Monday, January 10, 2011

Sisters Released For A Kidney

by Katherine Scardino

The story of 35-year-old Gladys Scott and her 38-year-old sister Jamie Scott has been all over the national news this week. The Governor of Mississippi had decided to release the Scott sisters from state prison after they'd each served 16 years of a life sentence for aggravated robbery of $11.

First of all, the amount of the robbery is immaterial to me. I think most people would agree that sticking a gun in the face of a citizen and demanding all his money warrants a serious sentence, assuming that the state has proven their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. (Remember, I am still a defense lawyer.)

Back in 1993, Gladys and Jamie were involved in an aggravated robbery of two citizens of Mississippi. The use of a weapon in a robbery means that the range of punishment can be increased. We know that the victims of this robbery must have been scared for their life, so they gave the robbers all they had--$11 in cash. A life sentence may be a bit much. I have represented people who stole a lot more than that and did not receive life sentences. But, their actual sentence is not the issue of my troubles with this matter.

What troubles me is that Governor Haley Barbour released the women so the state of Mississippi could avoid having to pay the medical bills for Jamie Scott’s kidney transplant. Jamie has been ill for a while and apparently needs a new kidney, which I presume is a very expensive medical procedure. So, Gov. Barbour agreed to the release only if Gladys would agree to give her ill sister one of her own kidneys. As a result of the release, the state of does not have any medical expenses.

Sixteen years ago, a judge or jury in that state felt that this crime warranted life sentences for both Gladys and Jamie. The NAACP and many other people have petitioned, complained, and written about the unfairness and obvious racism involved in these sentences for many years, but to no avail. The NAACP claimed that these women were symbols of the heavy-handed sentences given to African Americans, and the influential civil rights group engaged in a long-standing campaign to secure their release. Nothing happened as a result of their efforts to get them released.

Before Jamie became ill, no one could give a rat’s you-know-what about her or Gladys and the length of their sentences for an $11 return on an aggravated robbery. But with the prospect of huge medical expenses looming in the future of the state’s coffers, all of a sudden this governor becomes magnanimous in his decision to release the women.

This case supports my belief that many ridiculous rules and laws can be undermined and terminated if they cost too much. Take capital murder, for example. It is unbelievably expensive to finance a death capital murder trial in any jurisdiction, whether it be a large county or a small county. As a result of the cost, some, if not most, small counties elect not to prosecute for a death sentence to avoid the millions of dollars it could cost the taxpayers.

So, here in Mississippi, the bastion of equality and fairness, this governor has elected not to pay for Gladys Scott’s medical expenses incurred while spending years in a state prison. Maybe that is a good financial decision for Mississippi, and it is obviously a good decision in all respects for the two sisters, since they are now free. But the crux of my issue here is that they have gained their freedom not because it is the right thing to do, not because justice and fairness require it. No, Gladys Scott and Jamie Scott are now walking among the free people in the state of Mississippi for one reason only: money. It is always about money, and do not ever forget it.

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