Sisters Leave Prison Under Kidney Sharing Deal

sisters kidney transplant CBS

Last Updated 4:27 p.m. ET

PEARL, Miss. - Two imprisoned sisters whose life sentences were suspended on the condition that one donates a kidney to the other have been released from a Mississippi prison.

Jamie and Gladys Scott, who have been been incarcerated for 16 years, left the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in an SUV and waved to reporters early Friday.

"We're free," they yelled. "God bless y'all."

An afternoon news conference for the sisters in Jackson was attended by dozens of supporters. Many cheered. Some sang. A few cried.

The sisters - Jamie wearing pink, Gladys wearing purple - sat smiling at a table, their hands clasped before them as their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, thanked a list of advocacy groups who worked for their release.

"We just totally blessed. We totally blessed," Gladys Scott said. "It's been a long, hard road, but we made it."

Gladys said she learned about her release on television.

"I just started screaming and hollering. I'm still screaming and hollering," she said.

Jamie said she looked forward to moving on her with her life and doubted at times she'd ever be free, but she leaned on her faith.

"My sister been saying all day, 'You don't look well,"' she said. "I haven't woke up. It's like a dream."

Jamie said the reality of the situation will probably sink in when she sees her grown children, who were young kids when they went to prison. She said she would have a dialysis treatment Saturday morning in Florida.

The sisters are moving to Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle to live with their mother. They hope to qualify for government-funded Medicaid insurance to pay for the transplant and for 36-year-old Jamie Scott's dialysis, which officials said had cost Mississippi about $200,000 a year. A few doctors have expressed interest in performing the transplant, but there are no firm plans yet.

Gov. Haley Barbour agreed to release her because of her medical condition. But 38-year-old Gladys Scott's release order says she must donate the kidney within one year.

The idea to donate the kidney was Gladys Scott's, and she volunteered to do it in her petition for early release.

The sisters' attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said the first thing they want to do is eat a good meal.

"And you know how women are. They want to get some clothes," he said.

Lumumba spoke in an open field used for law enforcement training just across a highway from the prison on a cold winter morning.

A news helicopter circled over the massive prison complex, which sits on a rural stretch of highway in Pearl in central Mississippi.

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said the state will supply them with 30 days of medication. Jamie Scott was scheduled to have a dialysis treatment Thursday at the prison.

Epps said once the sisters are in Florida, local probation officials will take over their case.

Jo Ellyn Rackleff, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections, said officials there expect the women to report Monday, but they may come in sooner and they have until Jan. 18.

They'll have to report to probation officers for the rest of their lives, reports CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella.

Lumumba said the women hope to get government-funded Medicaid health insurance in Florida and begin the needed steps to make the transplant happen.

Lumumba said a few doctors have expressed an interest in performing the kidney transplant, but there are no firm plans yet. And the sisters need to undergo testing to make sure they are compatible.

Some medical experts said the arrangement for the sisters' release raises legal and ethical concerns, but their supporters say Gladys Scott wants to try to save her sister's life.

For instance, the condition could be interpreted as trading an organ for freedom, which could violate federal laws against selling organs, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

The American Society of Transplantation called Friday for Barbour to issue a formal statement saying the transplant will no longer be tied to the women's early release from prison.

"The decision to donate an organ should be a truly selfless act, free from coercion and not conditioned on financial or any other material gain," the group's president, Dr. Maryl R. Johnson, said in a statement.

The Scott sisters' surroundings in Pensacola will be a far cry from the tall fences and concertina wire that wrap the perimeter of the prison along a rural state road near a police academy and mental hospital. The facility houses male and female inmates under conditions ranging from minimum- to maximum-security.

The two women have been held recently in different parts of the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, and it's unlikely they had much interaction in the sprawling complex of 13 housing units on 171 acres.

The Scotts were convicted in 1994 of leading two men into an ambush in central Mississippi the year before. The robbery didn't net much; amounts cited have ranged from $11 to $200.

Mitchell Duckworth, one of the women's victims, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Thursday that he believes the sisters planned the robbery. He remembered it as a terrifying experience in which he was assaulted with a shotgun, and said he's thankful to be alive.

"I just really don't even want to think about that anymore," he said.

Still, Duckworth said, he thinks the women have served enough time for the crime and wasn't concerned with them being released.

"I think it's all right as long as they've been there," Duckworth said.

National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who says the women's double life sentences were the result of prejudice in the judicial system, has called Barbour's decision to suspend the sentences "a shining example" of the power of clemency.

The NAACP said Thursday in statement attributed to Jealous that he shares concerns about the condition of release, but right now he's focused on the sisters "getting the freedom they have won, the health care they need and ultimately the full pardon they deserve."

The Scott sisters' attorney and advocacy groups have long cited $11 as the amount taken in the robbery, though there's been some dispute about exactly how much was stolen. The lower amount has been used to illustrate that the crime did not merit the life sentences the women received.

However, one of the victims in the case testified that he was robbed of about $200. A 14-year-old boy involved in the crime testified that his cut was between $9 and $11. Lumumba says the $11 amount trumpeted by advocacy groups is based on the indictment, which says they stole "in excess of $10."

Whatever the case, the sisters' supporters say the life sentences were excessive. The sisters are black, and their case has been a cause celebre in the state's African-American community.
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