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 22 and working as a high school media coordinator when she began an affair with a 15-year-old student who later shot and killed her husband, Gregory Smart. 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 asked a state council for 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 request in less than three minutes, prompting the appeal to state Supreme Court.
But the court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction on Wednesday, saying that ordering the council to reconsider what it deemed a “political” question would violate the separation of powers.
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“This ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court is a continuing disappointment that devastates our hopes for Pamela Smart finally receiving reasonable due process in the State of New Hampshire,” Smart’s spokeswoman, Eleanor Pam, said in an email.
The state attorney general’s office has opposed Smart’s commutation requests — there have been three denied by the council since 2005 — 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 last 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.
Smart’s longtime attorney, Mark Sisti, argued that the council simply didn’t make Smart’s case a priority and instead “brushed aside” her chance at freedom. Sisti said the elected council did not spend any time poring over Smart’s voluminous petition — which included many letters of support from inmates, supervisors and others — or even discuss it before rejecting her request.
Gov. Chris Sununu, who brings forth matters for the council to consider, had the option of putting the commutation request on the agenda, and did so, 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 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. 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 also was in court to hear Smart’s case last month and designed the T-shirts, is a former inmate at Bedford who said she could talk to Smart about the law and that Smart helped her through setbacks, both legal and personal. She said Smart deserved a hearing.
Vanessa Santiago first met Pamela Smart in 2003 as a fellow prison inmate in New York, working with her as a teacher’s aide and participating with her in an arts rehabilitation program. When Santiago was released from the maximum security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York in 2020, she continued to stay in touch with Smart and support 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 in an interview with The Associated Press.
Smart can refile a petition with the council every two years.