JACKSON, Miss. – Two imprisoned sisters who have pledged to share a kidney will be released from prison Friday as part of a deal to suspend their life sentences for armed robbery.
Jamie and Gladys Scott are set to be released from a state prison just east of Jackson, and they plan to head to Pensacola, Fla., where their mother and children live, Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said.
Gladys Scott's release order requires her to donate a kidney to her sister, who is suffering from kidney failure and requires dialysis.
Chokwe Lumumba, the sisters' attorney, said he spoke by phone to Gladys Scott and she was thrilled by Thursday's news.
"We're riding high right now," Lumumba said. "Their spirits are good and they are ready to get out of there."
Their 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 Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, and it's unlikely they had much interaction in the sprawling complex of 13 housing units on 171 acres.
Epps said the sisters will be allowed to take whatever personal property they have with them and any money they have in their inmate accounts. He said the state also will supply them with 30 days of medication. Jamie Scott was scheduled to have a dialysis treatment Thursday at the prison.
Epps said once the sisters are in Florida, local probation officials will take over their case.
Jo Ellyn Rackleff, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, said officials there expect the women to report Monday, but they may come in sooner and they have until Jan. 18.
Their surroundings in Pensacola will be a far cry from the tall fences and concertina wire that wrap the perimeter of the prison along a rural state road near a police academy and mental hospital. The facility houses male and female inmates under conditions ranging from minimum- to maximum-security.
The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of leading two men into an ambush in central Mississippi the year before. The robbery didn't net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.
Mitchell Duckworth, one of the women's victims, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday that he believes the sisters planned the robbery. He remembered it as a terrifying experience in which he was assaulted with a shotgun, and said he's thankful to be alive.
"I just really don't even want to think about that anymore," he said.
Still, Duckworth said, he thinks the women have served enough time for the crime and wasn't concerned with them being released.
"I think it's all right as long as they've been there," Duckworth said.
After 16 years in prison, Jamie Scott, 36, is on dialysis, which officials say costs the state about $200,000 a year.
Gov. Haley Barbour agreed to release her because of her medical condition, but 38-year-old Gladys Scott's release order says one of the conditions she must meet is to donate the kidney within one year.
The idea to donate the kidney was Gladys Scott's, and she volunteered to do it in her petition for early release.
A few doctors have expressed an interest in performing the kidney transplant, but there are no firm plans yet, Lumumba said. The women will need to get on Medicaid to cover the expenses of treatment, he added.
They'll also need to undergo testing to make sure they are compatible. The women are a blood type match, but they'll also need to be a tissue match, the governor's office has said.
Some medical experts said the arrangement raises legal and ethical concerns, but the sisters' supporters insist they want to go through with the procedure and came up with the idea.
National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who says the women's double life sentences were the result of prejudice in the judicial system, has called Barbour's decision to suspend the sentences "a shining example" of the power of clemency.
The NAACP said Thursday in statement attributed to Jealous that he shares concerns about the condition of release, but right now he's focused on the sisters "getting the freedom they have won, the health care they need and ultimately the full pardon they deserve."
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 illustrate that the crime did not merit the life sentences the women received.
However, 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 says the $11 amount trumpeted by advocacy groups is based on the indictment, which says they stole "in excess of $10."
Whatever the case, the sisters' supporters say the life sentences were excessive. The sisters are black, and their case has been a cause celebre in the state's African-American community.
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