Haley Barbour Frees Sisters Sentenced to Life for Stealing $11

After controversial racial remarks, Mississippi governor earning praise of the NAACP

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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, still stinging from the rebukes over his now-infamous Civil Rights, has decided to suspend indefinitely the life sentences of two sisters who were convicted of stealing $11--and who happen to be black. The curious fine print of the reprieve? One sister must give her kidney to the other, who is suffering from renal failure.

Jamie and Gladys Scott were convicted in 1994 of armed robbery for hitting two men over the head with a shotgun and stealing $11 from them. "Civil rights activists hailed the latest development and had long rallied around the women, who are black, arguing that their unusually long sentences were motivated by race," AOL's Mara Gay reports. Barbour said the sisters were no longer a threat to society, plus Jamie's dialysis was super expensive--costing the state $200,000 a year. But some are arguing that the beneficiaries of this decision include not just the Scott sisters and state coffers, but Barbour himself.

  • Everybody Wins! Gawker's Hamilton Nolan writes. "Mississippi saves money. The NAACP praises the hell out of Haley Barbour. And Haley Barbour is able to satisfy his natural and inherent need to help black people, which exists in him independent of any outside political considerations."
  • A Little External Pressure, Eastsidekate writes at Shakesville. "Judging from the press release, I'm willing to bet that community pressure was the reason Barbour granted the Scott Sisters their freedom."
  • How Did This Happen? Allen Johnson at Greensboro News Record. "The sisters obviously broke the law and deserved punishment. But two life sentences? What could the jury have been thinking?"
  • Staying Tough on Crime, Slate's Dave Weigel observes. The Scott case was one "that the NAACP had publicized for years, and Barbour, who has not often used his pardon power like this, makes quite the gesture to black voters. ... I can't immediately find many or any examples of a condition like this [kidney donation]. ... It strikes me as a unique way for a potential presidential candidate to use clemency without looking soft on crime."
  • Nice Timing, William Fisher writes at The Huffington Post. "Conveniently, the Governor's decision in the Scott case came just a day before his meeting with NAACP President Ben Jealous and Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson. ... Surely freeing the Scotts is intended to burnish Barbour's credentials as a fair-minded, color-blind son of the New South. That is seen as a 'must do' if Barbour is serious about seeking the Oval Office in 2012. He cannot even be a contender without some of the black and brown votes won by Obama in 2008."
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