Seeking to repair damage from remarks that were ripped for insensitivity to the Jim Crow era in his Mississippi hometown, Gov. Haley Barbour acceded Wednesday to a long-running bid by the NAACP to free two sisters imprisoned on armed robbery charges in 1994, the civil rights group said late Wednesday.
Barbour, who said in a magazine article published earlier this month that he didn't remember the civil rights revolution as "being that bad" and downplayed the discriminatory role of his native Yazoo City's Citizens Council, agreed to suspend indefinitely Jamie and Gladys Scott's sentences, which the NAACP has long said could have been tainted by racism.
Both women were sentenced to double life sentences after convictions in an armed robbery over their denials of any involvement. According to the NAACP, Barbour has agreed to suspending Gladys Scott's sentence on the condition she donate her kidney to Jamie Scott, who is suffering from kidney failure that requires dialysis.
"The Mississippi Department of Corrections believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society," Barbour said in a statement. "Their incarceration is no longer necessary for public safety or rehabilitation, and Jamie Scott's medical condition creates a substantial cost to the State of Mississippi."
The two women were convicted in a case involving an ambush that relieved the victim of $11. Their convictions and sentences were affirmed by the state's Court of Appeals in 1996. Barbour said, "The Mississippi Parole Board reviewed the sisters' request for a pardon and recommended that I neither pardon them, nor commute their sentence. At my request, the Parole Board subsequently reviewed whether the sisters should be granted an indefinite suspension of sentence, which is tantamount to parole, and have concurred with my decision to suspend their sentences indefinitely."
The NAACP said national president Ben Jealous hand-delivered a pardon request to Barbour in September, and that Barbour's leniency announcement came hours before a meeting this morning between Jealous, Barbour, and Mississippi NAACP president Derrick Johnson, who last month said Barbour's remarks demonstrated the governor's lack of understanding about the lingering consequences of the Jim Crow era.
Barbour's 2012 presidential stock has plunged since the Weekly Standard article, and the governor later clarified his comments about the Citizens Council, calling the group "indefensible."