Mississippi Sisters Convicted In $11 Robbery Want Vindication

Jamie and Gladys Scott were convicted in 1993 for their roles in an armed robbery that netted $11. The Scott sisters of Mississippi were sentenced to life in prison and their mother is struggling to try to secure their release.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

In a few minutes, as we said, we're going to take a look at the movie, "Conviction" - that's about a wrongful murder sentence of a man named Kenny Waters. His sister fought for 18 years to free him.

But first we want to tell you about another story about a family that is also fighting what they say is an injustice. It's a story of two sisters in Mississippi who were sentenced to life in prison. Their mother has been struggling for 16 years to free them.

Jamie and Gladys Scott were convicted in 1993 for their roles in an armed robbery that netted $11. The money went to three men who pled guilty and received sentences of ten months. The mother of the Scott sisters, Evelyn Rasco maintains that her daughters are innocent, and apart from guilt or innocence, there is the question of a life sentence for $11.

Last month hundreds of people gathered in a march outside the state capital to demand that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour take action on the case. Here's a short clip from the rally.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting)

Unidentified People: Go tell Haley Barbour. Go tell Haley Barbour. Go tell Haley Barbour. Go tell Haley Barbour. This is going on too long. This is going on too long. Get free. Get free. Right now. Right now.

MARTIN: We wanted to know more about this case so we've called Chris Joyner. He's a reporter for the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi and he's with us now to tell us more. Thank so much for joining us.

Mr. CHRIS JOYNER (Reporter, Clarion Ledger): My pleasure, Michel.

MARTIN: Now obviously there are a lot of issues in dispute here, but I wanted to ask first: Are there some agreed-upon facts? And then tell us what's in dispute.

Mr. JOYNER: Well, everyone agrees that there was a robbery in 1993, and beyond that, the stories sort of diverge. Most of the advocates, and the Scott sisters themselves, maintain that the Scott sisters didn't have anything to do with the robbery. They were convicted of actually orchestrating the robbery by allegedly enticing them to go on a ride with them and then a chase car pulled them over and robbed them, and the three men who were convicted were in the chase car.

Beyond that, the Scott sisters were the only ones that pled not guilty and they are the only ones that are still in prison at this time.

MARTIN: And as I understand it, no one was harmed?

Mr. JOYNER: No one (unintelligible).

MARTIN: And these two women had no prior criminal record?

Mr. JOYNER: Yeah.

MARTIN: So what was the justification for a sentence of that length?

Mr. JOYNER: It is, under state law, an option that was available to the jury. I've talked to the prosecutor in that case. He said that he did not push for life in prison, although he did inform the jury that that was an option that was available to them. And even he seems a little perplexed as to why they chose life in prison.

MARTIN: What's the argument at this point? Is this just excessive? Is it that, are they arguing that they, ineffective assistance of counsel? Are they arguing just for clemency?

Mr. JOYNER: I think that the argument for releasing them is that the sentence was out of order with the crime. And I think that their lack of a prior criminal history plays into it, the fact that the people who did the sort of active robbing, the three men, they've long since served their sentences and have been released. And again, I should point out, the sisters themselves still profess that they're innocent of the crime.

MARTIN: Is there anyone arguing against clemency at this point? Is there anyone arguing that their sentence is appropriate and that they should serve it out?

Mr. JOYNER: Well I've spoken with a spokesman for the governor and they haven't said that anything about whether the sentence was appropriate, inappropriate. What he has said is that the governor doesn't want to overturn a jury verdict. This is probably what stands in the way of a pardon for the Scott sisters which is what a lot of advocates have pushed for. I don't think that that appears very likely, because Governor Barbour, I just don't think wants to overturn a jury verdict that way.

MARTIN: How big of a deal is this case? You mentioned in your reporting that it's gotten a lot of national attention from some national columnists, like for example, Bob Herbert of The New York Times. But what about locally, I mean do people - are people engaged by this, disturbed by this?

Mr. JOYNER: Certainly and more so in recent years. We first started writing about it some seven or eight years ago thanks largely to the efforts of the Scott sisters' mother. It's been somewhat of a phenomenon on the internet and social media. A lot of blogs, particularly blogs that are centered on African-American issues have seized upon this as an injustice in the criminal justice system.

MARTIN: And why is that? Why do people feel race plays a role in this?

Mr. JOYNER: I think that...

MARTIN: Because the two women are African-American?

Mr. JOYNER: Yeah, the two women are African-American, in fact everyone involved in the case is African-American, the victims - the other co-conspirators are African-American. In Mississippi race is part of the local politics and I think that some people do believe that race is a factor, that if these were white women that they wouldn't be in this situation. Some people believe that if they were able to afford perhaps more effective counsel they wouldn't be in this situation.

MARTIN: Hm, what's the next step here?

Mr. JOYNER: Well, right now the Mississippi Parole Board, under the direction of Governor Barbour is reviewing the case. At some point here and I would assume in the near future the sisters individually will be brought up before the Parole Board and interviewed and then the Board will submit its recommendation to the governor as to whether or not the women should have the remainder of their sentences commuted or offered some sort of parole. And that is probably in the not too distant future there will be that recommendation coming.

MARTIN: Chris Joyner is a reporter for the Clarion Ledger that's based in Jackson, Miss. and he was kind enough to join us from there. Chris, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. JOYNER: My pleasure.

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