In recent days some have heaped accolades on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour for indefinitely suspending the double life sentences unjustly leveled against Gladys and Jamie Scott for their alleged role in a 1993 robbery.
What seems to have been lost in the celebration is that Barbour’s action does not grant a full pardon, a clemency or a commutation of their sentences that sets them free forever. Barbour’s action also does not guarantee their suspended sentences will never be reversed resulting in their return to prison. To add insult to injury, as a condition of Barbour’s release, Gladys Scott must give up a kidney to her older sister Jamie, not to save her life, but to save the state money in dialysis treatments.
The women have already served 16 years of two consecutive life sentences each after being convicted of luring two men to a deserted spot in Scott County where three teens ambushed them, hit them with the butt of a shotgun and robbed them of wallets containing anywhere from $11 to $200, depending on the source.
The sisters, now 38 and 36, have always maintained their innocence. They, however, were not eligible for parole until 2014.
Willie Simmons, a Mississippi state senator, reportedly characterized Barbour’s actions as a “bold step” and “a courageous move.”
Really? These “props” are woefully premature. Barbour does not deserve our gratitude for being courageous. His actions bespeak not of honor or humanity but instead reek of self-serving political cover with respect to his aspirations for a higher office.
Don’t forget: Barbour has been governor since 2004 and has not deemed it necessary to do anything about the well-publicized Scott sister case until now. Also be aware that Gladys’ request to willingly participate in the transplant was previously denied by the parole board several years ago.
Some assume Barbour may be able to save face with Black voters with this long overdue gesture while at the same time appease Whites by maintaining a law and order image along with an economically conservative stance. It is Barbour who makes the point that the Scott Sisters were not released because it was the humanitarian thing to do, but instead because they “no longer pose a threat” and one of them, Jamie, is costing the state too much money for her dialysis treatments. In the course of completing this absurd picture of Southern justice, Mississippi now has established a precedent that one may achieve freedom in return for giving up a body part.
Barbour shouldn’t be praised for his two-faced attempt which does nothing but adds insult to the injury the Scott sisters have already suffered from the application of so called Mississippi justice.
Their mother, Evelyn Rasco of Florida, where the sisters may end up, contends their case was in retaliation for family members testifying against a corrupt local sheriff. Even if the Scott Sisters were guilty, their life sentences were inconsistent with the crime and unduly harsh.
They were sentenced by a judge the NAACP claimed had a history of racially biased rulings and who gave a surprisingly lenient sentence to the convicted killer of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, the CORE civil rights workers murdered in Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964.
The Scott sisters were represented by an attorney who was later disbarred in another case for providing lack of diligence and failure to communicate with his client. In the Scotts case, he called no witnesses at the trial, not even the sisters in their own defense. The actual teen perpetrators said their damning statements were coerced for plea deals.
We are not condoning criminal behavior here. Robbery (no matter how big or small the sum illegally gained) with its potentially fatal outcome deserves harsh punishment. However, the convicted teen perpetrators of this robbery received eight-year sentences of which they served only two.
Given this background of the Scott case, we find it surprising the prosecutor, Ken Turner, now tells The Clarion-Ledger, “it was not a particularly egregious case.”
So why has Barbour kept the Scott Sisters incarcerated during his six-year tenure as governor? Why has he continued their incarceration while reportedly pardoning no less than four undisputed murderers and suspending the life sentence of another? Would Barbour, a son of the Mississippi South, have grabbed on to the Scott Sisters’ kidneys after all these years and countless protests and pleas for their release, had he not committed political suicide himself only days earlier? We think not.
Barbour’s’ action is a paper-thin disguise for his retreat from the insensitive and historically revisionist statements he made in a recent interview with the conservative Weekly Standard. In the article, laying the groundwork for his presidential bid, Barbour marginalized the turmoil of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., and complimented the role of the conservative White Citizens Councils in maintaining order although they were instrumental in upholding segregation.
Days later, after round criticism, he issued a retraction saying Blacks did indeed suffer during “the difficult and painful era for Mississippi,” and the councils were “totally indefensible, as is segregation.”
Which is it? This is the same man who earlier this year defended Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision to reinstate Confederate History Month, saying critics were “trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn’t matter for diddly.”
Some will argue that it matters not the insincere motivation of Barbour’s action, but rather that the Scott Sisters will be released, albeit with strings attached, within 45 days.
However, until Barbour really does “the right thing” by granting full clemency or pardon for the Scott sisters, without conditions, he gets no accolades or “props” here.
Letters to the Editor
Finally, Some Sense in the Mississippi ‘White House’
I was glad to hear during the holidays that Gov. Haley Barbour has finally come to his senses about letting the Scott Sisters go free. A national travesty of miscarriage of justice in the case of the Scott Sisters should be heartfelt from coast to coast and from sea to shining sea. I am appalled at the “underreporting” of major newspapers of the plight of these women, one of which is suffering from kidney failure due to the poor medical conditions in the prison. Gladys and Jamie Scott had no business being sent to prison on a double-life sentence for an $11 robbery they claimed they didn’t commit, in the first place. Where is the good sense of fairness, justice and mercy in 2011? Sickened by the repeat of seeing more African Americans incarcerated for lengthier sentences than any other ethnic group, I plan to write as many newspapers as possible to dispel the belief in America that “we are giving justice for all.”
Now Barbour, who I do not praise but commend for acting with mercy toward these women to allow for Jamie’s surgery, may move toward a complete pardon of these women. His conditional release that includes that Jamie’s sister, Gladys— also serving a double-life—must donate a kidney and the “indefinite release” terms that also include Mississip