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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 4:06 pm | Fair 69º


Diane Dimond: Free at Last in Mississippi — Well, Almost

Even now, after a 17-year ordeal, the Scott sisters are still victims of the state's injustice system

Over the years, there have been torrents of tears, rejected legal appeals and heartfelt rallies, and now after nearly 17 long years, there is finally clemency for Gladys and Jamie Scott. It’s a case that has had injustice written all over it from the get-go.

The Scott sisters’ 1994 conviction came on a crime they insist they played no part in — an armed robbery in which no one was hurt and about $11 was stolen. Testimony at trial was completely contradictory, and in later years witnesses admitted they had committed perjury.

On Friday, Gladys and Jamie jubilantly left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility, yelling, “We’re free!” and “God bless y’all!” They plan to move immediately to Pensacola, Fla., to start their new lives.

At the core of the African-American sisters’ bad luck was a simmering feud between their father and a local white sheriff. Instead of taking it out on Dad, it was the daughters who bore the iron fist of Mississippi justice.

The young men who wielded the rifle that December day in 1994 finally admitted they had been threatened by authorities to sign statements implicating the sisters and to testify against them. The men were each sentenced to eight years in prison and got out after serving just three. Yet the sisters, who had no criminal record and had young children waiting for them at home, were inexplicably slapped with life terms — two for each sister. Even if they had been active participants in the crime, there was never a justification for that unequal punishment.

The sisters have endured in prison, taking various self-help classes and praying for a miracle. Jaime, 38, suffers from life-threatening illnesses, including diabetes and kidney failure. She’s been receiving costly dialysis three times a week, and without a transplant she may not survive much longer. The prison never bothered to place her on a transplant list, apparently figuring she would spend the rest of her life there. Gladys had long offered to donate a kidney to her sister, but again, the prison never took any action to see if they were a match.

Yet, according to a legal assistant who met with the sisters last week: “They’ve never been negative. I’m not sure how religious they are, but they always say they’ve been praying for this day to come.”

Since they were housed in separate wings of the prison, the sisters weren’t able to share the joy of the monumental news that came last week — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was vacating their sentences! Gladys, 36, revealed she only learned about her release when she happened to be watching a TV newscast.

“I just started screaming and hollering. I’m still screaming and hollering,” she said at a post-release news conference.

In Barbour’s proclamation, he muddied the waters by writing, “Gladys Scott’s release is conditioned on her donating one of her kidneys to her sister.” But Chokwe Lumumba, the Scotts’ champion and pro bono attorney, told me this is not a strings-attached release.

“The governor’s office says (none of) this will affect Gladys’ release,” he told me. If she’s not a match, she still gets out. And, no, she doesn’t have to donate an organ to anyone else. And besides, there are laws against giving something of value in exchange for a human organ.

When they were imprisoned, Jaime left three children behind. Gladys left one, and she was pregnant at the time of her conviction. Their mother, Evelyn Rasco, raised all five of her grandchildren while continuing to fight for her daughters’ freedom from her home in Florida. That’s where the sisters are now headed, to be reunited with their children. They will remain on probation for the rest of their lives.

They have catching up to do. There’s a whole new technological world they have no experience with. They’ve never owned a cell phone or a computer. And they don’t know how the family will pay for Jamie’s life-sustaining dialysis or the transplant she must have to survive.

Believe me when I say an entire book could be written about the travesty that was the trial for these sisters — I’ve read the transcripts. And even now, at the end of their long ordeal, there is a distinct ugliness in the way Barbour dismissively referred to the Scotts in his announcement. He made no mention of the injustice of their sentences, no concern expressed for Jamie’s perilous medical condition. Barbour simply wrote, “Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott’s medical condition creates a substantial cost to the state of Mississippi.”

Something tells me the state of Mississippi isn’t done paying the cost of what has been done to the Scott sisters. I predict a major wrongful prosecution lawsuit in the future and a top actress — maybe the socially aware Halle Berry — starring in a compelling feature film about this travesty. Now, that would be justice.

Diane Dimond is the author of Cirque Du Salahi: Be Careful Who You Trust. Click here for more information. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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