds great strength from the support of her family in Harlem.

“I don’t think there are three people in Harlem who ever believed the charges,” Renee Dean said. “Nobody ever believed it. But, unfortunately, I have been the very public face of all this, having to deal with people, along with Scott’s mom and dad and his sister. The reality is, we live here in a very small town. But you have to live. Life doesn’t stop.”

 

The Deans are about to be thrown into the spotlight again.

Scott Dean will have a final chance at freedom on December 18 at 9 a.m. during a hearing held at the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, Ga.

“It is a hearing where we are requesting habeas corpus, which allows a new trial based on unlawful imprisonment,” Dean said. “Basically, we are suing the state saying that he is innocent and he needs a new trial.”

The entire Dean family is hopeful, but are bracing for this upcoming hearing, Renee Dean said.

“It is our last big hope,” Renee Dean said. “In our minds we want to think, ‘Surely a new trial will be granted,’ but then again, everything else that we felt pretty confident about has not gone well. So, it’s kind of hard to know what to expect.”

But the fact that this upcoming hearing will be held in Reidsville and not Columbia County may play in her husband’s favor, Renee Dean said.

“We are really hoping that this is the key,” Renee Dean said. “Maybe being a different judge, being a different venue, with somebody who has never heard of any of this through the media, it is a blank slate and we can get an unbiased opinion. There should be no politics involved at all.”

Looking back over the past few years, Renee Dean can’t help but believe politics played a huge role in the incarceration of her husband.

“We were always into politics for the public service and the positive aspect of doing good for the community and doing good for the county,” Renee Dean said. “Scott took Harlem to a state level. I think he did a lot of really good things for Harlem and this whole end of the county when he was a county commissioner. We never expected it to be negative at all. But when it got ugly, it got real ugly.”

A few month prior to the child molestation charges being filed against Scott Dean in 2010, allegations surfaced that then-Columbia County commissioner allegedly had inappropriate text exchanges with a married female county employee.

Despite the reports of inappropriate text messages, Scott Dean still proved his popularity in Columbia County by winning his District 4 commission seat with 53 percent of the votes in 2010. But when the child molestation charges surfaced, he was forced to resign from his seat.

“Somehow, some political entity, and I don’t know if they were just waiting for their shot or what, but the first word out of one of the girls’ mouths and all of a sudden, everybody was on us like white on rice,” Renee Dean said, explaining before they knew it, representatives from the Division of Family and Children Services were knocking on their door. “It was a very over-the-top reaction. But, even then, because we knew it wasn’t true, we were like, ‘Fine. Search the house. Please, talk to kids.’

“We tried to be very open and work with the system, but it just bit us in the butt.”

Prior to Scott Dean’s original trial in 2011, his oldest adopted daughter, Marlin, allegedly told investigators in the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office that Scott Dean also tried to have sex with her. These accusations emerged after Marlin, then 17, ran away to Mexico with her boyfriend, who happened to be an illegal immigrant.

But during the 2011 trial, Marlin recanted those allegations, insisting that she lied to investigators in order to make people feel sorry for her so they would feel pressure to send her money in Mexico.

“I left (the Dean home) because I wanted to be with my boyfriend,” Marlin told the court in the original 2011 trial. “My letter said I leave because two reasons: my mom and my boyfriend.”

It wasn’t until representatives from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office continued to try and reach Marlin that she decided to tell them that Scott Dean had allegedly molested her, she said.

“I was tired of them calling me all the time,” Marlin, then 18, testified in 2011. “I didn’t want to talk to nobody… When somebody asks you many questions all the time and keeps pushing, you’re going to say what they want to hear.”

But on the stand, much like Silda’s testimony earlier this year, Marlin said her entire story was a lie and that Scott Dean never inappropriately touched her.

However, when the allegations hit the news media back in 2010, Renee Dean said she watched as her family’s entire life began crashing in on them.

