on xmas eve in 1993, a robbery occurred near the small town of forest, mississippi. no one was hurt & perhaps $11 was taken. two african-american sisters, jamie scott, 21, & gladys scott, 19, were convicted of the most draconian sentences imaginable short of the death penalty. each were sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison. they've been imprisoned ever since, despite the lack of credible evidence.
jamie, now 38, is seriously ill due to kidney failure. she is on dialysis thrice weekly & suffers from excruciating headaches which they treat only with tylenol. 36 year-old gladys is trying to get her sister hospitalized asap. they were accused of luring two men into a trap, in which the men had their wallets taken by acquaintances of the sisters, one of whom had a shotgun. three teenagers, ages 14-18, pleaded guilty to robbing the men. in their initial statements to investigators they did not implicate the women.
but a plea deal was arranged in which the teens were required to swear the women were involved. as part of the deal, two teens were obliged to testify against the sisters in court. howard patrick, age 14 at the time of the robbery, said the pressure from authorities to implicate the sisters was immediate. patrick testified, "they said if i didn't participate with them they would send me to parchman & make me out a female."
patrick was referring to mississippi state prison, which was once the notoriously violent parchman prison farm. the lawyer questioning patrick said, "in other words, they would send you to parchman & you would get raped, right?" "yes sir," said the frightened teenager. the teens were sentenced to eight years in prison each & were released after two years.
..."mississippi goddamn," as nina simone sang.
among the many people invested in helping the scott sisters include naacp president ben jealous, who is actively seeking a pardon from mississippi governor haley barbour. said jealous, "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."
why were mississippi authorities insistent on oppressing the scott sisters with life sentences, yet let the teenagers, who unquestionably committed the robbery. serve lighter sentences? life sentences for robbery can only be imposed by juries in mississippi, but its extremely rare for that sentencing option to even be included in the instruction given to jurors.
chokwe lumumba, an attorney representing the scott sisters, captured the prevailing legal sentiment when he said, "i don't think mississippi law anticipates that you're going to be given this instruction in a case where nobody gets hurt & $11 is allegedly stolen. in the majority of cases, even the ones that are somewhat nasty, they don't read that instruction."
even the original prosecutor, ken turner, who is now retired & believes the sisters are guilty, has said he thinks it would be "appropriate" to offer them relief from their punitive sentences. turner recently told the clarion ledger in jackson, mississippi, "it was not a particularly egregious case." the appeals process for the women has long since been exhausted. as such, it is up to governor barbour, who is considering petitions on the sister's behalf, to do what is decent, humane & right.
the mississippi department of corrections confirmed governor barbour's role in pardoning five cases of life sentences - four for murder, signed into executive order july 16, 2008. radley balko, in an article for slate magazine, noted none of the five men were given relief because of concerns they had been unfairly treated by the criminal justice system. there were no questions about their guilt or the fairness of the proceedings against them.
but they did have one thing in common. all five men had been enrolled in a special prison program "that had them doing odd jobs around the governor's mansion." again, why were the scott sisters mistreated with such heinous contempt? a spokeswoman for the governor said she referred the matter to the state's parole board. under mississippi law, the governor does not have to follow the board's recommendations: he can act autonomously.
some mississippi observers have characterized the governor's actions as acts of mercy; others have called his deeds dangerous abuses of power. in response to jamie's illness, gladys & others have offered to donate a kidney for transplant. evelyn rasco, the women's mother, told the clarion-ledger, "i wish they would just hurry up & let them out. i hope that is where it is leading to. that would be the only justified thing to do." but if the governor refuses to act with a pardon or clemency, her daughters are both likely to suffer an unjust death in prison.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.