Sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott walked out of a Mississippi prison Friday, 10 days after Gov. Haley Barbour (R) suspended their life sentences for armed robbery.
Civil rights activists had lobbied forcefully for their release, arguing that the sisters — imprisoned since 1994 after being convicted of luring two men into a robbery — were serving unusually long sentences. Barbour granted the reprieve on Dec. 29.
Yet an unconventional aspect of the arrangement drew scrutiny from medical ethicists: Barbour said his action was “conditioned on” Gladys, 35, donating a kidney to Jamie, 38, who undergoes dialysis.
Experts argued that he was potentially interfering in a medical matter, and the NAACP — which supported the Scotts release — has said it opposes the condition.
Barbour’s office later said Gladys made the offer.
At a news conference Friday, the sisters declined to address the issue. Jamie said she was grateful to Barbour and to all of the other people who played a role in their early release.
“I want to thank each and every supporter,” Jamie Scott said at a news conference in Mississippi. “I used to tell the girls in prison, ‘All our appeals is gone. I don’t know how God is going to do it.’ . . . Now I’m out where I can get me some decent medical treatment.”
Gladys Scott echoed her sister’s sentiments. “It was a time when we wanted to give up, but I told my sister: ‘We are coming out of here,’ ” she said. “I praise God for it.”
Barbour, who is weighing a presidential run, said in a statement last week that 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,” he said.
The sisters would have been eligible for parole in 2014. Barbour had denied the Scotts request for clemency in 2006 after the state’s parole board recommended against pardon or commutation of sentence.
According to court testimony, the Scotts convinced three male teens to assist them in an armed robbery. The teens have since served their sentences and been released, while the Scotts have denied any involvement.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said he plans to ask again the governor to grant the Scotts a full pardon. He called the sisters’ double life sentences “one of the nation’s greatest contemporary travesties of justice.”
“Our checklist is freedom day one, the health care they need and the pardon they deserve,” he said.
Both Scotts saw a doctor in Jackson, who provided them with a free checkup, and supporters are helping them apply for Medicaid, Jealous said.
They plan to relocate immediately to Pensacola, Fla., where their mother, Evelyn Rasco, and children live. Florida state officials have said they will assign Jamie and Gladys a parole officer.
Rasco said she was focused on preparing her home for her daughters. “I just want to make sure everything’s together for when my children get home,” Rasco told the Clarion Ledger newspaper. “That’s what I’m concerned with today.”