Pamela Smart, who is serving a life sentence for plotting with her teenage lover to have her husband killed in 1990 when they were living in New Hampshire, suffered her latest legal setback on Wednesday when the state’s highest court rejected her attempt to have her sentence reduced.
Ms. Smart, 55, who is serving her term in a New York prison, has exhausted her options for a legal appeal, and her attempts to petition New Hampshire’s Executive Council for a parole hearing have been unsuccessful.
Her longtime lawyer, Mark Sisti, has called those rejections political, and he said the council had “brushed aside” her claims of rehabilitation and her pleas for early release without a fair review.
Coming three years before the O.J. Simpson trial, Ms. Smart’s case was a video-driven sensation that spanned fact and fiction. It was one of the first fully televised murder trials, introducing the young defendant and her even younger co-conspirators to a national audience. It inspired the 1995 film “To Die For,” based on a book of the same name and starring Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix, as well as a television version starring Helen Hunt.
Ms. Smart has earned two master’s degrees behind bars, has tutored fellow inmates, has been ordained as a minister and is part of an inmate liaison committee.
“The death penalty would have been more merciful than this,” Ms. Smart said Wednesday in an email forwarded by a supporter. “Nothing will ever be enough for New Hampshire to say I am a human being deserving of anything more than being locked up in a cage like an animal for the rest of my entire life.”
Mr. Sisti asked the state’s Supreme Court in February to force the Executive Council to consider her petition for a sentence commutation, so she could appear before the parole board and request release.
The state attorney general’s office, which has opposed Ms. Smart’s commutation requests, saying she has never accepted full responsibility for the crimes, argued that Ms. Smart lacked the legal right to a hearing.
On Wednesday, the court dismissed Ms. Smart’s petition, citing its own lack of jurisdiction.
The court said that Ms. Smart had no constitutional right to commutation and that to mandate another review by the Executive Council would violate state rules on separation of powers.
Ms. Smart was a 22-year-old high school media coordinator when she began an affair with Billy Flynn, a 15-year-old student who later shot and killed her husband, Gregg Smart, in 1990.
Ms. Smart was not present at the killing and denied any knowledge of the murder plot. But she was charged with orchestrating the crime and convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes. She was sentenced to life without parole.
New Hampshire has long made Ms. Smart’s refusal to accept responsibility for the killing a key reason to oppose a commutation. But she said she had apologized to Gregg Smart’s family and called her remorse genuine and the result of years of introspection and spiritual evolution with the help of prison programs.
In recent years, Ms. Smart has been more outspoken in taking responsibility for the murder, which she says was the result of a chain of events set in motion by the “terrible judgment by an immature, selfish young woman” who began an affair with a 15-year-old.
But New Hampshire officials call her remorse a contrivance, and she has not gotten crucial support from Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican eyeing a 2024 presidential campaign.
Ms. Smart is now one of the longest serving female inmates in New York’s prison system, as an inmate in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for women just north of New York City where she was transferred in 1993 by New Hampshire officials, who cited “security reasons.”
In a recent prison interview, she called her sentence “death by incarceration.”
Ron Kuby, a longtime friend and supporter of Ms. Smart, said on Wednesday that he planned on representing Ms. Smart in applying to New York’s governor, Kathy Hochul, for clemency, on the grounds that she has been a de facto resident for three decades, incarcerated at taxpayer expense, and has the same rights as her fellow inmates.
In a statement on Wednesday, Mr. Sisti criticized New Hampshire’s decision and urged Mr. Sununu and the Executive Council to “have the backbone to sit across from Pam, eye-to-eye, and truly hold a legitimate review of her outstanding achievements, rehabilitation and redemption.”
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