The day after being sentenced to the rest of his life in prison for the murder of a man he now remembers as a good friend, Scott Harper put pen to paper and issued a public apology.
“My emotions wouldn’t allow me to express my heart in the courtroom,” Harper wrote to the Rome News-Tribune. “I feel that it is fitting for me to make a statement, an acceptance of responsibility and a heartfelt apology.”
Sitting in Bartow County Jail before his transfer to the diagnostic prison in Jackson, Harper described Thad Reynolds as a good father, a hard worker and a good man.
“He humbly yet boldly stood firm in his faith,” Harper wrote. “He was always quick to offer his support to the positive while willing to tactfully challenge the negative.
“He used his past experiences, accomplishments and struggles to equip and encourage anyone he came in contact with.”
Pick up a copy of Sunday's Rome News-Tribune, available at local grocery and convenience stores and news racks around town, to see Scott Harper's full letter on page 2D.
Before the murder, the Reynolds and Harper families attended the same church where Thad Reynolds was a deacon and Harper was the family pastor.
Just days earlier the two families, as well as others, celebrated the Fourth of July and watched fireworks at the levee together. Friends told prosecutors they didn’t suspect there was an affair going on between Harper and Thad Reynolds’ wife, Michelle.
That was before the true nature of their relationship became apparent on July 5, 2004, when Harper confronted and brutally murdered Thad Reynolds at the Frito Lay distribution center on Calhoun Road.
Harper and Michelle Reynolds were arrested days later.
Shortly thereafter, the national news media focused on the story of a small church community whose family pastor murdered their deacon, and the affair that prosecutors say caused it to happen.
Taking sole responsibility for the crime, Harper wrote, “Though situations and circumstances may have occurred on the days preceding July 5, 2004, the only person to blame for Thad’s death is me.”
He blames himself for the affair with Michelle Reynolds, saying she would have walked away from it at any time, but it was he who worked to further the tryst.
“Even after it began, it was through my insistence that it continued,” Harper wrote. “Michelle was willing to walk away from it back to her family where she belonged.”
Michelle Reynolds pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and burglary on Jan. 13, days before her trial for murder charges was scheduled to start, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
On that same day Harper was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, as part of an earlier plea agreement to avoid the death penalty for both defendants in exchange for testimony against Michelle Reynolds.
But it took years of court hearings, appeals and courtroom posturing for a mother to be able to ask one question.
At Michelle Reynolds’ sentencing, Thad Reynolds’ mother Kittie Walker asked, “Why? Why not just walk away?”
Harper addressed that question saying, “The best answer that I can give to that is jealousy and greed.”
The decision to murder Thad Reynolds, he wrote, was devoid of all logic and “while Thad’s life was meaningful and fruitful, his death was senseless and devastating.”
In the letter, Harper apologized to all the families involved — including his.
“Knowing the pain that I’ve caused for so many is the worst punishment of all,” Harper said. “My hope is that these individuals, these families, and this community can be restored with the joy and peace that I shook from them.”
He ended the letter with the words: “Pride cometh before the fall.”