Malcolm Scott was forced to watch his beloved 49ers play in Super Bowl XXIX from a small cell in Tulsa County Jail. He didn’t have his own television, so the 17-year-old watched the game though a tiny window into an adjacent holding unit.
His bed was a thinly padded mat on a steel bunk frame with the toilet just feet away. “The situation in itself was horrific,” Scott said.
But the game in late January 1995 went exactly to plan, allowing Scott to smile in a place of malaise. Steve Young threw six touchdown passes in an MVP performance. Jerry Rice had 149 yards and three scores. It was typical of the team Scott came to love from afar while growing up in Tulsa in the 1980s, during the San Francisco dynasty.
Seeing Young join Joe Montana as the club’s only other Super Bowl-winning quarterback offered Scott a respite from everything that had gone wrong in his life. His freedom was being stripped away.
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“For just that small moment in time, for us to win that, I had a chance to be happy for just a minute, just to be excited just for that moment,” Scott, now 41, said.
Scott was incarcerated while awaiting trial after being suspected of murder months earlier. He remained optimistic he would be released and get his life back — and his favorite football team winning a championship would start a string of events that would go his way, he thought.
“I was still believing that I was going to get out and that they were going to get the real killers,” Scott said. “So it was still a good vibe for me. It was still a really good feeling.”
But the good feelings wouldn’t last.
Scott and his friend, De’Marchoe Carpenter, were convicted of murdering 19-year-old Karen Summers, who was outside a house party in Tulsa the night of Sept. 10, 1994. Summers, the mother of a 4-month-old baby, was killed in a drive-by shooting that was believed to be gang-related.
The cases against Scott and Carpenter were dubious. There was no evidence linking them to the murder weapon, a Lorcin pistol, or the getaway car, a maroon Ford Taurus. Eye witnesses later recanted their statements placing Scott and Carpenter at the scene. Detectives were accused of threatening those witnesses with charges had they not implicated Scott and Carpenter.
Still, Scott and Carpenter were given life sentences plus 170 years on two counts of shooting with intent to kill and one count of using a vehicle to facilitate the discharge of a weapon.
Scott and Carpenter bounced from prison to prison over the next two grueling decades. Scott spent his early adulthood working jobs in carpentry, upholstery, as a janitor and in kitchens. He took computer and art classes where they are were offered. But life as a convicted murderer was difficult.
“I didn’t get to go to a Martha Stewart-type of prison,” Scott said. “It was nothing but murderers, rapists, robbers, people that were very violent, and it was constant violence all around me.”
Scott’s connection to the outside world was through his love for the 49ers. Sundays were his best days, because that was when family members would be allowed to visit, and when he would be able to watch football games in his cell.
“That was an opportunity for me really to kind of get away from everything that was going on around me,” he said. “Just go into a world where I felt like I was more at home and comfortable and away from all the reality of that situation at the time.”
That would change for Scott in January 2014, after more than 19 years in prison, when former gang member Michael Lee Wilson confessed to the killing of Summers soon before he was put to death for another murder. Wilson confessed to a member of the Oklahoma Innocence Project, which took on Scott and Carpenter’s case.
“Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter are innocent,” Wilson said in a statement recorded from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
“I feel bad about it. I’m sorry for taking all those years away from them.”
The confession came amid a decade-long investigation from private investigator Eric Cullen, who received letters from Scott and Carpenter that sparked his interest in their case. Cullen convinced the Innocence Project to represent them after Scott was denied, time after time, in the appeals process.
The Innocence Project is a nationwide non-profit that has helped exonerate 362 people through DNA and other evidence since founded in 1992.
With the help of the Innocence Project, Cullen’s investigation and Wilson’s confession, Scott and Carpenter were set free May 9, 2016, after a judge in Tulsa overturned their first-degree murder convictions. Scott was freed two weeks before his 39th birthday.
“There were definitely times in there that I wanted to just throw the towel in, man,” Scott said. “But I knew there was something in me that would tell me, ‘You can’t. You got to keep fighting.’
“You got to keep believing because the minute that you accept where you are, that being your destination for the rest of your life, is the minute that is going to become your reality.”
Now free after 22 years behind bars, Scott was connected to a member of the 49ers’ community relations department through a member of the Innocence Project. Scott was expecting a care package in the mail, perhaps some 49ers gear or autographed memorabilia. He received much more.
The team last week flew Scott and his brother, Henry, to team headquarters where Scott, who’s working at Orangetheory Fitness and training to become a personal trainer in Houston, would work out with 49ers strength and conditioning coach Ray Wright before obtaining field passes for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Scott and his brother spent Saturday taking a private tour of team headquarters with kicker Robbie Gould, who took them for milkshakes afterward. A beaming Scott met a childhood idol, former 49ers linebacker and special adviser Keena Turner, who helped him get a photo with general manager John Lynch on the field.
“It’s unique to watch how (Scott) just cherishes every moment,” Gould said. “He’s in the moment all the time. And I think, as football players, you kind of get away from that. So there’s a lot of hope, there’s a lot of strength, power, that he has shown.”
Scott also met Richard Sherman, one of the team’s most prominent social justice advocates.
“I was expecting to meet a guy who’s just upset and angry at the world: ‘Man, the world let me down,’” Sherman said. “And when I met him, I would never have guessed he’s been through what he’s been through by the energy he came with, the smile.
“It gave me a different perspective and a different way of viewing things.”
The 49ers won 26-23 in overtime, their first victory over the Seahawks in 10 meetings dating to 2013.
It was the first time Scott got to see his favorite childhood team in the flesh after nearly being robbed of a life of freedom. He wasn’t watching on a tiny jail cell television. He was breathing fresh air, the same as the players he watched halfway across the country that helped get him through his stint in prison.
“For me, it was like finally coming home a second time,” Scott said. “I’ve finally made it. I’m finally here. What I dreamed for, for so long, that reality they said I would never, ever see.