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October 12, 2010

NY Times op-ed spotlights extreme jury sentences in Mississippi

Today's New York Times includes this remarkable op-ed by Bob Herbert concerning a pair of extreme sentences in Mississippi.  The piece is headlined "So Utterly Inhumane, and here are excerpts:

You have to believe that somebody really had it in for the Scott sisters, Jamie and Gladys.  They have always insisted that they had nothing to do with a robbery that occurred near the small town of Forest, Miss., on Christmas Eve in 1993.  It was not the kind of crime to cause a stir.  No one was hurt and perhaps $11 was taken.

Jamie was 21 at the time and Gladys just 19.  But what has happened to them takes your breath away.  They were convicted by a jury and handed the most draconian sentences imaginable — short of the death penalty. Each was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in state prison, and they have been imprisoned ever since.  Jamie is now 38 and seriously ill. Both of her kidneys have failed.  Gladys is 36....

The authorities did not even argue that the Scott sisters had committed the robbery.  They were accused of luring two men into a trap, in which the men had their wallets taken by acquaintances of the sisters, one of whom had a shotgun.

It was a serious crime.  But the case against the sisters was extremely shaky.  In any event, even if they were guilty, the punishment is so wildly out of proportion to the offense that it should not be allowed to stand.

Three teenagers pleaded guilty to robbing the men.  They ranged in age from 14 to 18.  And in their initial statements to investigators, they did not implicate the Scott sisters.  But a plea deal was arranged in which the teens were required to swear that the women were involved, and two of the teens were obliged, as part of the deal, to testify against the sisters in court....  The teens were sentenced to eight years in prison each, and they were released after serving just two years.

This is a case that should be repugnant to anyone with the slightest interest in justice.  The right thing to do at this point is to get the sisters out of prison as quickly as possible and ensure that Jamie gets proper medical treatment.

A number of people have taken up the sisters’ cause, including Ben Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., who is trying to help secure a pardon from Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.  “It makes you sick to think that this sort of thing can happen,” he said.  “That these women should be kept in prison until they die — well, that’s just so utterly inhumane.”

I have no idea why the authorities were so dead set on implicating the Scott sisters in the crime and sending them away for life, while letting the teens who unquestionably committed the robbery get off with much lighter sentences.

Life sentences for robbery can only be imposed by juries in Mississippi, but it is extremely rare for that sentencing option to even be included in the instructions given to jurors.  It’s fair to think, in other words, that there would have to be some extraordinary reason for prosecutors and the court to offer such a draconian possibility to a jury....

The reason for giving the jury the option of imposing life sentences in this case escapes me.  Even the original prosecutor, Ken Turner, who is now retired and who believes the sisters were guilty, has said that he thinks it would be “appropriate” to offer them relief from their extreme sentences.  He told The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., “It was not a particularly egregious case.”

The appeals process for the women has long since been exhausted. It is up to Governor Barbour, who is considering petitions on the sisters’ behalf, to do the humane thing.  A pardon or commutation of sentence — some form of relief that would release Jamie and Gladys Scott from the hideous shackles of a lifetime in prison — is not just desirable, it’s absolutely essential.

October 12, 2010 at 08:28 AM | Permalink


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Did they have any prior convictions?

Posted by: Mark | Oct 12, 2010 1:04:23 PM

I wonder what the racial makeup of the jury was.

Posted by: T.O. | Oct 12, 2010 3:01:28 PM

Obviously something is going on here that does not meet the eye.

Let this case be a marker for those of you favoring more power for the jury. This is not exactly nullification in reverse, but it has that flavor.

As to the question about the jury's racial make-up: If it had been all white, or nearly all white, Herbert would have been all over it.

I know nothing about the details of the offense, so I am poorly positioned to make a judgment on the sentence. On the face of it, and without knowing more, it seems way out of line.

Finally, now that the NYT has made an appearane, I am compelled to give it credit for pointing out that the latest Obama campaign salvo designed to divert attention from the staggering debt, impending gigantic tax increase, and jobless recovery (if you want to call this thing a "recovery") was essentially fabricated. Obama and his White House accused the Chamber of Commerce of using foreign money to run campaign adds, but refused to offer even a smidgen of evidence. This is because, as the NYT notes, there isn't any. It's just made up.

Weren't we promised "hope and change?" A "post-partisan?" A President "for all the people?" What we got was the most partisan and divisive President since Nixon.

Thanks alot, Barry. In three weeks, the public will be delivering its thanks too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 12, 2010 4:05:30 PM

"What we got was the most partisan and divisive President since Nixon."

Your kidding, right? You can't call someone "partisan and divisive" when it is the minority party who decided, for (successful) strategic reasons, to make it that way. You've got to be completely blind and one-sided to blame the "partisanship" and "divisiveness" on Obama. Obama isn't entirely innocent on that charge, but it's the opposition that really deserves such an indictment.

Posted by: anon | Oct 12, 2010 4:43:38 PM

He's certainly not the most divisive. That honor would go to George W. Bush. Most people thought he was really stupid, but a significant minority thought he had some brain cells firing. The issue divided the nation.

Posted by: comp3 | Oct 12, 2010 5:06:31 PM

This kind of thing happens a *lot* in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama. This is what happens when you have no public defender, no defense culture, little or no accountability on decision makers (including, notwithstanding Bob Herbert's intervention here, a general lack of media scrutiny), and minimal regard for due process or reliability in the system as a whole. You get arbitrary/biased decisions made at the investigation, charging, and trial levels, and no checks or balances to mitigate them.

