It’s been nearly 30 years since Pamela Smart was sentenced to life in prison for being an accomplice in the 1990 murder of her husband, Gregg. Since then, interest in one of New Hampshire’s most notorious murder cases has seemingly never waned, and the four then-teenage boys who confessed to being involved in the murder have been let out of prison.
This week, Smart, now 51, is making another attempt at freedom, using the only legal avenue she has left: Her attorney is petitioning Gov. Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire Executive Council to commute her life sentence and give her the possibility of parole.
“We’re a country that says we’re merciful, compassionate, we believe in redemption, we believe in rehabilitation, but there’s no alternative for someone who has proven that,” Smart said in a recent interview at the New York State prison where she’s being held. “I just feel that there’s a lot I could contribute outside of here. And for anybody who thinks I haven't suffered, I literally have spent my 20s, my 30s and my 40s and now going on my 50s in prison.”
“I don’t know how much suffering will ever be enough for people,” she said.
Smart was 23 years old when she was convicted in 1991 of conspiracy to commit murder, witness tampering, and being an accomplice to a first degree murder. She admitted that before her husband’s murder, she had an affair with then-15-year-old William Flynn. Flynn confessed to shooting and killing Gregg, and he testified that Smart told him to kill her husband, because if they divorced, she would lose everything. Smart disputes that account.
Smart is serving out her sentence at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum security women’s prison in New York. She’s exhausted all other legal options at this point. The only people who have the authority to reduce her sentence at this point are the governor and executive council, as outlined in the New Hampshire Constitution.
Smart is filing her more than 700 page petition with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office this week. It includes letters of support, a list of the work she’s done while in prison (including earning two master’s degrees) and summaries of the actions governors in other states have taken on similar commutation requests. It also includes a letter from Smart to Sununu, in which she writes that she is “praying that you withhold judgement until you and the Executive Councilors read my pleas and that mercy, compassion and fairness will guide your decision.”
In a statement, Sununu said the process for Smart’s petition “will be the same as any other commutation or pardon request.”
“Here in New Hampshire, we have a fair and thorough process, and it is important to let the process play out,” he said.
This is not the first time Smart has requested that a New Hampshire governor consider commuting her sentence. Smart’s attorney had submitted a very similar petition last year, but because it was so close to the election, and there would soon be a new executive council, it was taken off the agenda.
In past statements, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office has been unequivocal that Smart should stay in prison. In November, Associate Attorney General Jeff Strelzin wrote that Smart’s petition should be denied, as the “evidence of her guilt is overwhelming.”
“Despite the long-lasting results of her criminal conduct, [Smart] asserts that she deserves ‘mercy and compassion,’ something that she ensured was never shown the victim, her husband,” Strelzin wrote.
Smart has long maintained that she did not ask Flynn to kill her husband, but she said her position on her own responsibility in the crime has evolved over time. For many years after Gregg’s murder, she said she felt she wasn’t responsible for his death since she didn’t pull the trigger. But after many years of “doing a lot of work on myself,” Smart said, she came to the understanding that none of this would have happened if she had not had an affair with Flynn.
“It’s interesting that people say, ‘Oh, you know, she has no remorse, or whatever.’ I cannot have remorse for a crime that I did not commit, but I do have remorse for the bad choices that I made and the horrible decisions that contributed and lead to this. And like I said, even though I didn’t pull the trigger now, I’m responsible for his death,” Smart said.
It’s unclear when Sununu will ask the Executive Council to take up Smart’s petition.