Man arrested in Alabama double murder appears in St. Johns County court

Helena police chief says license plate readers helped bring John Peyton Scott III into custody

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – A man arrested in a double homicide in Alabama appeared Tuesday in court in St. Johns County.

John Peyton Scott III, 41, was arrested Monday in St. Johns County on warrants charging him with capital murder in the deaths of 40-year-old Sharon Tarwater Whited and her 75-year-old father Chester E. Tarwater Jr., the Helena, Alabama, Police Department said.

Scott made his first appearance in court Tuesday morning after the arrest. He appeared before a judge via video feed and said he wanted to speak to a lawyer before deciding whether he would waive extradition to Alabama.

Helena Police Chief Brad Flynn addressed that during a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“He does not appear to be willing to come home. He’s been in the same vehicle, the vehicle that belongs to the victim, he’s been in that vehicle throughout the state of Florida for the past five days. That says a lot,” Flynn said. “He doesn’t want to come back and talk to us about it.”

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said Scott was captured Monday afternoon in the area of Interstate 95 and International Golf Parkway.

Flynn said license plate readers helped bring Scott into custody, as authorities were able to track him through the cameras in Florida. Flynn said a St. Johns County deputy on regular patrol spotted Scott and confirmed the vehicle’s tag number. Then more deputies arrived, performed a PIT maneuver and arrested Scott, the police chief said.

“Mr. Scott’s arrest came as a result of good old-fashioned police work by St. Johns County deputies,” Flynn said.

We asked crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson how the scanners work. He explained they’re installed in patrol cars or in undisclosed spots in the community. When you drive by, the readers pick up the license plate number, and that information is run through a national database.

“There are lasers, if you will, or scanners that will take a photo copy of it and register it and let you know the tag number of vehicles going through certain areas,” Jefferson said.

Whited and Tarwater Jr. were found dead Wednesday in a home in Helena, a suburb of Birmingham and located nearly 500 miles away from St. Augustine. Police have not said how they were killed, but they initially said Scott was wanted only for questioning.

Scott was in a relationship with Whited and lived with her in the house with other members of her family, authorities said.

Friends described the family as tight-knit. They said Whited was the mother of two daughters and two nephews she adopted in 2016.

“She’s had four children and she’s loved them all,” said Linda Elliot, a family friend. “In everything at the school, she was there. In everything that they wanted to do.”

Flynn offered a message to the family.

“I hope this arrest brings you peace,” Flynn said. “On behalf of our community, we will be there for you today, tomorrow, and every day until we see justice served.”

Investigators didn’t say what evidence led them to obtain warrants against Scott. The murder counts were classified as capital offenses because more than one person was killed.

As of Tuesday evening, Scott was being held without bond in the St. Johns County jail.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.