Saturday, October 16, 2010

From the Land of Emmett Till: New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Asserts Gov. Haley Barbour Could Free Mississippi Scott Sisterrs

Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has to decide whether to show mercy to two sisters, Jamie and Gladys Scott, who are each serving double consecutive life sentences in state prison for a robbery in which no one was injured and only $11 was taken.

“This should be an easy call for a law-and-order governor who has, nevertheless, displayed a willingness to set free individuals convicted of far more serious crimes. Mr. Barbour has already pardoned four killers and suspended the life sentence of a fifth,” Herbert writes.

The Scott sisters, African Americans have been in prison for 16 years. Jamie, now 38, is seriously ill. Both of her kidneys have failed. "Keeping the two of them locked up any longer is unconscionable, grotesquely inhumane," Herbert writes.

The sisters were accused of luring two men to a spot outside the rural town of Forest, Miss., in 1993, where the men were robbed by three teenagers, one of whom had a shotgun. The Scott sisters knew the teens. The evidence of the sisters’ involvement has always been ambiguous, at best. The teenagers pleaded guilty to the crime, served two years in prison and were released. All were obliged by the authorities, as part of their plea deals, to implicate the sisters.

No explanation has ever emerged as to why Jamie and Gladys Scott were treated so severely. Persons close to the family have said this resulted from an ongoing fight between their father and the county sheriff, however.

In contrast, Governor Barbour has been quite willing to hand get-out-of-jail-free cards to men who unquestionably committed shockingly brutal crimes. The Jackson Free Press, an alternative weekly, and Slate Magazine have catalogued these interventions by Mr. Barbour.

"Some Mississippi observers have characterized the governor’s moves as acts of mercy; others have called them dangerous abuses of executive power."

The Mississippi Department of Corrections confirmed Governor Barbour’s role in the five cases, noting that the specific orders were signed July 16, 2008:

• Bobby Hays Clark was pardoned by the governor. He was serving a long sentence for manslaughter and aggravated assault, having shot and killed a former girlfriend and badly beaten her boyfriend.

• Michael David Graham had his life sentence for murder suspended by Governor Barbour. Graham had stalked his ex-wife, Adrienne Klasky, for years before shooting her to death as she waited for a traffic light in downtown Pascagoula.

• Clarence Jones was pardoned by the governor. He had murdered his former girlfriend in 1992, stabbing her 22 times. He had already had his life sentence suspended by a previous governor, Ronnie Musgrove.

• Paul Joseph Warnock was pardoned by Governor Barbour. He was serving life for the murder of his girlfriend in 1989. According to Slate, Warnock shot his girlfriend in the back of the head while she was sleeping.

• William James Kimble was pardoned by Governor Barbour. He was serving life for the murder and robbery of an elderly man in 1991.

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