A Florida killer's daughter, Susan Ferris, 40, is now friends with ex-prosecutor and current assistant public defender Frank Scott and she wants him to help her set her dad free. The ashes remain with Scott, for now, in his Ponce Inlet home.

PONCE INLET — The last time Frank Scott saw Bob Ferris, he didn't expect to see him again.

Scott was the prosecutor who attained a guilty verdict in Ferris' murder trial, so he guessed the defendant was only getting out of prison in a box.

He was right — and now that box is on Scott's living room wall. It contains Ferris' ashes.

It was Ferris' daughter, Susan — once a defense witness in the trial and now Scott's friend — who brought the box to him. It was only after Scott had jokingly suggested she do so that the box wound up on his shelf. It makes for a uniquely ironic story and is just one of the many oddities in an unlikely friendship.

"This is (expletive) weird," Scott said as he laughed and shook his head.

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Ferris didn't give it a second thought. She simply didn't want those ashes sitting in a garage any longer and she knew she could trust them with Scott.

"There really are good people out there," she said. "He's been so kind to me."

The box of ashes isn't a trophy for Scott. It isn't a memento from his days as a prosecutor in South Florida. Scott's home is simply a holding place until Ferris decides what she wants to ultimately do with her father's remains.

"I'm still contemplating that," she said. "I want to think it through."

Scott, 65, is now an assistant public defender in Volusia County. In his current job, he regularly deals with people who are in jail, have been jailed or are facing jail. He has empathy for all of them.

Scott has mounting empathy for Ferris, who as a 7-year-old girl was a defense witness in her father's trial. Scott cross-examined her during that trial 33 years ago in Palm Beach County.

Ferris, now 40, has had multiple run-ins with the law, including one in which she was accused of stabbing another woman with a meat thermometer. While out on bail, she was charged with aggravated domestic battery following a fight with her mother, who has custody of Ferris' daughter. She had her bail revoked and spent time in jail. She used that time to reflect. She later was acquitted in the meat thermometer attack and pleaded no contest for the battery charge, for which she was sentenced to time served.

"I had no hope," Ferris said after those incidents last year. "I was in so much pain. I was lost."

She couldn't explain exactly why she was tempted to reach out to Scott. Something made her think it would be therapeutic.

"I had nothing to lose," she said.

Scott was stunned when she messaged him.

"Why the (expletive) is she contacting me?" he said, recalling his reaction.

The more he talked to her, the more his skepticism tapered. He could tell she needed a friend.

"I didn't have anyone to talk to," Ferris said.

Ferris and Scott became friends on Facebook in late 2017. They met face-to-face for the first time in June. Ferris spends a lot of her time in Lake Mary. Now a freelance photographer, she sometimes stays with Scott in his Ponce Inlet home when she has assignments in the area. They get along like long-lost friends. She prefers to be around people who root for her and Scott has done that for her, she said.

Putting him away

Robert Ferris murdered his wife and buried her next to the couple's son, who he had killed some time earlier, authorities said. He was convicted of killing his wife and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He was never tried in his son's murder because the state was satisfied with the lone guilty verdict. A second murder trial would have been expensive and redundant, Scott said.

Scott described the defendant during the 1986 murder trial as a desperate man who wanted to end a bad marriage so he could live openly and more happily with his mistress, who was Susan Ferris' mother.

He decided to end his marriage to Kathleen Ferris by committing murder. If he had divorced her, the retired U.S. Army major-turned social studies teacher, would have faced an unacceptable financial strain, authorities said at the time.

"What you have is a very unhappy man," Scott told jurors during his closing statement, a portion of which was published in a story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "He can't marry his mistress because he is trapped in a marriage he can't get out of."

Kathleen Ferris was killed in 1983. Her remains, along with her son's, was discovered years later buried near a dog pen on property that Bob Ferris owned. Scott doesn't remember how Ferris killed his wife and isn't sure investigators ever knew due to the remains not being dug up for three years. It was a circumstantial case, but a solid one, Scott said.

Susan Ferris and her mother testified at the trial that Kathleen came after both of them with a knife and that Ferris intervened. He grabbed her by the neck and fell on top of her after she tripped on a concrete block, according to their testimony.

"I knew she was lying," Scott said of Susan's testimony. "I knew her mother was lying."

After he was incarcerated, Susan Ferris remembers visiting her father in out-of-the-way places, including the notorious Florida State Prison in Raiford. She spent many nights with her mother in motel rooms in rural towns near the various prisons where her father was housed.

It wasn't an ideal life for a child, she said.

Ferris also attended the middle school where her father had taught before he was arrested. She said she could sense the discomfort from the school's faculty and classmates. She felt isolated and paranoid and those feelings carried into her adult life.

Setting him free

Bob Ferris always denied killing his wife and son. Susan Ferris was a baby when her half-brother died and was not related to her dad's murdered wife.

Ferris knows what her father did, but she was able to segregate that reality from her relationship with him because of the affection he showed her. She still feels he was steered wrong by the same forces that steered her wrong.

Her boss and life coach, Bob Moylan, speaking figuratively, said Ferris was "raised in a cellar with no light, no windows."

She is consumed now with righting the wrongs in her life, Moylan said. That was the driving force behind removing her father's ashes from a relative's garage and bringing them to someone who has brightened her life — and who knows firsthand how Bob Ferris' life ended up.

There is another tie that binds Susan Ferris and Scott.

The News-Journal story about Ferris' arrest in the meat thermometer attack generated national attention. Scott knows what it is like being in the middle of such a news story.

He was the court-appointed defense attorney for Ky'Andrea Cook, who at 18 years old was sentenced to 20 years after pleading no contest to carjacking and battery charges in 2017. Cook entered her plea with the assumption she would get probation or house arrest. When the sentenced was announced by the judge, both Cook and her mother let out a wail that filled the courtroom. Video of that sentence went viral and was seen by millions.

It was later learned that Scott advised Cook and her family to enter the no contest plea. He said, in part, to the family in a voicemail message, "Obviously, she is not going to prison."

The plea was allowed to be withdrawn, Cook got a new attorney and the case was presented again to the same judge, who gave her a reduced sentence of 11 years.

"I was shocked," Scott said of the original sentence. The resulting aftermath was difficult for him.

"I felt bad. I really did," he said.

That experience also meant he had even more empathy for what Ferris has gone through.

Scott said he has always made sure not to make his job personal. That is true now as much as it was when he was a prosecutor years ago in Palm Beach County.

That is why he isn't troubled by having Bob Ferris' ashes in his home.

"I have no ill will," he said. "I had a job to do."

Susan Ferris recalled Scott being "aggressive" with her when he cross-examined her 33 years ago. Since they've become friends, Ferris said Scott has helped her regain her self worth and confidence, she said. She also knows her father is in a safe place. His ashes, ultimately, will go somewhere best suited for him.

"He did put my father in prison for life," Ferris said of Scott, "but I think it would be pretty awesome if he helped me set him free."

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This story originally published to news-journalonline.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.