After nearly three decades behind bars for plotting to kill her husband at their home, Pamela Smart is still proclaiming her innocence.
“I have been portrayed as [an] ice princess, a black widow, a killer, and none of those things could be further from the truth,” Smart told “20/20” in a new interview.
Smart's story made national headlines in the 1990s when she went to trial on charges she coerced her teenaged lover Billy Flynn into a plot to kill her 24-year-old husband Gregg Smart.
Pamela Smart’s trial took place before the high-profile trials of the Menendez brothers, John and Lorena Bobbitt and O.J. Simpson.
The trial was broadcast live on TV and it subsequently launched a media frenzy. A local New Hampshire TV station preempted daytime soap operas for trial coverage. The sensational event led to a made-for-TV movie, features in various true crime TV series in the U.S. and abroad, as well as the 1995 feature film "To Die For," starring Nicole Kidman.
Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday, Jan. 10 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
In March 1991, Pamela Smart was convicted of witness tampering, conspiracy to commit murder and being an accomplice to first-degree murder. Under New Hampshire law, the accomplice charge carried a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole. She was 23 years old at the time.
Smart, now age 52, has spent the last 29 years incarcerated and is currently at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Westchester County, New York.
“I wanted to be [a] mother and now I’ve lost all my years,” she said. “It seems like the whole world's passing by and, you know, I'm still here.”
Over the years, Smart has filed numerous appeals and lost each time. With all her appeals exhausted, she said it's difficult to hope she'll ever leave prison alive.
Through it all, her mother, Linda Wojas, has continued her crusade to fight for her daughter’s freedom.
“I just hope God lets me live long enough to see her free,” Wojas said in a new interview with “20/20.”
Pamela Smart’s time in prison was difficult from early on. In 1996, she was beaten by two inmates who left her with injuries so severe that she needed a metal plate to be inserted into the side of her face.
Since then, Smart has earned two master's degrees. She said she participates in a leadership team for the prison’s church and that she’s the director of its “praise dance” group. She said she also works as a liaison between inmates and the prison superintendent.
Wojas, who firmly believes in her daughter’s innocence, said she once asked Smart to apologize for her husband’s murder in hopes that it would help get her out of prison. Pamela Smart has consistently denied for decades she had any involvement in her husband’s murder.
In February 2018, Smart’s legal team submitted a petition for her sentence to be commuted, including testimonials from people she knew in prison.
“I was struck by the letters of support. I was struck by how well Ms. Smart has conducted herself in prison. And then I got to the memo that she personally wrote,” New Hampshire Executive Council member Andru Volinsky told “20/20.”
“In the very first paragraph, she claimed she had no involvement with his death,” Volinsky said. “That is at great odds with the evidence in the case. The failure to recognize her own culpability was what convinced me to vote against the hearing. How do I trust someone who hasn't even come to terms with her own responsibility for the death of her husband?”
Smart was ultimately denied a sentence reduction hearing.
A life in prison is a world apart from the life Smart imagined for herself as a newlywed making a home in Derry, New Hampshire, in 1990.
“I was only 21 years old when I got married. I was very much in love with my husband,” Smart told “20/20.” “I thought that Gregg and I, that we would have a fulfilling future. That we would have a family and children.”
Pamela Smart, who goes by Pame, worked at a local high school as a media and journalism coordinator while her husband went into the insurance business with his father.
On May 1, 1990, Smart said she came home from work to find her husband dead from a gunshot wound to the head inside their condominium.
“What happened to Gregg is the most horrible thing I've ever gone through in my life, and I'm still haunted every day by memories of what must have happened to him inside our house before he was killed,” Smart said in her most recent interview. “Although I wasn't there, I feel that because of that I'll never know how Gregg was feeling at the time. I keep thinking of how afraid he must have been and how senseless this whole tragedy was. A lot of the times, I still can't even believe that he's gone.”
