Two sisters whose life sentences were suspended on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other were released from a Mississippi prison on Friday after serving 16 years for an armed robbery.
Jamie and Gladys Scott waved to reporters and yelled, “We’re free!” and “God bless y’all!” as they left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in an SUV.
The sisters are moving to the Florida Panhandle, where their mother and grown children live. Still, the women have an uncertain future. They still have to make sure they are a compatible match for the transplant. And they have to find a way to pay for everything: Their attorney said they will try to get government-funded Medicaid insurance to pay for the transplant and for 36-year-old Jamie Scott’s dialysis, which officials said had cost the state about $200,000 a year.
First, though, they want to eat a good meal, said their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba.
“And you know how women are. They want to get some clothes,” he said, speaking in an open field used for law enforcement training just across from the prison on a cold winter morning.
However, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous has said the governor’s office assured him the transplant condition of release won’t be enforced.
Barbour’s spokesman did not immediately respond Friday to a question about that. When asked last week if Gladys Scott would be sent back to jail if she is not a match or if she changes her mind, Barbour responded in a statement: “All of the ’What if’ questions are, at this point, purely hypothetical. We’ll deal with those situations if they actually happen.” A few doctors have expressed interest in performing the transplant, but there are no firm plans yet,
Some medical experts said the arrangement for the sisters’ release raises legal and ethical concerns, but their supporters say Gladys Scott wants to try to save her sister’s life.
For instance, the condition could be interpreted as trading an organ for freedom, which could violate federal laws against selling organs, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
The American Society of Transplantation called Friday for Barbour to issue a formal statement saying the transplant will no longer be tied to the women’s early release from prison.
“The decision to donate an organ should be a truly selfless act, free from coercion and not conditioned on financial or any other material gain,” the group’s president, Dr. Maryl R. Johnson, said in a statement.
The sisters’ freedom will allow not only for a reunion with family, but also with each other. The two women have been held recently in different parts of the prison, and it’s unlikely they had much interaction in the sprawling complex of 13 housing units on 171 acres along a rural stretch of highway in central Mississippi.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of an armed robbery in central Mississippi on Christmas Eve the year before, according to court records. The robbery didn’t net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.
The Scott sisters’ attorney and advocacy groups have long cited $11 as the amount taken in the robbery, though there’s been some dispute about exactly how much was stolen. The lower amount has been used to argue that the life sentences were excessive.
The sisters are black, and their case has been a cause celebre for the NAACP and other advocacy groups. They claim they are innocent. Civil rights advocates said their double life sentences were too harsh whether they robbed the men or not.
One of the victims in the case testified that he was robbed of about $200. A 14-year-old boy involved in the crime testified that his cut was between $9 and $11. Lumumba, the sisters’ attorney, has said the $11 amount trumpeted by advocacy groups is based on the indictment, which says they stole “in excess of $10.” One of the victims told The Associated Press it’s time to move on. Attempts to contact the other victim were unsuccessful.
Mitchell Duckworth said the women planned an ambush, then lured him and a friend onto a dark stretch of road where they were hit in the head with a shotgun and robbed. Duckworth said it’s still hard for him to think about, even all these years later, but he’s OK with the women leaving prison.
“I think it’s all right as long as they’ve been there,” Duckworth said Thursday in a telephone interview.