Twenty-four years after Pamela Smart was convicted of conspiring in her husband’s murder — during a trial that gripped New Hampshire with scandalous revelations and was the first to be televised gavel to gavel — she hopes recurring questions about cameras in the courtroom will bring her a chance at freedom.
Smart, who still denies that she lured her teenaged lover into a plot to shoot her husband, got a life sentence with no opportunity for parole, while the actual killers could leave prison this year. She will try to convince New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan to commute her sentence — if only to allow her to appear before a parole board.
“I can either just give up or I can live, so if I’m going to live — which I am — then I have to do the best I can to fight the case, to stay healthy, to stay alive and to stay positive,” Smart said during an interview in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills, New York, a maximum security prison for women to which she was moved two years after her conviction.
New Hampshire's governor working with the state's Executive Council can grant pardons, but for now, sympathy from the governor seems unlikely. A spokesman for Hassan said she believed pardons should be considered only in cases where there has been a clear miscarriage of justice.
"In this case, the governor believes Pamela Smart was justly and fairly convicted for her crimes by a jury of her peers and that there has never been credible information presented to warrant consideration of a pardon or a commutation," the spokesman, William Hinkle, said.
An "Evil Seductress"
But Smart's case, which sparked the movie "To Die For" starring Nicole Kidman, is getting new attention because of a recent HBO documentary that raises doubts about whether her conviction was fair. “Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart" looks at the crush of press that descended on the Exeter, New Hampshire, courtroom for 14 days in 1991 and what effect the cameras and reporters had on the outcome.
During the trial, which foreshadowed those of Casey Anthony or Jodi Arias, she was portrayed as a 22-year-old femme fatale whose hold over then 16-year-old William Flynn led him to the couple’s Derry condominium on May 1, 1990. When Gregg Smart arrived home, one of Flynn’s friends, Patrick Randall, held a knife to Smart’s throat while Flynn shot him in the head, Flynn testified.
“She’s become the archetypal evil seductress,” said Eleanor Pam, a retired university professor who was Smart’s academic mentor when Smart received two master’s degrees in prison and whose husband is Smart's current lawyer.
Looking back, Smart said she did not know how the jury could not have been affected by the media’s fascination with the case — the daily live coverage by WMUR, a television station based in Manchester, the documentary the station produced that was broadcast days before jury selection began and the attention from shows such as “Geraldo” and “Hard Copy.”
The WMUR reporter, Bill Spencer, later appeared as himself in a television movie based on the killing, “Murder in New Hampshire.” In the fictionalized “To Die For” Kidman played a sociopath who would do anything for fame.
Were the trial to take place today, Smart said she believed safeguards would have been put in place to guard against media influence: sequestering the jury, postponing the trial’s start or moving it to a different county.
But the judge, Douglas Gray, ruled against sequestering the jury. One of the prosecutors, Paul Maggiotto, who did not respond to a request for comment, has said it would have been costly to put up the jurors throughout the trial.
“I think that's really sad when someone's life is at stake that they're worried about how much it would cost,” Smart said.
Caught on Tape
Named the Ice Princess by the media, Smart said that her lawyers told her repeatedly that they were going to try the case in court, not in the media.
"Which was a good idea in theory," she said, "but when the case is being tried in the court of public opinion regardless of how you want to try it, what happens is you have to defend yourself against that.”
In the end, too many accusations went unaddressed, leaving a depiction of her as a selfish, uncaring woman without friends, she said.
“It’s like trying to un-ring a bell or put toothpaste back in a tube,” she said. “It can’t happen. Once it’s out, it’s out. And so it was just there and it was unanswered. And to me that was very harmful.”
In interviews after the trial, jurors denied they were influenced by the coverage. For some of them, the most damning evidence was on tapes secretly recorded after the murder by another teenager, Cecelia Pierce, who like Flynn knew Smart from her job as director of media services at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton. The recordings are difficult to hear if not inaudible, leaving little context to what can be heard, but some of Smart’s statements stand out.
“If you tell the truth, you're gonna have to send Bill, you're gonna have to send Pete, you're gonna have to send J.R. and you're gonna have to send me to the [expletive] slammer for the rest of our entire life,” Smart told Pierce at one point, according to a transcript.
Smart said she was trying to draw Pierce out to find out whether Flynn had killed her husband. She had been warned that Pierce, who was under contract for $100,000 for a movie deal, would be wired, her supporters said.