Police were investigating the case for six weeks before they got their first break. Vance Lattime Sr. went into the Seabrook Police station with his .38 caliber revolver, telling authorities that one of his son’s friends had told him it may have been used to kill Gregg Smart.
Once ballistics results confirmed a match between bullets fired from the gun and the bullet that killed Gregg Smart, police brought in Vance Lattime Jr.’s friend, Ralph Welch, for questioning.
Welch told police he had a conversation with Lattime Jr., and Patrick “Pete” Randall in the Lattime home, who talked about how Gregg Smart was killed.
He said he heard the boys discuss how Lattime Jr., Randall, and two other boys, Raymond Fowler and Billy Flynn were there that night. Welch said Lattime Jr. and Randall said that Lattime Jr. drove the group to the Smarts’ condo, and that Flynn and Randall went inside while Fowler remained in the car.
“They [Flynn and Randall] went there, and they broke into the place. They set it up to make it look like a burglary. I guess the guy tried to run or something, they grabbed him, they threw his dog in the cellar,” Welch said. “Pete said he held the guy's head while Bill shot him.”
Welch told police that he’d also heard Pamela Smart had promised his friends $500 each out of a life insurance policy, which investigators later learned totaled $140,000.
Investigators were at a loss for how these high schoolers were connected to Pamela Smart. Then, police got an anonymous tip about Cecilia Pierce.
Pierce, another high school student who was interning for Smart, provided the link police were missing: Pierce said Smart was not only hanging out with the high schoolers she worked with but she had also begun an affair with Flynn, the young man who Welch claimed pulled the trigger.
Pierce told police that Pamela Smart was “kinda like a big sister” to her. She told them she knew Smart and Flynn were having sex, because one night, the three were watching a movie together when Smart and Flynn went off to have sex, and Pierce “walked in on them,” Pierce said.
Smart admitted to "20/20" that her relationship with Flynn “was totally wrong.”
“It was actually very difficult because I had feelings for my husband. I loved him and I also had developed feelings for Bill, and I knew that I couldn't continue like this,” Smart said. “It wasn't, you know, gonna work like this forever. It was only a short relationship.”
In July 1990, Pierce wore a police-monitored body wire that recorded Pamela Smart's apparently telling Pierce to lie to investigators.
“I'm just telling you, you know, if you tell the truth, you're gonna be an accessory to murder,” Smart said to Pierce in the recording. “Now, you know you're gonna be on the witness stand…and then he'll say, ‘Did you know?’ And you're gonna say ‘no.’ ‘Did Pame do it?’ ‘No.’”
Smart argues, however, she was only pretending to be involved, hoping it would make Pierce give her information about what police knew.
“All I wanted to know was did [Flynn] really kill my husband,” she said. “More than anything I wanted this not to be true...because I felt responsible.”
“I thought there was no way, because the person I knew, I never saw him violent, or anything like that,” Smart said of Flynn.
Smart says that her attorney had even warned her not to trust Pierce before this conversation took place.
“Let me tell you how out of whack I was,” Smart told “20/20.” “The day before this [conversation with Pierce], I had a lawyer, and he calls me up and he says, ‘Whatever you do, don't talk to her…because she's coming in and she's gonna be wired.’”
Smart was arrested in August 1990. She said that at the time, she “was not really worried about it.”
“I knew that I hadn't done anything wrong. I'm thinking this is gonna get straightened out,” Smart said.
But the young man Smart said she had developed feelings for decided to cooperate. Flynn told investigators she coerced him to commit the murder.
“I meet Pame Smart and she's beautiful, she's intelligent, you know, she's an adult…and she likes me,” Flynn told police. “She said the way she sees it, the only alternative…is to kill him.”
Flynn told police she would bring up the plan to kill her husband “almost every day… She said she hated him.”
“She had told Billy something along the lines that [Gregg Smart] mistreated her, and trying to give Billy some motive…[that he] was a bad guy and deserved to die,” Paul Maggiotto, the former New Hampshire assistant attorney general who prosecuted Smart’s case, told “20/20” in a new interview.
