Jamie and Gladys Scott, often referred to as the Scott sisters, were convicted of orchestrating a 1993 armed robbery in Forest, Mississippi. Both sisters received double life sentences, an outcome that was criticized as too severe by a number of civil rights activists and prominent commentators on the grounds that the sisters had no previous criminal record and the robbery netted no more than eleven dollars. Their conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 1996, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied both their petition for appeal in 1997 and an appeal to vacate the conviction in 1998. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour denied a petition for clemency in 2006.
On December 29, 2010, Governor Barbour suspended their sentence on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to her ailing sister. The two women were released from prison on January 7, 2011, and will remain on parole and pay the state of Florida $52 a month for the rest of their lives.
Trial, incarceration, and appeals
The sisters were charged with orchestrating a 1993 armed robbery in Forest, Mississippi. According to court testimony, the sisters convinced three male teens to assist them in an armed robbery. At a local mini mart, the sisters persuaded two men to drive them to a nearby nightclub and had their accomplices follow them. During the car trip, Jamie Scott complained of nausea. While the car was pulled over, the three teenagers exited the car behind them and robbed the two victims at gunpoint. During this robbery, it was claimed that one of the sisters held the shotgun. The victims testified that both sisters then left with the three teenagers. Neither sister testified at the trial, and no one testified in support of their case. When the crime was committed, Jamie was twenty-three years old and Gladys was nineteen years old.
The sisters have denied their involvement in the armed robbery and claim they were implicated as part of a plea deal by the teenagers, who pled guilty to the crime. Published estimates of the robbery amount range from $11 to $200. Confessed accomplice Howard Patrick, who was 14 at the time, also testified he was threatened by authorities that, if he did not agree to a plea bargain, he would be sent to a notoriously violent prison where he would likely be raped. The sisters each were sentenced to a double life prison sentence.
The attorney who represented the sisters at their trial was disbarred two years later for matters unrelated to the Scotts' case. The Supreme Court of Mississippi cited the attorney's "lack of diligence" and "failure to communicate with clients" in that unrelated case; the sisters have made no claim, however, that the attorney failed to provide them adequate representation in their defense. An affidavit stating that the Scott sisters were not involved in the robbery was signed in 1998 by one of the men who pled guilty to the crime, and submitted to the governor as part of a request for clemency.
The sisters' conviction was upheld by the Mississippi Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court denied their petition for certiorari; the lower courts' decisions will therefore stand. Mississippi Governor Barbour denied their earlier petition for clemency after the Parole Board recommended against pardon or commutation of sentence. Dan Turner, a spokesman for Barbour, stated the governor has been "very consistent in not substituting his judgment of guilt or innocence over the court" in pardoning criminals in the past.
Suspension of sentence
Barbour granted clemency on December 29, 2010 stating
“To date, the sisters have served 16 years of their sentences and are eligible for parole in 2014. Jamie Scott requires regular dialysis, and her sister has offered to donate one of her kidneys to her. The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society. Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi.
"The Mississippi Parole Board reviewed the sisters’ request for a pardon and recommended that I neither pardon them, nor commute their sentence. At my request, the Parole Board subsequently reviewed whether the sisters should be granted an indefinite suspension of sentence, which is tantamount to parole, and have concurred with my decision to suspend their sentences indefinitely."
Responses to the Scott sisters' case
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has called for the sisters' release. Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, said: “It makes you sick to think that this sort of thing can happen. That these women should be kept in prison until they die – well, that’s just so utterly inhumane.” Jealous has requested Governor Barbour to pardon the women.
A prosecutor who originally tried their case, Ken Turner, stated in September 2010 that although he believes the sisters were involved in the robbery, it would be "appropriate" for their sentences to be commuted.
Given Jamie Scott requires dialysis due to kidney failure, New York Times opinion columnist Bob Herbert wrote that the sisters should be released; he opined that evidence used to convict the sisters was inconclusive and that their sentence was unusually severe.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Leonard Pitts wrote: "Mississippi stands guilty of a grievous offense against simple decency... Whatever the proximate cause of this ridiculous sentence, the larger cause is neon clear: the Scott sisters are black women in the poorest state in the union."
- Joyner, Chris (September 15, 2010), NAACP backs pardon for Miss. sisters serving life, USA Today, retrieved December 18, 2010
- NAACP, Stand with the Scott Sisters, retrieved December 18, 2010
- Herbert, Bob (October 12, 2010), ‘So Utterly Inhumane’, The New York Times, retrieved December 18, 2010
- Herbert, Bob (October 16, 2010), The Mississippi Pardons, The New York Times, retrieved December 18, 2010
- Pitts, Leonard (November 22, 2010), In Mississippi, 2 sisters may or may not be guilty, but the state assuredly is, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, retrieved December 18, 2010
- Papa, Anthony (February 25, 2009), The Scott Sisters: Two Life Sentences for 11 Dollars?, The Huffington Post, retrieved December 24, 2010
- "Gov. Barbour: Scott sisters' sentences to be suspended". Clarion-Ledger. December 29, 2010. Retrieved December 30, 2010.
- "The Scott sisters’ ‘debt to society’ and the new Jim Crow | San Francisco Bay View". Sfbayview.com. 2011-01-10. Retrieved 2012-12-14.
- "US 'kidney sisters' must lose weight before transplant". BBC News. February 24, 2011.
- Scott sisters' mom plans Florida homecoming
- "Scott Sisters Kidney Donation Threatens Organ Transplant Laws - ABC News". Abcnews.go.com. 2010-12-31. Retrieved 2012-12-14.