Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gladys and Jamie Scott are freed from prison after serving 16 years of double life sentences

Mississippi's governor has agreed to free two sisters who served 16 years of a double life sentence for an armed robbery in which nobody was hurt and $11 was stolen.

Governor Haley Barbour said in a statement on Wednesday he was suspending indefinitely the sentences of Gladys and Jamie Scott in a case that has drawn national attention.

A condition of Gladys Scott's release is that she donate a kidney to her sister in an operation that should be performed urgently, the statement said, adding that Gladys had agreed to be a kidney donor for her sister, who requires dialysis.

The sisters were convicted of robbing at gunpoint two men driving them to a nightclub in Forest, north Mississippi, in 1993. They had no prior criminal record. Each was sentenced to two life terms.

"I have issued two orders indefinitely suspending the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott," Barbour said in a statement.

"The 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," Barbour said.

Supporters of the Scotts including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People questioned the role the women played in the crime and said the fact they are black played a role in the judge's decision to impose such harsh sentences.

"The presiding judge in the trial, Judge Marcus Gordon, has a history of racially biased rulings and even the prosecutor of the case" became an advocate for the sisters, said NAACP president Benjamin Jealous in a statement.

The sisters were eligible for parole in 2014. A release date will be determined by the state's Department of Corrections.

(Reporting by Leigh Coleman, editing by Matthew Bigg and Jerry Norton)

Friday, March 26, 2010

2010 Mississippi Project Report- Louisiana

Over winter break 2009-2010, thirteen CUNY law students went to Greenville, MS and New Orleans, LA to work with the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights, the Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) and the Innocence Project in New Orleans (IPNO).

Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights

Four students went to the Mississippi Workers’ Center for Human Rights in Greenville, Mississippi to work for Executive Director and Founder Jaribu Hill. The students worked on a broad range of issues, including criminal justice, housing rights, and environmental racism. The students tracked down, read and summarized original case transcripts from state archives, performed various legal research projects, and interviewed family members of a woman in prison to learn more about new evidence in her case and the conditions of her confinement. The students researched mistreatment under confinement, Mississippi clemency laws, the standard of review for domestic violence in the state of Mississippi as it relates to self-defense, and post-conviction relief with regards to ineffective assistance of counsel.

The students also researched, investigated and documented nearly 50 different properties owned or managed by a particular agency. This documentation may be used in a future class action lawsuit against the agency for maintaining residential properties that create unsafe and degrading living conditions. It may also be used to garner community support for a proposed city ordinance which raises the standards for housing conditions and requires landlords to meet certain obligations to ensure decent affordable housing in the city of Greenville.

Finally, students met with community organizer and founder of the Forrest County Environmental Support Team (FCEST), Sherri Jones in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. They participated in a tour of Hattiesburg, and learned of the 10+ year long struggle led by the African American community for monetary damages, medical care, and housing relocation. For years the community has been exposed to the chemical creosote, which was released through the pollution of a nearby creosote plant, originally run by the corporation Kerr-McGee. Exposure to the chemical has resulted in a high rate of cancer and stillbirths amongst the residents. FCEST is working with grassroots community activists throughout Mississippi who experienced the similar harm to their environmental and health and who are also fighting back against this form of systemic and institutional racism.

Orleans Public Defenders

One student worked with OPD on their Pre-Trial Detention Project. The Project is aimed at structurally enhancing representation between times of arrest and trial. The student conducted court visits three times a day for first appearances, as many jail visits possible between those court visits, supervised and trained law students to work in jails and at courts, and most importantly, trained law students about race, gender, and class power dynamics when working within the local court systems and its racialized populations.

Due to recent decisions in Louisiana courts, there has been a denial of substantive and procedural rights to anyone arrested. One of the responsibilities of a judge is to set bail for crimes charged. There are several considerations to be made when setting bail, such as the weight of the evidence against the arrestee and the ability of the person to pay the bail. However, the practice of many but not all of the directors of magistrate court is to deny the public defenders a chance to contest any portion of the police report, or gist. Essentially, the district attorney reads a police report to the judge or magistrate and then bail is set— without any of the statutorily defined information mentioned above about the arrestee. If the public defender tries to contest anything in the police report to ensure that the judge considers the weight of the evidence, they can be held in contempt. This has happened a few times already. This is one of the many structural problems that exist in the Orleans Parish and Louisiana Courts, and just one component of the Pre Trial Detention Project.

Innocence Project New Orleans

Several other students worked at the Innocence Project assisted attorneys and investigators with various projects. Three other students worked on a media assignment where they went to northern Mississippi to research people involved in a mid-1990's murder for which an IPNO client was convicted. They searched in newspaper archives for information regarding the crime, trial and conviction of the client.

Other students read and analyzed applications from prisoners seeking representation by IPNO. These students read the client’s application, located records pertinent to assessing the strength of the client’s case and prepared memoranda regarding potential next steps to take in the process of deciding whether to represent a particular applicant. They presented the applicant’s claims to IPNO attorneys, along with facts about the case, steps that could be taken to secure evidence or transcripts that would verify or contradict applicants' claims, and working conclusions regarding the potential value of pursuing a given case.

Students also gathered information for a Prosecutorial Misconduct survey. They researched potential cases of misconduct, gathering information such as counsel, judge, and docket numbers, by retrieving docketmasters from trial courts. All students wrote memoranda relaying their findings and analysis of the issues presented.