Christopher Scott knew he’d done nothing wrong when, stopped while driving in 1997 through a Dallas neighborhood where a home robbery and fatal shooting had just been committed, police handcuffed him as a suspect.
“I thought they were going to get it cleared up,” he says.
Instead, authorities charged him.
Scott was convicted on faulty eyewitness testimony and served more than 12 years in prison before the confession of another inmate to the crimes led to his exoneration in 2009.
His nightmare motivated him. In 2011 he launched House of Renewed Hope, a nonprofit detective agency run from a bedroom in his Carrollton, Texas, home to investigate and correct the wrongful convictions of others.
The organization’s first success — securing parole and freedom in 2016 for Isaiah Hill, who served 40 years of a life sentence for a robbery he didn’t commit — is told in the documentary True Conviction, airing Monday on the PBS series Independent Lens and exclusively previewed above.
Scott is “a wonderful advocate for fixing the criminal justice system,” says Jamie Meltzer, the film’s director.
Hill, 70, tells PEOPLE: “Christopher said he was going to do everything in his power to get me out of prison, and he did. I’m very grateful.”
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Scott, 47, shares his success in the case with fellow exonerees Johnnie Lindsey and Steven Phillips. He met Phillips, 60, at the courthouse on the day his conviction was overturned. Phillips, who had spent 24 years in prison after being wrongly convicted of a series of sexual assaults, was part of an exoneree support group and offered Scott friendship — and a furnished apartment to help put him back on his feet.
After Lindsey, who himself had spent 26 years in jail for rapes he didn’t commit, heard Scott speak publicly about his own experiences, the three men joined forces. (Lindsey died earlier this year.)
“It happened to us,” says Phillips. “The message we put out is ‘don’t give up.’ ”
“People will talk to Chris who won’t talk to me, a middle-aged white woman,” says Michelle Moore, a public defender who worked on Scott’s exoneration and assists their project. “It’s amazing what they can find out that I cannot.”
Their stories also inspire, says Amber Givens-Davis, a Dallas County judge who enlists Scott to speak to people she has placed on probation. “Christopher has such a giving spirit, it’s as if this was his purpose in life,” she says.
Adds Moore: “They’re giving hope.”
True Conviction airs Monday (10 p.m. ET) on PBS.