SEATTLE - On Christmas Day, more than 6,600 miles away from his hometown Seattle, Scott McMahon can only wait, pray and hope to be saved from a prison cell in a developing nation.
“The conditions that he lives in are deplorable," said McMahon’s mother, Shelley Campanella, who recently returned from a two-week trip to the Philippines, where she visited her son every day.
McMahon has been behind bars in the Philippines for the last three years and eight months, held without bail or a trial, accused of a crime U.S. legal experts say he could not have committed.
“Until you see it firsthand, you can't believe anybody lives that way, and it was truly heart-wrenching,” said Campanella, describing the conditions McMahon has learned to survive in. “When Scott and I first saw each other, we just hugged and we cried and we just -- we just didn't let go."
Now, McMahon and his family have new reason to hope. A legal team with the California Innocence Project has researched McMahon’s case for months, and they’ve collected what they describe as solid evidence proving the woman who accused McMahon of rape was not telling the truth. They say the accusations stem from blackmail and retaliation.
In 2011, McMahon was a successful builder with a new family, including a young son and daughter, when he pressed charges against a neighbor after she went on a tirade in his home and threatened his children.
According to the California Innocence Project, the accused woman then accused McMahon of raping her months earlier. McMahon’s attorneys say they have proof she made the story up and that she then demanded cash to drop the charges.
McMahon’s sister, Jennifer Smith, says the truth is the family’s best hope to mount a defense.
“It’s the facts. I'm a history major; you look at the facts and when you look at those documents and you examine that evidence, it's clear that my brother's innocent. I mean, that's what we cling to is the facts," said Smith.
McMahon has never had a trial. His legal team says a judge has refused to release him, despite witnesses willing to testify that he and his family were hours away from the alleged crime scene at the time and more evidence casting doubt on the honesty of his accuser.
"It's almost like the evidence doesn't really matter here because anybody who has read Scott's website and looks at the case history, I mean, it's very clear, crystal clear what's going on here," said Smith.
McMahon has received messages of support from across the world, but seeing the photo showing his kids holding a handwritten sign reading “We miss U Papa” is one that renews his faith.
“He loves his children,” said Smith. "If anything in the world keeps him going, it is his love for his children."
Limitless love for a child is what gives Campanella hope that this will be the last Christmas they’re forced to pray that the truth will set them free.
“A mother's voice and love should never be underestimated,” she said. “Not ever. Next Christmas will be different, absolutely."