Friday, January 07, 2011

Scott Sisters Free Today. Mother Awaiting Daughters' Arrival In Fla.

Scott Sisters Free Today. 
Mother Awaiting Daughters' Arrival In Fla.
Elizabeth Crisp •
The Clarion Ledger
After 16 years in prison and countless pleas from across the country for their release, Jamie and Gladys Scott will leave the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility today.

"I feel real happy about them coming home," said their mother, Evelyn Rasco.

Rasco was busy Thursday preparing her house in Pensacola for her daughters' arrival. Outside, the national media already had descended on their neighborhood - a CNN truck was parked down the street and her phone had been "ringing off the hook," she said.

"I just want to make sure everything's together for when my children get home," Rasco said.

Last week, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour agreed to indefinitely suspend the life sentences the Scott sisters received for their involvement in a 1993 armed robbery that netted between $11 and $200.

The sisters have maintained their innocence in the case, but according to court testimony, they lured two acquaintances to a secluded area where three teens robbed them in Scott County.

The assailants hit both men in their heads with a shotgun and took their wallets, according to the court records. The accomplices testified the sisters planned the robbery and persuaded them to assist.

Advocates have touted the minimum $11 take in arguing the back-to-back life sentences handed to them by a jury were extreme. The sisters were not eligible for parole until 2014.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said he got word from Florida officials Wednesday afternoon that the two had been accepted to go to Pensacola, where their children also live.

Area judges, the district attorney and sheriff have been notified of the pending release, as procedure, he said.

In agreeing to release the sisters, Barbour noted the high cost - nearly $200,000 a year - of providing dialysis treatment to Jamie Scott, 38.

In what many have considered an unusual move, the governor conditioned Gladys Scott's release on her donating a kidney to her sister.

In a statement, Barbour appeared to downplay the kidney stipulation.

"(Gladys) asked for the opportunity to give her sister a kidney, and we're making that opportunity available to her," he said.

Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said he has never heard of an organ donation becoming a condition of release.

"This raises several ethical issues," said Caplan, who has more than 25 years of experience in the field.

Caplan said the agreement gives the impression Gladys Scott is trading a kidney for her release.

"The governor basically - either out of ignorance or indifference - stepped on an ethical framework that was established 50 years ago," he said. "When he says, 'you have to do it,' it puts her in a situation where she cannot back out."

Whether Gladys Scott, 36, will be an organ match for her sister or whether she has any health complications that could prevent the procedure has to be determined.

"Prisoners are usually too sick or have too many infectious diseases to be good organ donors," Caplan said.

The governor's office has not said what will happen if Gladys Scott is unable to go through with the donation.

"All of the 'What if' questions at this point are purely hypothetical," Barbour said. "We'll deal with those situations if they happen."

Rasco said the family does not know how it will pay for Jamie Scott's dialysis treatments or the eventual transplant.

"We're trying to set up all of the medical stuff," she said. "I just don't know."

She said supporters are considering establishing a fund to help cover medical expenses.

"Medicaid should cover Jamie's dialysis," their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said.

Supporters said they have not yet determined how much of the transplant would be covered, though.

"I would think it will cost a lot so we may be having some kind of a fundraiser."

Rasco said Florida officials told her that her daughters will be required to pay the state $52 a month, unless that amount is waived because of Jamie's medical condition.

The sisters, who will remain on probation for the rest of their lives, are required to report to the Florida Department of Corrections probation office before Jan. 18, agency spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said.

"They will simply show up and tell us they are in Pensacola," she said. "The official documents from Mississippi will be examined, and the offenders will be told what will be expected of them in Florida. They will be assigned a probation officer."

The sisters originally had petitioned for a pardon, which they still can seek at a later date.

Barbour's decision to suspend the sentences indefinitely drew praise from the NAACP - a group that condemned him a week before for remarks that he made about a segregationist group.

Barbour, who is harboring presidential aspirations, faced intense criticism several weeks ago for his description of the segregationist Citizens Council as "town leaders" who kept the KKK at bay in civil rights-era Yazoo City, his hometown.

Rasco said she's thankful her daughters will be coming home, but she's skeptical of the governor's motives.

"To me it was a political decision," she said. "It's not that he actually had any sympathy for my daughters or cared about them."

Kris Wernowsky of the Pensacola News Journal contributed to this report.
To comment on this story, call Elizabeth Crisp at (601) 961-7303 or Molly Parker at (601) 961-7075.

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