Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Scott Sisters. A Question Of Injustice

Jamie and Gladys Scott were each sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for an armed robbery in 1993:

Jamie, 38, and Gladys, 36, are serving life sentences in Mississippi for their role in a 1993 robbery that netted $11, despite having no prior criminal record. The three men also arrested in connection with the robbery pleaded guilty and have served their terms. Two of them testified against the sisters in return for lesser sentences.

The Scott sisters were accused of orchestrating the armed robbery of two men on a rural road near Forest, Miss., on Christmas Eve 1993. According to court documents, the sisters enticed the two men to take them on a ride to a nearby nightclub. Witnesses testified that during the ride Jamie Scott complained of nausea. When the car pulled over three men in a following car robbed them at gunpoint. After the robbery, the victims testified the sisters left with the three men. Both the victims and the accused are black.
Neither Jamie nor Gladys had prior criminal records and the robbery netted a total of 11 dollars.

The sentence the Scott sisters received is out of all proportion with other sentences for similar crimes, and the men accused for participating in this crime have long since been released. Yet Gladys and Jamie are still in prison and Jamie's kidneys are failing.

These sentences are an injustice. Several commentators have pointed out the possibility that race affected the harshness of the Scott sisters' sentence. But their (alleged) co-conspirators are also African-American, yet they got a much lighter sentence.

It is also possible that the sentences were caused by bad legal counsel:

Pastor C.J. Rhodes of Mount Helm Baptist Church in Jackson said there are larger concerns at work.

"Here you have the trinity of race, class and gender playing itself out in our system," he said. Poor and black, Gladys and Jamie Scott did not have the resources to adequately defend themselves in court or to pursue the case through the appellate system, he said.

The sisters did not testify at their trial and no one testified on their behalf. They were represented at trial by Firnist Alexander, a local attorney disbarred two years later on charges unrelated to the Scott sisters. The Mississippi State Supreme Court rebuked Alexander for "lack of diligence" and failure to communicate with clients, according to court documents.
Were the men accused for the same crime able to get better counseling, and if so what was the reason for that?

I could not help noticing that the local public radio station addressed the issues of race and poverty but nothing was said about the issue of gender. Yet the one thing that clearly differs between those who got a lighter sentence and those who did was gender. It might well be that the Scott sisters would not have gotten life sentences had they been the Scott brothers.

It is time to let Gladys and Jamie out of prison before it is too late for Jamie.