By TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | New York Times
Jamie and Gladys Scott walked out of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, Miss. at just after 8 a.m. Central time Friday morning, and were greeted by their mother, their children and throngs of reporters.
The case of the Scott sisters attracted widespread attention after Gov. Haley Barbour suspended their double life sentences last month with the stipulation that Gladys Scott, 36, give one of her kidneys to Jamie Scott, 38.
The kidney donation was the sisters’ idea, and is supported by the N.A.A.C.P.and other civil rights organizations. But the unusual nature of the arrangement has been criticized by some medical ethicists.
Legal experts said that suspending a prison sentence contingent on an organ donation is highly unusual and may be unprecedented.
Jamie Scott requires dialysis treatment at least three times a week, and her health has been failing during the past few months.
The women plan to live in Pensacola, Fla., with their mother and their children. Jamie Scott has three children; Gladys Scott has two.
The Scotts were arrested on Christmas Eve 1993, when Jamie was 21 and Gladys 19, and they were convicted the following year on charges that they led two men into an ambush, during which the men were robbed of about $11, according to the trial transcript.
Three boys, aged 14 to 18 at the time, were also convicted in the case; they served their sentences and were released from custody years ago, Mississippi officials said. The sisters have denied playing any role in the crime.
After years of unsuccessful efforts by their family and friends to get the sisters released based on inconsistencies in testimony during the trial, Jamie Scott’s kidney failure last year led to a new grassroots campaign to free them. The effort on behalf of the sisters, who are black, was taken up by African American-themed Internet sites, by the N.A.A.C.P. and by African American politicians in Mississippi.
After mulling over the matter for several months, Gov. Barbour announced in late December that he would not pardon the sisters, but would instead indefinitely suspend their sentences.
Gov. Barbour said he had acted in part out of concern over Jamie Scott’s health, but also to relieve the state of the cost of her dialysis treatment, approximately $200,000 a year.
“The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society,” Mr. Barbour said in a Dec. 29 statement. “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.”
The sisters will be on parole for the rest of their lives, the sisters’ attorneys said.
Many questions remain unanswered, including who will pay for the kidney transplant operation. The sisters’ advocates say the family cannot afford the procedure on their own and that it is unclear whether they will qualify for Medicaid.