Marie Scott does not want to be called by her given name. She prefers Mechie. Her name rhymes with Peachie, as in Sharon “Peachie” Wiggins. Peachie died on March 24, 2013 at the age of 62 after being incarcerated since she was 17 in 1968. In fact, originally sentenced to death, Peachie spent two and half years on death row along with her 17- and 18-year-old male co-defendants. Mechie joined Peachie at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy in Pennsylvania in 1973, charged with murder in the first degree, aggravated robbery and conspiracy, at the age of 19. Mechie and Peachie’s friendship soon developed into soul sisters and soldier sisters. Peachie was the consummate friend and leader who selflessly shared her refined value system, spirit and grace throughout Muncy. Mechie embraced Peachie’s ethics and wisdom and grew up to be an equal to Peachie. Sadly, Mechie must carry the torch once held by Peachie, alone but with strong determination to gain her deserved second chance.
Mechie has spent 40 years incarcerated at Muncy. I met her for the first time on March 25, 2013, when I went to Muncy to find out what had happened to Peachie and to offer and receive comfort from Mechie and another woman serving life. I had been writing and visiting Peachie for a little more than two years.
My life revolved around Peachie. I reached out to her friends and to lifers advocacy groups to learn more about commutation and juvenile life without parole, and she guided me and taught me about case law. We were so hopeful that she would be released when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 abolished mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles in Miller v. Alabama. But Peachie died while waiting for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule on retroactivity of the Miller decision. I, like so many of her friends and advocates, was devastated by her death and missed opportunity for freedom. Prior the Miller ruling, Peachie was viewed by all at Muncy to be the most deserving of commutation. She applied 13 times. The women would say, “She did it all, tried 13 times and was turned down. Why should I try for commutation?” In fact, since 1971, only nine women have received commutation from a life sentence. I doubt I’d try.
I was aware of Mechie from other advocates who spoke highly of her, and I had wanted to meet her for quite some time. Any friend of Peachie’s was someone I wanted to meet. As an Official Visitor with the Pennsylvania Prison Society, I was able to visit Mechie on that cold, dark, sad day after Peachie died. Mechie and I never thought that our first meeting would be on such an overwhelmingly emotional occasion. We tried to cheer each other up and we vowed that we would not let the memory of Peachie fade. We would work to preserve her legacy.
Mechie didn’t tell me about her situation until the next visit. Until she was 19, when she was sent to Muncie, Mechie’s reality was drugs, alcohol, physical and sexual abuse, prostitution, co-dependency, depression, mental illness, suicide, homelessness and being the mother of a four-year-old son. Her co-defendant was a 16-year-old boy. He shot and killed the gas station attendant during a robbery in Philadelphia. Mechie’s role was minimal. The robbery was to be carried out with a knife held by her co-defendant. But he found a gun while searching the gas station attendant, and the co-defendant took it. Mechie didn’t see the man get shot.
Later that same night, when the police arrived where she was staying, Mechie reportedly admitted to her role in the robbery. Both she and her co-defendant were convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole even though Mechie was not the killer and didn’t plan the robbery.
Mechie told me that when she first arrived at Muncy she couldn’t comprehend her sentence. Her trial transcripts show that the judge told her she would be released on parole at the discretion of the Pennsylvania State Board of Parole. Consequently, Mechie didn’t think she had a true life sentence. It was this understanding that gave her hope for relief all these years.
Mechie’s 19-year-old brain, like that of her 16-year-old co-defendant, was not developed enough to be sentenced to the harshest possible punishment. The Supreme Court decision in Miller was based on neuroscience research that found the brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s. And the parts of the brain that develop last are impulse control, risk assessment and moral reasoning. In addition, there are several Pennsylvania statutes that define the end of childhood as anywhere from 17 to 21 years of age. For these reasons, Mechie is fighting for her freedom.
I believe that Mechie has served her time and deserves to live the rest of her life outside the prison walls of SCI Muncy. As Mechie likes to say, “I’ve been here since dirt was discovered.” It’s time to let her discover the free world she has not seen for 40 years.