New Hampshire’s highest court on Wednesday turned away the latest attempt to get a sentence reduction for Pamela Smart, who is serving life in prison for plotting with her teenage lover to have her husband killed in 1990.
Smart, 55, was a 22-year-old high school media coordinator when she began an affair with a 15-year-old student who later shot and killed her husband, Gregory Smart. He was freed in 2015 after serving a 25-year sentence. Though she denied knowledge of the plot, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes and sentenced to life without parole.
Having exhausted her judicial appeal options, Smart returned for a third time to an elected state council, seeking a sentence reduction hearing last year. The five-member Executive Council, which approves state contracts and appointees to the courts and state agencies, rejected her latest request in less than three minutes, prompting another appeal to state Supreme Court.
The justices dismissed the petition Wednesday, saying it would violate the separation of powers to order the council to reconsider a “political" question.
“This ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court is a continuing disappointment that devastates our hopes for Pamela Smart finally receiving reasonable and fair process in the State of New Hampshire,” Smart’s spokeswoman, Eleanor Pam, said in an email.
She added that Smart “has never been given the opportunity to be heard or allowed to make her case directly. Pamela Smart is fully rehabilitated and is no danger to society.”
The state attorney general’s office has opposed commutation for Smart, saying she has never accepted full responsibility for the crimes.
Smart, who has earned two master’s degrees behind bars, tutored fellow inmates, been ordained as a minister and is part of an inmate liaison committee, said in her latest petition that she is remorseful and has been rehabilitated. She apologized to Gregory Smart’s family, though relatives said she has failed to take full responsibility.
A cousin of Gregory Smart was glad to hear of the court's dismissal.
“She has had more than her fair share of being heard,” Val Fryatt said. “It is not easy for us. We are coming up on 33 years without Gregg, and never once has she admitted her part, so I am unsure how she is rehabilitated. Gregg is the true victim in all of this. Pamela needs to admit what she did not only for my family’s sake but for her family’s sake, as well.”
Smart’s longtime attorney, Mark Sisti, argued that the elected council “brushed aside” her chance at freedom, spending no time discussing her voluminous petition — which included many letters of support from inmates, supervisors and others — before rejecting her request.
“We will not stop our attempts to free Pam Smart,” Sisti said in a statement. Smart can refile a petition with the council every two years.
As governor, Chris Sununu brings forth matters for the council to consider, and did put the commutation request on the agenda, argued Laura Lombardi, senior assistant attorney general. She said there is no requirement for the governor and council to create rules regarding the process.
The trial was a media circus and one of America's 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. The killer, William Flynn, and three other teens cooperated with prosecutors, served shorter sentences and have been released.
In February, several of Smart’s supporters traveled to New Hampshire to hear the court discuss the case, wearing pink T-shirts with the words “Enough is Enough.”
Kelly Harnett, 41, who designed the T-shirts, did time with Smart at the maximum security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. She said Smart helped her through legal and personal setbacks, and deserves a hearing.
Vanessa Santiago also met Smart in 2003 as a fellow inmate, working with her as a teacher’s aide and participating with her in an arts rehabilitation program. They stayed in touch after Santiago's release from Bedford in 2020, and she too supports her petition.
“Pamela is like an icon in a sense, meaning, she has life with no parole, and when things are tough, you remember Pamela,” Santiago said.