Generally, people in this position go to prison to rot and no one is interested. In the odd case where someone does notice that there may have been a gross injustice, the factual and legal obstacles to reconstructing the case and obtaining a fair process are substantial. (Which I suppose is why these ladies now have to depend on the grace of Haley Barbour. Good luck with that.)

Posted by: Atty | Oct 12, 2010 5:09:39 PM

anon --

No, actually I'm not kidding. Both Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/poll/125345/obama-approval-polarized-first-year-president.aspx, and Pew, http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1178/polarized-partisan-gap-in-obama-approval-historic, confirm that Obama is the most divisive president in the modern era. And it's not just party affilitation that's in the mix. He is also the most racially divisive president, http://socyberty.com/issues/is-obama-the-most-racially-divisive-president-ever/. In this latter poll, taken a few days ago, blacks approve of Obama's job performance by 91%, and whites by 36%. Are white people just a bunch of partisan hacks?

As a retired Jackson State professor noted (in the above article):
“President Obama was elected in great part because he is Black as Americans were very hungry to prove they were not racist. That proof came in the form of a vote for Obama. The president’s campaign was very aware of that fact and utilized it to great effect. Since the election though, the Obama White House and others in the Democratic Party have attempted to replay that race card over and over again. It was only a matter of time before the American voter grew tired of being accused of racism simply because they did not agree with all or some of the president’s policies."

And it gets worse. Overall trust in the federal government -- under Obama, Pelosi and Reid -- is, as the liberal LA Times reported this year, off the cliff: "Only 22% of all Americans surveyed said they trusted the government in Washington almost always or most of the time -- among the lowest measures in half a century -- according to a Pew Research Center survey released Sunday." Trust is lower now than at any point during Bush or, for that matter, Nixon.
See for yourself:night.http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/19/nation/la-na-distrust19-2010apr19

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 12, 2010 5:11:06 PM


"Three teenagers pleaded guilty to robbing the men. They ranged in age from 14 to 18. And in their initial statements to investigators, they did not implicate the Scott sisters. But a plea deal was arranged in which the teens were required to swear that the women were involved, and two of the teens were obliged, as part of the deal, to testify against the sisters in court.... The teens were sentenced to eight years in prison each, and they were released after serving just two years."

Any takeers that these 3 belonged to the families that ran the town and the 2 girls did not! Then comes the criminal actions of our glorious govt agents using blackmail and extortion to get them to change their stories to hang two people who it doesnt' look like had anythign to do with the crime. If either of these ladies die in prison anyone involved in their conviction from the cops - da - pd- jury -judge should be sentenced to DEATH themselves

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 12, 2010 5:23:52 PM

I am a activist who has been pushing out media on this case


Anthony Papa
Posted February 25, 2009

The Scott Sisters: Two Life Sentences for 11 Dollars?

Talk about injustice. How do you wind up in prison serving two life terms for a robbery that netted 11 dollars? That question has haunted first time offenders Gladys and Jamie Scott for the past 15 years.

On December 24, 1993, Scott County Sheriff's Department in Mississippi arrested the sisters for an armed robbery they vehemently deny participation in. In 1994 they were convicted after being implicated in the crime by three young Black men who confessed to the robbery in exchange of a plea bargain that gave them 10 months. The sisters were not offered a plea and went to trial.

Time has passed slowly for these sisters as they watched from behind bars their five children grow into adults and mourned the lost of their father. They have felt the pain of exhausting all their legal remedies while being denied relief at every level.

According to Nancy Lockhart, M.J., a legal analyst who has worked tirelessly over the years to help set free the Scott sisters she says she will never forget the frigid Chicago morning when she opened a letter from Mrs. Evelyn Rasco, the mother of the Scott sisters. She told the story of her daughters and her plight to help free them. "How can they give my daughters two life sentences for a crime that netted 11 dollars where no one was injured?" This prompted Lockhart to become the Scott sister's lifeline for hope. She began a campaign to try freeing them.

The Scott Sisters challenged their convictions on direct appeal arguing that there was insufficient evidence to convict them and the guilty verdict was against the overwhelming weight of evidence, which should have exonerate them. The court of appeals found no error and affirmed the convictions on December 17, 1996. As a result, they filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court, which was denied on May 15, 1997. They consequently filed an Application for Leave to File Motion to Vacate Conviction pursuant to the Mississippi Post Conviction Collateral Relief Act. The Supreme Court also denied that application.

In 1998 one of the sentenced men signed an affidavit telling that the Scott sisters were not involved with the crime. The affidavit along with two others that pointed to the sister's innocence were secured by their attorney and submitted for post conviction relief. Then attorney Chokwe Lumumba submitted a request for commutation of sentence and/or pardon to the governor. It was subsequently denied.

Gladys and Jamie Scott have maintained their innocence. They have spent nearly 15 years in prison for a crime they did not commit that netted the sum of 11 dollars. It is time for them to join their families.

For more information about the Scott sister's case please go to: www.freethescottsisters.com.
The Committee to Free the Scott Sisters: 641-715-3900 Ext. 99222

Posted by: Anthony Papa | Oct 13, 2010 11:28:35 AM

sounds like since the govt refuses to admint they f''k'd up time to start a collection to pay for a couple of mercenaries...afer all our govt uses them so must be legal! then just help them leave the prison and then the country.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 13, 2010 3:32:13 PM

Nice article1! It's really a big for me, this is really informative and interesting. Keep posting for more.

Posted by: tough guy | Mar 24, 2011 3:35:29 AM

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