Woman in prison longer than any other in U.S. is freed
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
Reporter: Craig Smith
PERRYVILLE, Ariz (KGUN9-TV) - She's free.
Late Monday afternoon Betty Smithey walked out of Arizona State Prison in Perryville, a free woman---49 years after she went in for murdering a toddler.
It took an order from the Governor, the agreement of the Clemency Board, and Smithey's own willpower to set her free.
Betty Smithey had more time in prison than any other woman in the American prison system. Now that unwelcome title will go to someone else thanks to a ruling by the Clemency board.
As Clemency Board Chairman Jesse Hernandez adjourned the meeting the audience applauded as he said to Betty Smithey: "Congratulations. May God be with you."
Smithey thanked the Clemency board for the freedom she has not felt since prison bars closed behind her almost 50 years ago.
She was just past her teens, with a history of mental illness when she killed a toddler she'd been hired to baby sit.
Earlier in the meeting, she told the board how and why she began to turn her life around. The inspiration was a letter from the mother of the baby she killed. Nineteen years after the murder, the child's mother forgave her.
Smithey told the board: "If she could do that, it was my responsibility to try and become a better person than I was and ever since I received that letter I started slowly turning things around."
A long line of supporters testified she has turned her life around, from friends and relatives she has loving relationships with despite the prison walls, from the psychiatrist who says Smithey is free of the mental illness she displayed years before, to the U of A law professor who's represented her for 41 of her 49 years in prison.
Andy Silverman said, "I feel terrific. This is probably the best day of my professional life."
Becky Wilson is the niece who will take Smithey home and help her adjust to a world very different from the one she left in 1963.
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked her: "What's it been like for you through this whole process when you felt some hope and sat through the hearing and saw the outcome?"
Becky Wilson: "Actually I had faith right from the start. When we first heard we were having the initial hearing I was just in a relaxed atmosphere. It's time. I had faith it was gonna happen."
One person who might have applauded Betty Smithey's release was not at the prison to see it: The woman whose child Smithey killed--- the woman whose letter of forgiveness put Smithey on the road to repentance and release died 10 years ago.