Image: Gladys and Jamie Scott
AP
Gladys Scott and Jamie Scott have had their life sentences for a 1994 robbery suspended by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
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updated 1/6/2011 5:14:43 PM ET 2011-01-06T22:14:43

Two imprisoned sisters who have pledged to share a kidney will be freed 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.

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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 in different parts of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl for at least the past few years, and it's unlikely they had much interaction in the sprawling complex of 13 housing units on 171 acres.

Barbour's freeing of Miss. women — political move?

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 the women are expected to report to a Pensacola office Monday.

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.

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.

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Some medical experts said the arrangement raises legal and ethical concerns, but National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who championed the women's cause, has called Barbour's decision "a shining example" of the way a governor should use the power of clemency.

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. The Scott sisters' attorney, Chokwe 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.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Jailed sisters to be released for kidney transplant

  1. Transcript of: Jailed sisters to be released for kidney transplant

    AMY ROBACH, co-host: And now to Mississippi , where the governor has made a very high-profile decision to let two sisters serving life sentences out of prison. There's only one condition, and it's a life and death one. We'll talk exclusively to their mother in just a moment. But first, here's NBC 's justice correspondent Pete Williams .

    PETE WILLIAMS reporting: They've been locked up in a Mississippi prison for 16 years; Jamie and Gladys Scott serving life sentences for an armed robbery , a punishment civil rights groups consider extreme. Now the NAACP is praising Governor Haley Barbour 's decision to let the women out on humanitarian grounds.

    Mr. BENJAMIN JEALOUS (NAACP): Thank you, Governor Barbour . When you're right, you're right. This is a shining example of the way clemency powers should be used.

    WILLIAMS: Governor Barbour did not say that he was acting to correct an injustice, or called the sentences too harsh. Instead, he said the older sister, Jamie Scott , who's 38, needs a kidney transplant to survive. "The sisters no longer pose a threat to society," Governor Barbour said, and Jamie Scott 's " medical condition creates a substantial cost" to the state, $200,000 a year. But the release of Gladys Scott will be allowed only if she donates one of her kidneys to her sister. The state says it was her idea in the first place . The decision follows a steady campaign of protests over the life sentences . Neither woman had a criminal record, the victims were not seriously hurt, only a small amount of money was taken, and others more directly involved in the robbery have long since been released . Some advocates for the sisters fault the state for not acting sooner.

    Ms. JARIBU HILL (Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights): Governor Haley Barbour calls the impending release of the Scott sisters an early release . A release from 16 years of wrongful incarceration is most certainly not an early release .

    WILLIAMS: Governor Barbour 's office says he took the case to the state parole board last August. But some in the state say his decision this week to release them was partly motivated by politics after he was accused of making racially insensitive remarks in a magazine interview published last week. And he's made no secret of his interest in possibly running for president.

    Mr. JONATHAN MARTIN (Politico): It's very difficult to separate politics from any governor's decision on such a very important and controversial matter when that governor is thinking openly about a run for the White House .

    WILLIAMS: But a spokesman for the governor calls it, quote, "highly cynical" to assume that he acted for anything other than humanitarian reasons. A defense lawyer says the sisters hope to be released in a matter of days, free to move to Florida where their mother lives. For TODAY, Pete Williams , NBC News, Washington.

    ROBACH: Evelyn Rasco is Jamie and Gladys Scott 's mother. She's with us exclusively. And, Evelyn , good morning. Ms. EVELYN RASCO ( Mother of Sisters to be Freed from Prison for Kidney Donation ): Good morning.

    ROBACH: As we just heard in the piece, your daughters have been incarcerated for 16 years. I have to ask you how you first found out the news that they were being released .

    Ms. RASCO: Well, I received a phone call yesterday from a Ward Schaefer at the Jackson Press newspaper in Jackson , Mississippi . Mr. Ward instructed me and told me the decision of the -- that the governor had made. And I just got very hysterical. I had to stop driving, I had to pull on the side of the street because I was so excited and I was so happy that my daughters are being released .

    ROBACH: You've been fighting ever since they've been behind bars to see that day when they'll come home to you . Have you had a chance to talk to your daughters ? What was their reaction to the news?

    Ms. RASCO: They were very happy about the news because they really want to come home. Because they have been locked up for 16 years and they've been away from their children, and it's just been a nightmare for all of us.

    ROBACH: I know that you've had a lot of support in trying to get your daughters released . They were each given a life sentence for that robbery that only resulted in $11. Did you ever give up hope? Did you ever think you'd see the day where they would be coming home to you ?

    Ms. RASCO: Yes, I didn't give up hope because my faith in God helped me to carry on. And I knew one day that my daughters will receive justice. No, I never gave up. I got real tired, but I never gave up.

    ROBACH: The governor said he believes neither of your daughters remains a threat to society as part of the reason why he was OK with this release . But what do you make of the reasoning behind the release , that one of your daughters has to give her sister a kidney? Do you think that's a reasonable reason for their release ?

    Ms. RASCO: No, I don't, because my daughter Gladys stated in January when my daughter Jamie kidneys first shut down that she would be willing to give her sister a kidney. So this has been all over the Internet ever since January, that my daughter Gladys was willing to give her a kidney from the beginning.

    ROBACH: And this has been a huge expense for the state of Mississippi . Governor Barbour mentioned that as well, the cost of Jamie 's medical care . But are you prepared to be able to then take on that cost yourself when they're released ?

    Ms. RASCO: Well, I'm going to -- me and my supporters are going to try to find all the help we can for Jamie . So all I know, I could pray about it and hope my supporters could come up with some solutions to help us.

    ROBACH: There is...

    Ms. RASCO: Because I cannot afford medical care .

    ROBACH: Evelyn , there is some concern that the conditions -- the condition of the release of your daughters could set a precedent, that there are other people who might also have grave medical conditions and if, you know, someone was willing to donate a kidney, they too would then be released or be pardoned for their crimes. Do your daughters have any concerns about this? Do you have any concerns about this?

    Ms. RASCO: No. But I know there's a lot of innocent people in the state of Mississippi in prison, and I know it's a lot of them that's not receiving the proper medical care , like my Jamie daughter -- like my -- like my daughter Jamie . She never received the proper medical care from January, when her kidneys first shut down.

    ROBACH: Well, we understand it could be a matter of days before your daughters head home. Do you have any plans for their arrival? What are -- what are you getting ready for at this point?

    Ms. RASCO: Well, really, I'll just be happy for them to come home, and their children'll be happy for them to come home. But as far as I've heard, it's going to be 45 days, what I've been told, in order for them to be able to come home. So I don't know how, you know, how soon they going to come home because, like I said, been -- I heard it's going to be 45 days. So I don't really know when they coming home .

    ROBACH: Well, Evelyn , we wish you the best. I know your daughters have a tough road ahead of them medically speaking, but we certainly appreciate you joining us this morning and wish you and your daughters the best.

    Ms. RASCO: Thank you so much .

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