CONCORD — Pamela Smart will have to wait until next year to have the Executive Council hear her latest appeal for clemency in connection with one of New Hampshire’s most sensational murder cases.
The five-member council was scheduled to take up Smart’s petition for commutation of sentence on Wednesday, but the item was pulled from the agenda at the last minute by Gov. Chris Sununu.
That action came on Tuesday after all five councilors agreed that the request for a hearing on Smart’s petition should be resolved by the newly elected council that takes office in January.
“When determining whether a pardon request hearing should be held, the practice of my administration has been to defer to members of the Executive Council,” said Sununu. “Given the council’s unanimous request, I am withdrawing this item from the agenda.”
The Attorney General’s office has filed an 88-page letter in opposition to the request for a hearing. According to the letter from Associate Attorney General Jeffrey Strelzin, director of the division of public protection, Smart was properly convicted to a life behind bars and that’s where she should stay.
Smart is not asking for a pardon, but a modification of her sentence to eliminate the requirement that she serve life “without the possibility of parole.” If the sentence can be commuted in that way, she hopes to some day apply for parole.
Smart was convicted by a Rockingham County jury in 1991 of accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and tampering with a witness, in connection with the shooting death of her 24-year-old husband of less than a year, Gregory Smart.
Now 51, she remains behind bars at the maximum-security women’s prison in Bedford Hills, New York.
Jurors found her guilty of orchestrating her husband’s murder with the help of a 15-year-old lover and three of his teenage friends, who tried to make the fatal shooting look like a botched robbery. The plot unraveled and the ensuing trial attracted worldwide interest.
A website, pamelasmart.com, is maintained by Eleanor Pam, a professor at the City University of New York with a particular focus on incarcerated women. She served as Smart’s academic mentor while the former media specialist for the Hampton area school district earned two master’s degrees behind bars.
“The boys who admitted killing her husband are all free. She, who has consistently denied any role in that murder — either directly or indirectly — is not — and will never be free for the rest of her natural life unless the relief she seeks is granted,” said Pam. “She has been incarcerated in a maximum security prison since she was only 22 years of age. It is now 28 years later. Pamela Smart has spent more than half her life behind bars.”
Pam cites exhibits, letters and supporting statements that comprise much of the Smart petition, saying they “attest to her character and document Pamela Smart’s many contributions while incarcerated.”
“She deserves a full hearing on her petition,” she said.
In a strongly worded response, Strelzin disagrees, writing, “The petitioner claims that the process and evidence that led to her conviction was unfair; that is not true. What is unfair is that Greg Smart died at the hands of a young boy who was manipulated by the petitioner to carry out a murder for her own selfish reasons.”
Smart appealed her conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. She filed her first petition for commutation in 2004 and started the process for the current petition in February of this year.
Given the volume of information to digest, and with only two of the five incumbent councilors returning next year, the decision was made to let the new council take up the issue.
“The question is whether we should give her a hearing, then after holding the hearing, vote on relief,” said Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord. “Joe (Kenney), David (Wheeler) and Chris (Pappas) won’t be around long enough to go through that entire process, and it would make no sense for them to vote for a hearing and then three new councilors have to attend it.”