“Everyone in Harlem knew that the girls made these allegations up, but somebody got a hold of it and ran with it,” she said. “I don’t know if they just wanted to get Scott out of politics. I don’t know where all of this came from, but they have destroyed our family: financially, physically, emotionally, in every way.”

The price of fighting to free her husband has drained almost every last penny they had, Renee Dean said.

“We are broker than broke,” she said. “The legal expenses are unbelievable. And with the DFCS thing, I had to get my own lawyer to deal with me on those things, so we were paying two lawyers for absolutely no reason. This whole thing has taken everything that we have.”

In fact, Renee Dean said the legal expenses alone have soared to more than $100,000.

“Since all this began, there is no income. There is zero income,” Renee Dean said. “And the lack of anything to show for all of that money is really frustrating. Every time those bills come in, I am just still shaking my head. That’s a huge stress on me, trying to figure out how to pay that mortgage every month and still work on those bills.

“Honestly, it is just month to month, week to week, that we are trying to stay above water. And there is no one to hold it together but me.”

 

Despite all of the heartache the Dean family has experienced over the past three years, Renee Dean says she doesn’t regret for one moment adopting her five children from Guatemala.

“Never. I don’t regret doing the adoption and Scott doesn’t either,” Renee Dean said. “I know that our motives were true and the calling was there. I don’t regret for a minute bringing them into this country and giving them the opportunity for a much better life than they would have had in Guatemala.”

However, some days it is difficult to explain to her children why their father is not there to celebrate their birthdays or Christmas, Renee Dean said.

“There is a lot of stress, even between the kids,” she said. “You want to encourage them not to blame the older girls for this situation, but even to children it is patently obvious why we are in this situation and, so, that is really hard. I’m kind of the referee sometimes on that, which puts me and Scott in an awkward position.”

But as far as Scott and Renee Dean are concerned, she says they hold no ill feelings towards both girls for their accusations.

“We have forgiven,” Renee Dean said. “Now, we are trying to have a family, but it’s very hard because he is there and I’m here and the kids are scattered.”

And it is Renee Dean’s job to try and make sure that her children feel as normal as possible.

“Kids at school are mean. Kids, in general, can be very mean. But, here, my children are trying to just live life and just try to be normal, and every time an article hits the paper and people start talking about it, they are faced with it again,” Renee Dean said. “Or if it is on TV, the kids will say, ‘Oh, I saw your dad on TV last night.’ It’s especially hard on the older boys because middle school and high school are difficult enough without all of the drama.”

As for Scott Dean, the former Columbia County commissioner has his “good days and bad days,” Renee Dean said.

“It is very bad where Scott is at,” Renee Dean said, referring to the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville. “It’s a maximum-security prison. It is a horrible place and when you add on top of that that you know you don’t belong there, it is just very disheartening and frustrating. I think he is holding up better than he ought to be, but he has days when it gets to him, which is totally understandable.”

The isolation is what seems to bother her husband the most, Renee Dean said.

“I can’t even imagine the boredom,” she said. “Scott has always been such a busy guy and he just sits now and reads. That’s it. That’s all he can do and that is really hard on him because he was the information junkie: constantly on the computer, constantly on the BlackBerry, constantly with a flow of information. Now, he is cut off.”

To help her husband endure his time in prison, Renee Dean said the family always makes sure that he has a visitor every weekend.

“We all visit, depending on whose turn it is or who is available,” she said. “Between his parents, his sister and me and the kids, somebody goes to see him every weekend. So he does get some visitors, which helps.”

And surprisingly, the state prison allows a six-hour visitation period for its inmates, Renee Dean said.

“When we go down there to visit, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive and we have to be there at 9 o’clock,” Renee Dean said. “So, I will roll the kids out of bed and roll them into the car in their pajamas. When you get down there, you get up to six hours to visit, but you are sitting at a little, knee-high table that is about 18 inches around. The rules are: You can see each other and you can talk, but you can’t touch each other.”

