Gov. Haley Barbour has pardoned Gladys and Jamie Scott, black women whose case has been a cause celebre among civil rights activists. But to be released, Gladys, 36, must donate a kidney to her 38-year-old sister, Jamie, who requires dialysis and needs a transplant.
There was no grumbling about the odd condition of the Scotts' release. Their lawyer called the governor's decision a victory and noted that Gladys Scott had already planned to donate a kidney to her sister.
The women had each served 16 years of their sentences and were eligible for parole in 2014, but state prison officials said they no longer considered them a threat to the public. In 1994, the pair were sentenced to life terms after they were convicted of armed robbery for hitting two men in the head with a shotgun in Forest, Miss., and stealing $11.
Civil rights activists hailed the latest development and had long rallied around the women, arguing that their unusually long sentences were motivated by race.
NAACP President Ben Jealous tweeted his approval Wednesday night. "Spoke to Governor Barbour today, The Scott Sisters will be freed!!!!" he wrote. In an rare moment, the NAACP president praised the governor outright. "This is a shining example of how governors should use their commutation powers," he told The Washington Post. Earlier this year, activists marched on the state Capitol to push for the women's' release.
The women are expected to be released within the next 45 days.
Barbour, who is considering a run for president in 2012, announced news of the sisters' parole only days after his comments about the civil rights movement sparked anger. In an interview with The Weekly Standard, Barbour credited the white Citizens Council with helping to rid his hometown of Yazoo City, Miss., of the Ku Klux Klan. White Citizens Councils were civic organizations created to prevent racial integration. Barbour later backtracked and called the groups -- along with their opposition to integration -- "indefensible."