This criminal case breaks my heart. It wasn't about justice, I believe it was about race based retribution against two sisters, young mothers, who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Gladys and Jamie Scott were just 19 and 21 years old respectively on the day they were arrested, the day before Christmas 1993. They lived in the tiny town of Forest, Mississippi. As you read this story remember -- early 90's, the state of Mississippi and all the players are black. The local Sheriff at the time was white.
After the sisters' car conked out that day outside a local Mini Mart they began walking home. Two cousins in their 20's, known as the Duckworth Men, offered to give them a lift. When it became clear the men wanted sexual favors in return for their good deed the sisters jumped out and resumed walking home. Gladys and Jamie say they heard a commotion behind them on the road but they kept walking. They would later learn that three other locals called the Patrick Men, ages 14 to 18, had robbed the Duckworths of between nine and 11 dollars.
On Christmas Eve morning sheriff's deputies knocked on the door of the Scott's modest home and announced he was there to arrest the sisters for armed robbery! Neither Gladys nor Jaime had ever had a run in with the law. Both were gainfully employed at the local poultry plant, they both had small children to care for. The sisters were taken away that very day.
The Patrick Men confessed to the robbery and in their initial statement to authorities they made absolutely no mention of the Scott sisters. But, inexplicably, a plea arrangement was made in which the teenagers were required to swear that the sisters were involved. In retrospect, it seems as though the Sheriff's Department wanted to round up and lock up as many black citizens as possible. The state offered testimony from five witnesses, each giving a conflicting version of what happened. Two of the Patricks testified against the women at trial saying the sisters had been willing accomplices who lured the Duckworth Men into a criminal trap. The youngest Patrick, just 14 years old at the time, would reveal he was so frightened by the Sheriff's threats to send him to the state's most notorious penitentiary where he would surely be raped that he signed a statement implicating the sisters which he didn't even bother to read. On advice of their attorney neither sister testified.
In October 1994 Gladys and Jaime were found guilty and -- are you sitting down? -- sentenced to two life sentences each for their participation in a crime they insist they didn't even see occur. By contrast, the Patricks got eight year prison sentences. They were each out in just two years.
Think about the facts for a moment. It was a crime in which no one was murdered or even injured and no more than eleven dollars was taken. Even if the sisters were involved - and I'm convinced they were not -- where is the justice in their double life sentences?
In 1998, one of the Patrick Men wrote a chilling affidavit which definitively swore Gladys and Jamie Scott were never involved in the crime, never had any knowledge of it. Under Mississippi the appeals process for the sisters had long expired so no court has ever considered the Patrick affidavit or two others favorable to the sister's version of events. One of those sworn statements is from a man who says he was at the crime scene a few days after the fact and witnessed police find Mitchell Duckworth's wallet with 60 dollars still in it. He said he was threatened by Sheriff's deputies to keep quiet.
The only hope now is that a massive petition drive might help win the sister's release. Their current attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, has already gathered close to five thousand signatures and sent them on to the office of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in hopes of a pardon.
Freedom couldn't come soon enough for the sisters who have endured 16 long years in prison, longer than some convicted murderers or child rapists. Time is especially crucial for Jamie, now age 38 and suffering from massive kidney failure. She must undergo dialysis three times a week and her lawyer says substandard prison care has left her prone to infection and other medical problems. And release couldn't come soon enough for the sister's five children who were left in the care of their grandmother when Gladys and Jamie were locked away for life times two.
Be you black or white or some color in between this is a case that should be repugnant to everyone who cares about justice. If you care send a copy of this column to Governor Haley Barbour at 400 High Street, Jackson, Mississippi 39201-1006. Tell him justice now demands a double pardon.
Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site at: www.DianeDimond.com . Her latest book is Cirque Du Salahi -- Be Careful Who You Trust available at Amazon.com
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