Lona Lee Scott told jurors Wednesday why she fired six shots into her husband in their Dunwoody home. "I didn't want to die," the 47-year-old mother of two said.
Scott, on trial for murder, contended she killed her husband in self-defense. Ralph C. "Cliff" Scott was furious that she rebuffed him for sex and refused to talk about their divorce case, she testified.
If she had not opened fire, she testified, "I'd be dead right now."
DeKalb County prosecutors aren't buying Scott's story. They contend she murdered her 42-year-old husband in the pre-dawn hours of March 4, 2008, to control his $5 million estate.
"This defendant sought and received a .22-caliber divorce," Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Hutcherson said during opening statements Tuesday. Cliff Scott, 42, was unarmed and naked when his wife gunned him down, he noted.
At the time, the couple's youngest daughter, then 5 years old, slept in a bedroom down the hall.
The trial has laid bare a rocky marriage with accusations of domestic violence and infidelity followed by attempts at reconciliation. A bitter divorce case culminated in a struggle for control over the investments and properties owned by Cliff Scott, a muscular, workaholic Georgia Tech grad who ran a successful trucking business near the airport.
Scott was divesting his assets and moving his money into an offshore account in the Bahamas to hide it from his wife, according to testimony. He'd discussed moving to Bimini.
Lona Scott testified her husband had threatened to leave her "penniless and homeless" if she did not withdraw her divorce petition. On one occasion, she contended, Cliff Scott told her a friend that he had brought to the house was a hit man who could be the last person she ever saw.
Lona Scott will know her fate soon. The defense and prosecution have rested their cases and will give closing arguments Thursday morning.
Cliff and Lona Scott were wed Feb. 24, 2000, after a seven-month courtship. Lona, a former gymnast who excelled in tae kwon do, was pregnant with their first child.
Cliff Scott typically rose at 3 a.m. and worked until 7 p.m. An electrical engineer who lifted weights almost daily, he was so consumed by his work that he was away from home days at a time, often sleeping in a makeshift apartment above his trucking office on Moreland Avenue.
That was the couple’s plan: She would raise the kids while he built a nest egg so he could retire after they’d been married 10 years.
But on Oct. 26, 2006, their marriage began unraveling when Lona Scott learned her husband was cheating on her. When he arrived home that night, she told him she wanted a divorce.
While putting the girls to bed, she heard a clamor. She walked into the kitchen and saw a side of her husband she’d never seen -- his face contorted, his eyes like daggers, she testified. He lifted her in a chokehold but released her when one of their daughters heard her scream, she said.
She soon filed for divorce, but in August 2007 the couple brokered a reconciliation agreement. Cliff Scott agreed to put $1 million in Lona Scott's bank account and give her title to the $900,000 home, paying off its $750,000 mortgage. He agreed to take sex-addiction and anger-management counseling.
It was, she testified, "to gain back trust."
But Cliff Scott did not fulfill any of his obligations, and her divorce lawyer filed a contempt motion on Feb. 25, 2008.
On the night of March 3, 2008, Cliff Scott came home telling her he wanted to have sex and talk about the divorce, Lona Scott testified. Lona said she had sex with him but then went to sleep in another bedroom with her daughter.
Later, she said, Cliff Scott came inside and began poking at her, demanding more sex and insisting they talk about the divorce.
Lona Scott said she refused but returned to the master bedroom with him so they would not wake their daughter. Once inside, he grabbed her by the hair and put her in a chokehold.
When Lona Scott screamed out that he was going to wake their daughter, he released his hold and pushed her away, she said. She said she then grabbed her .22-caliber Ruger target pistol from a desk drawer and went to a nightstand to get her purse and car keys so she could leave with their daughter.
When Cliff Scott boxed her in, she said, she raised the gun. He then said, "You having that gun gives me permission to kill you," she testified.
When Cliff Scott charged, Lona Scott said, she fired the first shot, which likely hit him in the upper left chest, collapsing his lung and piercing his aorta. She said that when she got around her husband to the foot of the bed, he charged at her again.
She opened fire once more, hitting him in both of his elbows, which were probably raised in a defensive position, DeKalb chief medical examiner Gerald Gowitt testified. Her next shot likely hit Cliff Scott just above his forehead, and two more gunshots hit his upper back as he fell face-down on the hardwood floor, Gowitt said.
Lona Scott called 911, put the gun in a drawer and checked on her daughter, she testified.
When police arrived, they found Lona Scott in hysterics and pleading for them to treat her husband upstairs. But later, at police headquarters, she appeared "calm, nonchalant," Detective Phil Herrington testified.
But when asked Wednesday by her attorney, Brian Steel, why she opened fire, Lona Scott said, "Because he was going to kill me. I knew he was going to kill me."
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