JACKSON, Miss. — An attorney for the Scott Sisters says he hopes a rally Friday will put public pressure on Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential presidential candidate, to pardon two sisters whom the Republican released from prison earlier this year on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other.
Barbour told The Associated Press on Thursday that he doesn’t plan to pardon Jamie and Gladys Scott, who served 16 years of life sentences for a 1993 armed robbery.
“I wouldn’t hold my breath,” Barbour said.
Asked to elaborate on the possibility of a pardon, the Republican told the AP: “Tell ’em don’t save any space in the newspaper for that to be announced.”
The women’s attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said they’re innocent. He plans to lead a rally in front of the Governor’s Mansion and state Capitol to seek support for the pardon request he’s filing Friday. He said a pardon could help the women find jobs.
“If he wants to tell the people coming here tomorrow that — don’t hold their breath — then we’ll give him the message,” Lumumba said of Barbour on Thursday. “We don’t intend to hold back our outrage at injustice, and we don’t intend to stop fighting for justice.”
Supporters had hoped the governor’s presidential ambitions would make him more inclined to pardon the women.
Barbour spokeswoman Laura Hipp said the governor “has not granted pardons to anyone who does not admit their guilt and express remorse.”
Jamie Scott suffers from kidney failure, and Gladys Scott offered to donate a kidney to her. They are living with relatives in Pensacola, Fla., and their surgery has not yet been scheduled, Lumumba said. For now, their doctors won’t even test them for compatibility until both lose weight and Gladys Scott quits her heavy smoking.
The sisters are scheduled to attend the rally. Reached Thursday in Florida, Jamie Scott had little reaction to Barbour’s comments.
“We will see, won’t we?” Jamie Scott said before referring questions to Lumumba.
The Scott sisters’ case became a cause celebre on the Internet before their release, with Lumumba and other supporters saying the two black women were victims of an unfair justice system.
Civil rights advocates called for the sisters’ freedom for years, saying their sentences were too harsh for the crime. They were convicted in 1994 of participating in the robbery of two men on Christmas Eve in 1993. Prosecutors said the women led two men into an ambush. Court records say the robbery netted between $11 and $200.
Barbour was not governor when they were convicted.
As he prepares for a possible White House run, Barbour has faced criticism for remarks that critics said downplayed Mississippi’s history of racial strife. Lumumba said last week he thought Barbour’s possible presidential aspirations might boost the Scotts’ chance for a pardon.
“I guess if I was running for president of the United States, I would not want someone to think that I pardoned five people for murder and then we have two young ladies who’ve been in jail for 16 years and they were allegedly involved in a scheme to get $11 and I didn’t pardon them,” Lumumba said.
In 2008, Barbour pardoned four inmate trusties who had worked at the Governor’s Mansion and were already out of prison on parole or had been given suspended sentences by a previous Mississippi governor. Three had been convicted of murder and the other was in prison for manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Barbour in 2008 also suspended the sentence of an inmate who had worked at the mansion while Barbour was governor. The inmate was serving a life sentence for murder in the death of his ex-wife in 1989.
The Scott sisters never worked at the Governor’s Mansion.
In late December, Barbour said the Mississippi Parole Board had reviewed the Scott sisters’ case and recommended he neither pardon them nor commute their sentence.
During a speech in Jackson last week, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan mentioned the Scott sisters and asked if the U.S. is a just society for black people.
“How come Gov. Haley Barbour won’t be merciful enough to say look at the time these sisters spent in prison?” Farrakhan said. “I know you did let them out, governor, and we appreciate it. But you could go a step further and pardon them.”