Lawyer: Miss. sisters will push new gov for pardon
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Two women released from a Mississippi prison last year on condition that one donate a kidney to the other were saddened and disappointed they weren't among dozens receiving full pardons from the governor, their attorney said Thursday.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour granted more than 200 reprieves in his final days in office. Most were full pardons, though some received suspended sentences.
Jamie and Gladys Scott had served nearly 16 years of their life sentences for armed robbery when they were released on Jan. 7, 2011. Barbour granted Jamie Scott early release because she suffers from kidney failure, but he agreed to let Gladys Scott go on the condition she follow through on her offer to donate a kidney to her sister within one year. Barbour noted at the time that Jamie Scott's dialysis was costing Mississippi about $200,000 a year.
Chokwe Lumumba, the sisters' lawyer, said during a news conference Thursday in Jackson that the women had hoped for a full pardon before Barbour left office Tuesday. Lumumba said the women have jobs and are in school.
"It is very contradictory to me ... that you got people accused of killing people, burning their bodies and all that kind of stuff, killing pregnant people, who are walking free without any restrictions and the Scott sisters don't have that kind of freedom," Lumumba said Thursday.
Lumumba said he'll ask new Republican Gov. Phil Bryant to pardon the women. Representatives for Bryant and Barbour did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
He said Barbour hasn't told him why he didn't pardon them. Barbour issued a statement Wednesday about why he issued the pardons, but he did not mention the Scott sisters.
They haven't had the surgery because they haven't lost enough weight for doctors to consider the procedure safe, but Lumumba said that wasn't likely a factor in Barbour's decision in not pardoning them.
The early release granted to the Scott sisters is different than a pardon because they have restrictions, like reporting to a parole officer every month and having to get permission to travel. The women now live in Pensacola, Fla.
Barbour has been criticized by many for granting the reprieves, mostly to people who had already served their sentences, but some of them were convicted killers serving life terms.
Late Wednesday, Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green temporarily blocked the release of 21 inmates who'd been given pardons or medical release by Barbour.
Green issued the injunction at the request of Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood, who said he believes Barbour might have violated the state constitution by pardoning some inmates who failed to give sufficient public notice that they were seeking to have their records cleared.
The sisters have not had the transplant because doctors told them last year that they needed to lose a combined 160 pounds. And they were told to quit smoking. Lumumba said Thursday that "there's still a weight loss issue going on."
But he said he doesn't think they would be sent back to prison even if they never have the transplant.
"This governor, amongst other things, is a smart man and he knows, he's got to know, that it would be an absolute human rights violation to put any legal imposition on someone because of what they have done or what they have not done to their body," Lumumba said. "There's no way in the world ... that you can make somebody get a kidney transplant in order to get their freedom. That must be going back to burning witches or something like that."
Medical and legal experts have said the kidney donation requirement likely would not withstand legal scrutiny. But putting conditions on parole is a long-standing practice. And governors have sometimes imposed unusual ones, such as requiring people whose sentences are reduced to move elsewhere. For instance, South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow in 1986 commuted the sentences of 36 criminals on the condition they leave his state and never come back.
The Scotts had been convicted of participating in a 1993 robbery of two men, which netted only between $11 and $200. Civil rights advocates had said the women received the sentence, which they said was too harsh, because they were black. The sisters claim they are innocent.
Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, considered running for president this year but announced last April that he would skip the race. The 64-year-old is now on the paid speakers' circuit and is also working for a Jackson-area law firm and for BGR, the Washington lobbying firm he founded two decades ago.