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)