The following is a two-pronged story from hell. I am deeply disturbed that this is the first time I have heard of it, even though this gross miscarriage of justice began in 1993. It is a story not only of the law gone amok but also a damning indictment of our prison system.
From the Free the Scott Sisters blog, we learn that:
In a trial fraught with legal malpractice and witness coercion, Mississippi Judge Marcus Gordon oversaw one of the most blatantly corrupt trials in history, culminating in the staggering over-sentencing of sisters Gladys and Jamie Scott to double-life each in an armed robbery where no one was murdered or harmed and the amount alleged to have been taken was a whopping $11.00.
On December 24, 1993, the Scott County Sheriff’s Department arrested the Scott sisters for armed robbery even though three young males, ranging from ages 14 to 18, confessed to committing the crime. Despite this, the corrupt Mississippi sheriff used coercion, threats, and harassment to compel them to turn state’s evidence against the Scott sisters due to a long-standing vendetta against a family member. The 14-year-old male would later testify that he did not read the statement and was pressured to sign a written statement prepared by the sheriff without an attorney being present.
As if that weren’t bad enough, these young women received incompetent legal representation at the lower court trial. Their attorneys, Firnist J. Alexander, Jr. and Gail Shaw-Pierson failed to interview and subpoena witnesses, only calling one witness when there were several. Incredibly, the jury never even heard any testimony from the alleged victims. The sisters were advised to not testify on their own behalf by their attorneys, Alexander and Shaw-Pierson, denying them the opportunity to speak for themselves.
In October of 1994, Jamie and Gladys Scott were sentenced to extraordinary double life terms each in prison, even though neither sister had prior convictions and there was no violence involved in these charges.
The four State’s witnesses provided conflicting testimony and one alleged accuser was not called to testify – he was not questioned or subpoenaed by defense attorneys Firnist J. Alexander, Jr. or Gail Shaw-Pierson. Witnesses admitted however, that reports prepared by the Sheriff, of their descriptions of the event contained no such claim. In other words, the sisters were not present. Jamie and Gladys Scott were not involved in the armed robbery and they did not conspire to plan such. Witnesses all testified that they were coerced and threatened by Deputy Sheriff Marvin Williams. Testimony also revealed that Marvin Williams prepared statements of the events from the night of December 24, 1994 BEFORE obtaining signatures and BEFORE the witnesses were brought into his office. In other words, the statements were not written by witnesses. Three affidavits exist – they all state that the Scott Sisters were not involved in this robbery. One affidavit is written by a trustee of the local jail, his account of the facts reveal that a wallet was located a few days after this alleged robbery and that wallet contained the photo ID of one of the alleged victims of the trumped up robbery and three twenty dollar bills. The trustee also reveals that there was NOT a robbery, he was also threatened to be sent to Parchman Penitentiary if he told the truth.
And according to James Ridgeway and Jean Casella,
On February 25, a small crowd gathered outside the state capitol in Jackson, Mississippi, to push for the release of sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott, who are serving two consecutive life sentences apiece for a 1993 armed robbery in which no one was injured and the take, by most accounts, was about $11. Supporters of the Scott sisters have long tried to draw attention to their case, as an extreme example of the distorted justice and Draconian sentencing policies that have overloaded prisons, crippled state budgets, and torn families apart across the United States. But in recent months, their cause has taken on a new urgency, because for Jamie Scott, an unwarranted life sentence may soon become a death sentence.
Jamie Scott, 38, is suffering from kidney failure. At the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility (CMCF) in Pearl, where Jamie and Gladys are incarcerated, medical services are provided by a private contractor called Wexford, which has been the subject of lawsuits and legislative investigations in several states over inadequate treatment of the inmates in its care. According to Jamie Scott’s family, in the six weeks since her condition became life-threatening, she has endured faulty or missed dialysis sessions, infections, and other complications. She has received no indication that a kidney transplant is being considered as an option, though her sister is a willing donor.
The Ridgeway and Casella piece goes on to examine Wexford’s sorry record and the Free the Scott Sisters has updates on the case here.
As I said, I am deeply disturbed that this story has been all but hidden all these years. What it says about our justice system should make us all very uncomfortable, and I have no doubt that had these been white women, it would not be necessary to write this post. Please, visit their blog and donate, sign the petition, cross-post the story and let’s raise a ruckus and get these women out of jail and back in the arms of their loving family, especially their mother Evelyn Rasco who is caring for Gladys and Jamie’s children and working tirelessly to free her daughters–she is truly the embodiment of fierce mothering.
You can also sign a petition on behalf of the Scott sisters here.