When Gary Scott's partner in their marijuana-growing business partner strangled a Guerneville neighbor to death in 2009, prosecutors said he tried to cover up the killing for his friend by hiding the dead man's car.
Scott helped convicted killer Andrew Sharkey, 38, drive 67-year-old Michael Tillman's pickup to a Santa Rosa supermarket parking lot in the hope of throwing police off Sharkey's trail.
It didn't work. Both men were caught and Scott, a 58-year-old former transient, was charged with being an accessory to murder.
On Friday, Scott walked out of court a free man after a judge sentenced him to three years' probation in exchange for his cooperation with prosecutors.
But Sharkey, who faces more than 32 years in prison at his Jan. 20 sentencing, said Scott is getting away with murder.
In a jailhouse interview this week, Sharkey alleged Scott was the one who slipped the steel wire around Tillman's throat when the two were stealing $45,000 in cash from his bedroom drawer.
Sharkey said he admitted a first-degree murder charge because he didn't want to risk life without parole if convicted at trial. Under his agreement, he'll be behind bars until he's 70.
"I feel enraged," Sharkey said through a plate glass window in the jail's high-security wing. "The guy's walking free who committed murder and I agreed to a deal of 32 years and six months in prison."
But Chief Deputy District Attorney Diana Gomez said she's confident Sharkey is the killer. She said physical evidence proves he's the only person who entered Tillman's converted garage apartment the afternoon of the slaying.
Scott learned of the killing later, she said.
As part of the plea deal, Sharkey admitted using a garrote, Gomez said.
"We stand by what we believe," Gomez said. "And we believe Mr. Sharkey is the killer. We don't believe his version of the facts. His story does not comport to the physical evidence."
Scott declined to comment after his hearing Friday, but his lawyer, Evan Zelig, said earlier this week he wasn't surprised at Sharkey's claim.
"If I was in his position, I would be saying the same thing," Zelig said. "The reality is, my client had absolutely nothing to do with the homicide."
Zelig told Judge Arthur Wick Friday that Scott has "turned his life around" since the slaying. He no longer is in the marijuana business and is working full-time for a Sonoma County sign company. Wick agreed to reduce his felony charge to a misdemeanor.
Sharkey, who has been in and out of jail since he immigrated to America from England 20 years ago, said he and Scott were operating a lucrative pot- growing operation in the building next to Tillman's apartment.
He said they sold their product to a man in Los Angeles for tens of thousands of dollars a month.
At one point, he said, landlord Ernie Rogers told them that Tillman stockpiled cash in his home because he didn't believe in banks. Scott persuaded Sharkey to help him steal it, he said.
On June 23, 2009, Scott entered the apartment at about 3:30 p.m. and distracted Tillman while Sharkey rifled through bedroom drawers and found the money in a green plastic box, he said.
Sharkey said he went to the kitchen to signal to Scott he was ready to leave. He saw Scott standing behind Tillman's chair with his hands near the man's neck, he said.