The weekends that Renee Dean and the boys can’t make it down to Reidsville, Scott Dean is also allowed to call them for a pretty hefty fee.

“It’s like $6 for a 15-minute phone call,” she said, “but he does get to make phone calls which has helped a lot, particularly with the kids.”

After all that the Deans have gone through these past few years, some people in the Augusta area don’t understand why Renee Dean is standing by her husband, especially considering, not only the child molestation charges, but also accusations of his infidelity which surfaced after the texting scandal in 2010.

But Renee Dean quickly points out that she been with Scott Dean for 28 years, ever since they began “going together” when she was 14 years old. They have a life and children together.

“Why would I not support him because I know he didn’t do it,” Renee Dean said. “An innocent man is in jail. Why would you walk away? Why would you just say, ‘Well, rot in jail.’ Or divorce him and move on?”

The fact of the matter is, Renee Dean says she has never, not for a moment, doubted that Scott Dean is innocent of the child molestation charges. And whatever other personal issues or problems the Deans might have in the marriage is their business, she says.

“Those kinds of things are between me and Scott. They are not anybody else’s business,” she said. “The fact is, when you take those vows, you mean them. It is a real marriage. It is a real life. And even if we were having difficulties on that front, you still don’t kick a man while he is down.

“You don’t just walk away. Ever. That’s just unthinkable to me.”

 

The only option Renee Dean has left is to pray that a different judge, in an entirely different county, will understand that Scott Dean deserves a new trial.

“Don’t get me wrong, I get the argument about a witness changing their story and that it shouldn’t automatically be a new trial. I get that,” Renee Dean said. “But this isn’t a witness. This is the alleged victim. And the victim has said, ‘I am not a victim.’ That seems like reason enough for a new trial.”

But Blanchard ruled in October that, just because Silda Dean recanted her previous testimony, it is not a legal cause to grant a new trial.

Blanchard also ruled that Silda Dean would have to be convicted of perjury in order for the courts to consider granting Scott Dean a new trial.

According to Renee Dean, her adopted daughter understands the seriousness of what she has done and would accept being charged with perjury, but the district attorney refuses to press charges.

“Silda testified in the original case that Scott did do it. Then, she has testified now that he didn’t do it. The district attorney has said, ‘Well, we believed her the first time and 12 jurors believed her the first time, so we don’t believe her now and we are not going to charge her with perjury,’” Renee Dean said. “But, even if you don’t believe what she is saying now, she has committed perjury. One way or the other, she has testified two totally opposite ways, so one of those times she was lying on a stand under oath. Take your pick.”

In no way is Renee Dean trying to throw her adopted daughter “under the bus” in order to save her husband, she said.

“Being charged with perjury is not a horrible felony offense,” Renee Dean said. “It’s not a good thing. It’s not her smartest move. But all the district attorney has got to do is paperwork. Silda has already signed a confession. All the district attorney has to do is write it up, have Silda plead guilty, give her some probation and allow Scott a new trial. But the district attorney won’t do it.

“They are basically saying, ‘It is okay with us if he just sits there in prison.’ How do they sleep at night?”

Renee Dean fears that her husband can’t handle facing his entire 20 years in prison with no hope of an early release.

“I mean, I don’t know that he can survive 18 more years of being in prison knowing that he is innocent,” she said. “To leave him there, is just inhumane.”

Renee Dean points out that there are people who have killed individuals that have gotten less time in prison than her husband.

“Scott got 20 years in prison and 20 years probation and he has to register as a sex offender, which will ruin his life,” Renee Dean said. “Our house is in the back yard of the middle school. Even if he wanted to come home, he can’t come home. These things don’t go away.”

All there is left to do is wait until the hearing on December 18, Renee Dean said.

“I have to say, we weren’t naive about these charges and the battle we were facing,” she said. “We never figured it would be easy to undo it, but we never figured it would be this hard, either.”