“She had used her sexual powers to influence Bill Flynn,” Maggiotto added. “But I can't tell you that she didn't legitimately love him.”
Flynn, Randall, Lattime Jr. and Raymond Fowler eventually confessed to their roles in the murder and pleaded guilty to various charges. They later cooperated with authorities in their prosecution against Smart.
Randall testified that he asked her to go over “the plan” ahead of Gregg Smart’s murder. Pamela Smart gave herself an alibi by being at a work meeting while the boys killed her husband.
“I wanted to make sure everything was gonna work. And she told me she was leaving the backdoors unlocked, we could go in, make sure we didn't turn on any lights,” Randall said on the stand. “[She said] not to hurt her dog, and that we could ransack the apartment, the condo, take what we wanted. And wait for Gregg to come home. And when Gregg came home we were to kill him.”
When Gregg Smart walked in, Flynn and Randall said they jumped him and forced him to kneel down on the floor. Randall said he held a knife in front of his face but it was Flynn who fatally shot him. Meanwhile, Fowler and Lattime Jr., the latter of whom was driving the getaway car, were waiting in the car outside.
Mark Sisti, Pamela Smart’s defense attorney, said there was “a tsunami” of media attention around Smart’s trial. He told “20/20” in a new interview that “most of it was over-the-top drama.”
“We did not have a jury that was sequestered. So, naturally, we were concerned that they were going to be affected,” Sisti said.
Sisti argued at Smart’s trial that the prosecution “made a deal with the devil.”
“Like any other wild animals, they'd chew off their own arm if they were caught in a trap,” Sisti said during Smart’s trial, referring to the four teens who cooperated with the prosecution.
During the trial, Flynn took the stand and emotionally recounted how he’d been convinced that he and Smart could only be together “if we killed Gregg. Because she can’t divorce him.”
Flynn testified at trial how he paused just before shooting Gregg Smart in the head.
“A hundred years, it seemed, and I said ‘God forgive me.’ [Then] I pulled the trigger,” Flynn said.
“I didn't want to kill Gregg. You know, I wanted to be with Pame. And that's what I had to do to be with Pame,” he said.
Smart said that when she sensed the jury empathizing with Flynn, she “wanted to scream.”
“I wanted to get up and say, ‘Stop lying!’” she said.
Smart told “20/20” that she “absolutely” believes Flynn lied to get a lesser sentence.
“I know he lied,” she said. “There's only two people -- three -- that know the truth: me, him and God.”
“I was a woman. This happened in a small New England town and it seemed like the whole Salem witch trial thing all over again,” Smart said. “The media latched on. I was like the proverbial woman with the scarlet letter. You know, everybody could project everything on me and hate me.”
Wojas also believes her daughter did not receive a fair trial.
“When you have publicity…1,200 newspaper articles screaming her guilt, [then] you'll put in safeguards,” Wojas said. “Stay the trial while the publicity abates. You change the venue. And you sequester the jury.”
The jury was not sequestered and the venue was not changed.
Flynn and Randall each served 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and both men were paroled in June 2015. Lattime Jr. served 15 years in prison and was paroled in August 2005. Fowler served 12 years in prison and was paroled in 2003.
When ABC News’ Diane Sawyer interviewed Flynn in 1995, she asked him what the one question he would ask Smart, if given the chance, would be.
“Whether or not she really ever loved me,” Flynn said at the time. “In hindsight, that might not seem like a very big deal to most people, but knowing that she had me do this and that I did go through with it and that she never really loved me would probably kill me.”
In a separate interview with Sawyer in 1995, Smart told her, “Yes… I think I did really love him.”
Even today, Smart says she loved Flynn.
“I loved him,” she told “20/20.” I cared for him. I had feelings. People act like I just used him and went lurking through the school looking for somebody to manipulate. And it was just really wasn't even like that.”