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Jailed Mississippi sisters freed for kidney donation

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Scott sisters celebrate freedom
  • NEW: The sisters are looking forward to seeing their children
  • NEW: "They got to get to know us and we got to get to know them," says one
  • The two sisters spent 16 years in prison for armed robbery
  • The governor suspended their sentences, saying one must donate a kidney to the other

Read more about this story from CNN affiliate WLBT.

(CNN) -- After 16 years behind bars in Mississippi, two sisters were released Friday on the condition that one donate a kidney to the other.

Gov. Haley Barbour suspended the sentences of Gladys Scott, 36, and Jamie Scott, 38, who were serving life sentences for armed robbery. Gladys agreed to donate a kidney to her sister, who according to their lawyer, is gravely ill.

"I haven't woke up. It's still a dream," said Jamie. "It's been a long, hard road, but we made it."

The freed sisters spoke to reporters in Jackson, Mississippi at a conference that felt like a celebration. Cheers erupted as they entered the room and their voices and eyes swelled with emotion as the sisters spoke.

They are heading to Pensacola, Florida, where their mother lives, to remain under the supervision of the Florida Department of Corrections parole office, said Suzanne Singletary, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

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The sisters said they are eager to see their families. Jamie has three children and two grandchildren. Gladys has two daughters, now 22 and 15. She was pregnant with the youngest when she was sent to prison.

"We don't have a mother and daughter relationship. It's very new and very strange -- me and her ... She know I'm her mother, but she never been around me," Gladys told CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

"They got to get to know us and we got to get to know them," she said about both her and her sister's children.

The freed sisters drove out of the prison compound in Pearl, just outside of Jackson, at about 9 a.m. Friday.

Their attorney, Chokwe Lumumba, said the sisters would seek a pardon from the state.

"We're not going to lay down the guns. We're going to keep fighting in order to get them totally exonerated," he said. "We expect it to come by pardon but it could come by court action if necessary."

Lumumba said Jamie was gravely ill and needs a transplant right away.

"She is in bad shape as far as her kidneys are concerned," he said. She's level five, the highest level of renal failure and needs the kidney, no question."

Barbour said last week it "should be scheduled with urgency." And Jamie, herself, told CNN she feared at one point that she would die in prison.

However, Lumumba said that Gladys has not yet been tested to determine whether her kidney is a compatible match. If she is not a match, Gladys said she did not believe she would be sent back to prison. It was not immediately clear what would happen if she simply changed her mind, but it seemed unlikely she would have to return.

"I'm praying to God I'm a match," said Gladys. "I want her to raise her grandkids with me."

Each of the Scott sisters got two life sentences after they were convicted by a jury of robbing two people near the town of Forest.

Although they would have been eligible for parole in 2014, the Department of Corrections "believes the sisters no longer pose a threat to society" and their incarceration was no longer necessary for rehabilitation, Barbour said in a statement last week.

Jamie's kidney dialysis treatment creates a substantial cost to the state, said Barbour.

Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps, who agreed with the decision to suspend the sentences, said the three-times-a-week dialysis cost the state about $190,000 a year.

Lumumba said Gladys had previously offered to make the kidney donation, an idea the sister echoed.

"I was willing to give it to her. He didn't even have to put that in the order 'cause I was going to do that anyway," said Gladys. "I love my sister."

The announcement pleased the NAACP and other civil rights advocates, who have pressed for the sisters' release in rallies and at other forums.

"We have checked one box off our list. And we're still working that list, " NAACP President Benjamin Jealous told reporters. He said the sisters still need medical attention and a pardon.

Lumumba contends his clients were not involved in the robbery and that there were discrepancies in testimony. The convictions and sentences were upheld in 1996 by the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

In 1993, Gladys and Jamie Scott were arrested and charged with leading two men into an ambush in Scott County, according to CNN affiliate WLBT. Court records show the men were robbed by three teenagers who hit them with a shotgun and took their wallets. The robbers netted between $11 and $200.

According to The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, Mississippi, the sisters had pleaded not guilty as accessories but were convicted of armed robbery, while the three accomplices received lesser sentences and had since been released.

"The governor granted us our first step and we are grateful for that," said Jamie, her sister next to her, nodding in agreement. "The fight is not over until our name is cleared."