The Head of the Serpent.

Via Jamilah King at ColorLines, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi has decided to suspend the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott, two women who were sentenced to life in prison for an armed robbery in 1994. Their release is contingent upon Gladys Scott giving a kidney to her sick sister, which she has already said she would do. Most civil rights groups saw the sentences as unnecessarily draconian, and it’s hard to see how they’re at all just. While many are praising Barbour, King rightly points out that this could be a cynical political move to cover his tracks after he praised a white supremacist organization. Race obviously played a role in their sentencing; I’m not sure I have a huge problem with a white politician’s mea culpa playing a role in their justified release.*

More than that, though, it’s hard not to wonder whether gender played a role here, too. According to news reports, the Scott sisters lured two men down a road to be robbed by three young assailants with a shot gun. The men confessed and implicated the sisters, who were 19 and 21 at the time. But the women always said their car broke down and they caught a ride with the assailants, but split before the crime occurred because the men were sexually harassing them, their lawyer has said.

Anything that involves women, sex and crime is going to draw a particular ire. Dahlia Lithwick wrote about the execution of Teresa Lewis, who became the first woman put to death in Virginia in a century in September, and noted that, while women are rarely sentenced to death, they are more often when the crime involves a transgression against gender norms, namely killing a husband or a child. In the Lewis case, using sex to lure men to kill her husband inspired a particularly noteworthy metaphor from the judge, who called her the “head of this serpent.” While the Scott case doesn’t explicitly involve this kind of “bad wife” or “bad mother” transgression, they were still young women who allegedly got involved in a crime in a particular way; they allegedly trapped men into being robbed by other men.

Whatever the case, it’s another lesson in how not over racism the South is. “It’s the Old South,” [their brother] Willy Scott said. “Don’t be fooled, it hasn’t changed very much. The only difference now is they mask it better.”

*They’re not entirely pardoned: a suspended sentence usually includes a period of time during which certain conditions must be met, or defendants risk returning to jail to finish all or part of the suspended sentence.