UPDATED: This story has been updated to reflect information from the NAACP's press conference this morning.
Gladys Scott's release from prison is not solely dependent on her donating a kidney to her sister Jamie, a spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour said today. Barbour spokesman Dan Turner told the Jackson Free Press today that Gladys Scott could remain free on a suspended sentence even if tests find that she is not a suitable donor.
"I think there would be some other factors involved," Turner said. "Is she living within the law? That's going to be the first prerequisite for her remaining free."
"That is a determination that may be up to the next administration as well," he added. Barbour's second and final term as governor ends next year.
In his Dec. 29 order indefinitely suspending the Scott sisters' life sentences, Barbour called for Gladys to donate one of her kidneys to Jamie, who is suffering from total kidney failure. Numerous media outlets have characterized the order as exchanging Gladys Scott's freedom for one of her kidneys, but Turner pointed out that Gladys offered the donation in the petition for pardon filed Sept. 14 on their behalf.
"This is not something that the governor's office came up with," Turner said. "With that offer, they placed that in the conditions of the parole."
The sisters' pardon petition states that Gladys Scott has volunteered to donate a kidney, but it argues for their release on grounds that their life sentences—for a 1993 armed robbery—is excessive. The sisters' three alleged co-conspirators all served less than four years in prison. Advocates for the sisters' release, including the NAACP and local and national civil-rights groups, have maintained that robbery netted only $11. Court records provide no official estimate of the robbery's take, with estimates ranging from $11 to more than $200.
Attorney and Ward 2 Councilman Chokwe Lumumba, who filed the September pardon petition, also said that he expects Gladys to remain free even if she is unable to donate her kidney.
"I've been assured by the governor's office that that's not going to be a problem," Lumumba said. "We'll just come back and work that out later on if she is not compatible. They made it pretty clear to us that they intend for them to be out."
Lab tests have confirmed that Gladys' blood type matches her sister's, but further tests are necessary to confirm that she can serve as a kidney donor, Lumumba said.
Turner said that the state has made no commitment to pay for a kidney transplant procedure and that funds would likely come from Medicare. At a press conference this morning at the Capitol, NAACP President Ben Jealous said that his organization will continue to support the sisters as they reenter society.
"We will stick with them," Jealous said. "Now we're focused on ensuring that they get the health care they need and that they can back to rebuilding their lives."
Before the sisters can leave prison, the Mississippi Department of Corrections must finalize parole supervision for them in Florida, where they plan to live with relatives. MDOC spokesman Kent Crocker said that the procedure could take between seven and 45 days.
Barbour's announcement comes one week after controversy erupted over comments he made to a Weekly Standard reporter praising the Citizens Council's work in his hometown of Yazoo City. In the Weekly Standard article, Barbour called the white-supremacist group "an organization of town leaders" and lauded it as a moderating force against racial violence. On Dec. 21, he backtracked, calling the Citizens Council "totally indefensible."
Jealous said that, despite the timing of Barbour's announcement, he believed the governor's decision was not affected by the controversy. Barbour sent investigators to interview the sisters in prison in September, one week after supporters submitted the pardon petition and held a rally outside the state Capitol, he noted.
"What I know is that it didn't affect his level of interest in the case," Jealous said. "The governor's been interested in the case for a long time. … The fact that the governor got engaged right away—and his office and my office were going back and forth for months, setting up this meeting, going through the facts—tells me that he was going to do this regardless. What I care about, at the end of the day, is that the job was done and that he did the right thing. When he's right, he's right."
This is an example of how the weird world of politics can some times work for justice. It is clear that Barbour had no urgency to movc on this issue until his recent problems with bad press as a result of racial issues. This is designed to be a band aid over a huge cancer. The Scott sisters are just two of hundreds if not thousands of individuals who receive excessivc sentences because of race, gender, or socio economic status.