CONCORD, NH (AP) — A lawyer for Pamela Smart, a former high school employee convicted of recruiting her teenage lover to kill her husband, is asking New Hampshire’s highest court to order a state council to hold a hearing on her request to reduce her life-without-word sentence.
Smart, 54, has been in prison for more than 30 years and now has to go through New Hampshire’s Executive Council for any change in her sentence. The council rejected her request for a hearing on March 23, the third time it has done so.
A petition filed Thursday by Mark Sisti, one of Smart’s lawyers during her trial in 1990, contends that her rights under the New Hampshire Constitution were violated when the council refused “to even consider her request for a hearing” on her petition.
Sisti said that refusal “is tantamount to a sentence of extermination as it prevents her from being deemed fit to return to society and thus forecloses any chance at having her sentence altered.”
Sisti notes that Smart has completed multiple academic degree programs and has served as a peer counselor, mentor, and teacher to other inmates. “Those charged with supervising her have indicated that her conduct and actions in prison warrant an opportunity to rejoin society,” it said.
Sisti has asked the state Supreme Court’s permission to argue the matter. The court has several options. It can deny Sisti’s petition. It can accept it and decide whether lawyers should submit briefs and prepare for oral arguments. It also can order that an answer to the petition be filed.
The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the pending litigation. Messages seeking comment were left with the five council members, two of whom had made brief comments before the council rejected Smart’s request in March.
“I have always been willing to review the case if new evidence came up to exonerate Pam Smart, or if there was a legal misgiving,” Councilor Joseph Kenney said in an email Friday to The Associated Press. “As much material that I have read over the years on this subject, I see no new evidence. Therefore, my position has not been changed for a pardon or commutation hearing.”
There was some discussion about Smart’s request back in March.
“I am absolutely convinced that there’s no evidence or argument” to grant a commutation request, councilor Janet Stevens said at the time. She cited the response from the attorney general’s office, saying Gregory Smart’s “loss of life and the impact on his family and friends far outweighs whatever adversity the petitioner has faced in prison.”
Councilor Cinde Warmington said a commutations request is “an extraordinary remedy” given under “extraordinary circumstances,” which she didn’t see in Smart’s petition.
Smart was 22 and working as a high school media coordinator when she began an affair with the 15-year-old student who shot and killed Gregory Smart in 1990. Although she denied knowledge of the plot, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes and sentenced to life without parole. The student, William Flynn, and three other teens cooperated with prosecutors, served shorter sentences, and have been released.
One thing that was different in her last petition is that Smart apologized to her husband’s family for the first time.
“I offer no excuses for my actions and behavior,” she said in a recorded statement that was sent as a DVD to the attorney general’s office in December. “I’m to blame.”
In the state’s response, Jeffery Strelzin, associate attorney general, wrote that Smart has told a false narrative for over 30 years, and just because she’s decided to change that now “does not mean that she has truly changed and fully acknowledged all the crimes she committed.” He said her acceptance of responsibility was “vague” and a family member of Gregory Smart said she wasn’t sure what Pamela Smart was apologizing for.
The trial was a media circus and one of the first high-profile cases about a sexual affair between a school staff member and a student. Joyce Maynard wrote “To Die For” in 1992, drawing from the Smart case. That inspired a 1995 film of the same name, starring Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix.
Flynn tested that Smart told him she needed her husband killed because she feared she would lose everything if they divorced. He said she threatened to break up with him if he didn’t kill Gregory Smart.