Jailed sisters to be freed if one donates a kidney

For the past 16 years, Jamie and Gladys Scott have been locked away in prison in America's Deep South, serving double life sentences for a robbery in which no one was injured and their entire haul amounted to the grand total of just $11. Now they are to walk free. But there's a catch.

The sisters have been granted clemency by Haley Barbour, the Governor of Mississippi, on the condition that they begin life outside by going straight to hospital. There they must undergo an emergency operation which means that, in addition to sharing freedom, they will spend the rest of their natural lives sharing a pair of kidneys.

Gladys, 36, is fit, healthy, and therefore likely to be able to survive on just one of her two kidneys after the transplant surgery. She is also a perfect genetic "match" for Jamie, 38, whose daily dialysis is currently being administered behind bars, at an annual cost to the state of $200,000.

The order signed by Governor Barbour yesterday suspends their draconian prison sentences indefinitely on condition that the transplant operation is "scheduled with urgency". It says the women could be returned to prison if the surgery fails to take place as planned.

News of the clemency has delighted race-relations campaigners who have long claimed that the women should be freed regardless of their state of health. The fact the sisters are black played a role in the (white) judge's decision to impose such punitive punishments upon them, they allege.

"The presiding judge in the trial, Judge Marcus Gordon, has a history of racially biased rulings," said Benjamin Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured people. "Even the prosecutor of the case" later became an advocate for the sisters, he added.

In 1993, when the original crime was committed, Gladys was just 19 and Jamie was 21. They were both fit and healthy and had no previous convictions. Yet under the terms of their double life sentences imposed by the elderly Judge Gordon, they would not have even been eligible for parole until 2014.

The Scotts had been accused of luring two men to a late-night ambush by driving them to a nightclub in Forest, North Mississippi where three different teenagers assaulted them, using a shotgun as a club. The men's wallets, containing the combined sum of $11, were then stolen.

At the subsequent trial, the sisters pleaded not guilty as accessories to the crime. But they ended up being convicted of armed robbery, by a largely white jury, and told they would each be required to serve two life terms. Meanwhile, their three male accomplices received lesser sentences and were released several years ago.

In prison, both women became known as model inmates, though the health of Jamie soon started to deteriorate. Their case was picked up by civil liberties campaigners, who believe it showcases the arbitrary and harsh nature of many sentences handed down by US courts against black defendants.

Although the sisters had hoped for a full pardon, as opposed to the suspension of their sentence, their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said they were nonetheless delighted at news of Governor Barbour's decision. They had been planning to undergo the kidney transplant operation anyway, regardless of whether the release had been ordered.

"I think it's a victory," said Lumumba. "I talked to Gladys and she's elated about the news. I'm sure Jamie is, too." It will take roughly a month for the decision to be fully rubber-stamped and for them to actually walk free, she added.

For Governor Barbour, who is in his second and final term, the decision nonetheless represents a political gamble. A Republican, who is a sporting bet for his party's Presidential nomination in 2012, he knows the move will most likely please undecided voters, but cost him support on the party's right wing.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Reach Volunteering: Volunteer Trustee with Healthcare expertise

Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses are reimbursable: Reach Volunteering...

Day In a Page

Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

Hanging with the Hoff

Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

Hipsters of Arabia

Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

The cult of Roger Federer

What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

Malaysian munchies

With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
10 best festival beauty

Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe

A Different League

Unai Emery’s passion for winning and eye for a bargain keep Seville centre stage in Europe, says Pete Jenson
Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey - Steve Bunce

Steve Bunce on Boxing

Amir Khan and James DeGale’s remarkable Olympic performances were just the start of an extraordinary journey
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf