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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 12/31/10

Righting an Ugly Wrong: Compassion or Crass Politics

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Author 48774
Message Linn Washington

Barbour's initial statement announcing his action revealed concerns about the continuing cost of care for Jamie Scott who like her sister is held in Mississippi state prison for females frequently criticized for poor living conditions including its unsanitary medical facility.

The Scott sister's case has garnered international attention in the past year -" primarily through grass-roots activism via the internet after years of efforts to right-the-wrong by their mother and a Chicago area scholar-activist.

Some deny that Barbour released the Scott sisters to defuse controversy from his inaccurate and insensitive comments about the pro-segregationist Council citing his Administration's investigation of a request filed in September seeking a pardon for the women who've been separated from their children since their incarceration.

Rather true compassion or crass politics the juxtaposition of Barbour's comment and his Scott action is curious. A gubernatorial predecessor of Barbour rejected a pardon request for the Scotts in 2000.

This Scott sisters' case again exposes a scandal in the U.S. justice system that hides in plain sight.

That scandal is the reticence of appellate courts to correct violations of defendants' rights caused by misconduct of police like coercing fraudulent testimony and overzealous prosecutors pursuing punishment exceeding the severity of the crime.

Courts, when failing to protect defendants from law enforcement abuses, frequently hide behind the letter of the law to suppress the spirit of the law which is ensuring justice.

The Scott sisters, their family and supporters say the women's prosecution arose from a local sheriff's retaliation efforts against the refusal of the Scott sister's father to participate in payoffs to the Sheriff.

Even if the prosecutor in the Scott's case was totally unaware of the Sheriff's alleged corrupt entanglements (possible but improbable) that prosecutor could have taken a less strident stance in the case fraught with incongruities including conflicting accounts of events from the alleged victims and the true assailants.

Mississippi appellate courts found no errors in inactions by the defense attorney and actions by the prosecutor.

The Mississippi Court of Appeals brushed off claims of error by the prosecutor in its 1996 ruling upholding the Scott's conviction. That Court stated that although the prosecutor engaged in eight instances of improperly asking witnesses leading questions, there was "ample evidence even without the leading questions."

Additionally, Mississippi appellate courts saw no connection between the lackluster performance of the defense attorney for the Scotts -" who called no witnesses on their behalf -" and the fact that poor performances in other trials lead the Mississippi Supreme Court to suspend that lawyer in February 1996 -" two years after the Scotts' trial.

Mississippi authorities later stripped that lawyer of his license to practice law in that state.

Even more disturbing, the Mississippi Supreme Court curtly rejected three affidavits submitted on appeal detailing police misconduct"evidence confirming the Scott sisters' consistent claims of innocence.

One affidavit came from one of the three teen assailants who said the Sheriff threatened the trio with severe punishment if they did not finger the Scott sisters.

The Sheriff, the affidavit stated, promised life sentences in that state's infamous Parchman prison for the trio -" then aged 14-18-years-old. The Sheriff told that 14-year-old that adult inmates at Parchman would turn them into "women."

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Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple (more...)

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