“I was operating from a mind set where I wasn’t guilty and it didn’t matter what I did,” she said. “I would just have to explain later or something but I was very naive. I had no experience with the criminal justice system.”
She still thinks about her husband, about what their life together would have been like and whether they would have had children, she said. Before she became involved with Flynn, her husband had cheated on her, but they were trying to repair their relationship, she said. Gregg Smart was the first man she loved and she feels responsible for his death, she said.
“I had this relationship with Bill Flynn and he killed my husband and that’s something that I have to live with for the rest of my life,” she said. “That’s not something that’s easy to carry. That’s not something that just goes away over time.”
Smart has not seen the documentary, which was shown on HBO, because the prisoners have no access to the channel. But she said she was encouraged that others who have and who contacted her found it convincing.
The documentary is available on HBO Go until the end of next year.
“Captivated” shows Flynn testifying that he killed Gregg Smart for Pamela Smart, who feared losing her possessions in a divorce. He and his friends — Randall, and the two who waited in the car, Vance Lattime Jr. and Raymond Fowler — agreed to plea bargains in return for reduced charges.
Smart dismisses both accusations: She said that she had already told Flynn that their relationship was over and that as far as the possessions, she and her husband rented the condo and had not finishing paying for the furniture. The only money that she spent from her husband’s $140,000 life insurance went for his funeral, she said.
“There was nothing for me to gain by doing something so horrible,” she said.
Ricky Davis, an inmate who was at the Rockingham County Jail with Flynn and the others, said in the documentary that they were using cocaine before their testimony. Flynn, who broke down on the stand while describing how he killed Smart, told him drugs made him more emotional in court, Davis said.
One juror taped her reflections on a small voice recorder in the evenings and in the documentary she can be heard discounting Flynn’s testimony. “Crocodile tears,” she said. When she learned that Smart had been sentenced to life without parole, she said she would not have voted for a conviction.
She is not identified in the film, but a juror named Karen Sicard was cleared of wrongdoing after she was accused of trying to sell tape recordings to Smart’s appeal lawyer. Sicard could not be reached for comment.
Albert E. Scherr, a law professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a former defense lawyer, said that the tapes and Smart's affair were particular problems for her lawyers, whom he knows. He said he thought they did a good job with what they had to work with.
"You had to make more leaps of faith to believe she was innocent given what the evidence was than you had to believe she was guilty as a juror," he said.
Had he been the judge, he would have moved the trial to a different county to try to minimize press coverage though he also thought coverage before the trial was more problematic.
"It's a total pain administratively but compared with the right you're protecting, I think it's worth doing," he said.
Recalling the facts of the trial 24 years later accurately and objectively, especially following all of the books, television shows and movies it sparked, is impossible, he said.
"We no longer can access the factual information," he said. "It's lost somewhere in the past."
Life in Prison
Flynn and Randall are eligible for parole in June and both have been accepted into work-release programs. Flynn, whose lawyer declined a request for comment, has married in prison. The other men have already been freed.
In prison, Smart works as an HIV/AIDS counselor. Previously, for more than 20 years, she was a teacher's aide for inmates studying for their high-school equivalency degrees.
"It gives me a chance to give back to the community here,” she said.
Smart has had difficult years in prison. Two inmates beat her and broke her eye socket during a 1996 attack, leaving her with a metal plate in her face. She received a $23,875 settlement from New York state after the National Enquirer published photographs of her in sexy lingerie in 2003. Smart said that a corrections official raped her and took the pictures, which mimicked ones shown during her trial as evidence of her seduction of Flynn.
Smart's defenders said that the earlier photos were actually taken by Smart and her girlfriends and that a woman at the store where the film was developed gave them to Flynn's mother.
Smart has lost all of her legal appeals, but hopes “Captivated” might start to change attitudes about her.
“I don’t expect anybody to be waving banners to let me out of prison, but just be fair,” she said.
Gregg Smart's brother Dean told People magazine in the summer that he did not think Pamela Smart deserved to be freed. He continues to believe she is guilty, he said.
The film's director, Jeremiah Zagar, said he believed that Smart's trial was unfair.
"Ultimately our justice is in a way a barometer for our compass as a country," he said. "It’s our moral compass. This is how we determine right and wrong. When that system is flawed, it hurts our society in general."
Her mother, Linda Wojas, said she no longer believed that the legal system sought justice. And the media answers to no one, she said.
“My biggest fear is that I don’t live to see her released,” Wojas said.
—Brynn Gingras contributed to this report.