Betty Smithey, America’s longest serving female inmate, has been released from prison. Smithey was convicted for the murder of a 15-month-old girl she was babysitting and given a life sentence without parole in 1963. Photo via Arizona State Department of Corrections
America’s longest serving female prison inmate, Betty Smithey, was released today after being incarcerated for the past 49 years.
Smithy, now 69-years-old, was convicted in 1963 for the New Year’s Day murder of a 15-month-old baby girl.
Smithy was 20-years-old when she was working as a live-in babysitter for the Gerberick family in Arizona. The morning of New Year’s Day, one of the Gerberick’s four children, a six-year-old-boy, ran to his mother who was making a holiday breakfast in the kitchen and shouted, “Mama, Sandy’s dead!”
15-month-old Sandy had been strangled.
Police arrested Smithey the following day while she was hitchhiking on a highway. She told the arresting officer, “I think I hurt the baby… I may have used a stocking.”
After Smithey was booked into Pima County jail she attempted suicide. Her lawyer tried to argue that she was mentally ill, but on July 10, 1963 she was found guilty of first-degree murder. She was lead from the courtroom that day yelling, “I’m not going to prison. I’ll kill myself, you watch!”
Smithey was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. At the time of her sentencing, only a governor could grant her clemency.
Before working for the Gerberick family, Smithey had previously served four years in juvenile prison after being convicted of kidnapping for running away with a previous employer’s 18-month-old son. She had been working as that family’s baby-sitter in New Mexico.
At the beginning of Smithey’s prison term she was not on good behavior. She rebelled and escaped four times from three different prisons between 1974 and 1981.
According to Smithey, she decided to change after receiving a letter from Sandy Gerberick’s mother, Emma Simmons, back in 1983 where Emma said that she forgave Smithey for the murder of her daughter.
“She made me feel that I wasn’t a monster,” Smithey said. “I felt if she could forgive me for taking her child’s life, I could forgive myself. It was my responsibility to try to become a better person than I was.”
Former Arizona governors Fyfe Symington and Janet Napolitano denied Smithey’s appeals for clemency. Current governor Jan Brewer, however, agreed to lower her sentence to 48 years to life.
On Monday, Smithey was granted parole by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency. She walked with a cane as she was released from the Arizona State Prison Complex in Perryville.
Upon reflection of her crime, Smithey said, “I am very sorry for what happened. It sounds so bland and flat, everybody says they’re sorry.”
Smithey, a breast cancer survivor, will live with her niece in Mesa, Arizona.
“She’s absolutely not a threat to society. She’s almost 70 years old now,” Smithey’s attorney, Andy Silverman, said. “She’s done a lot of reflection. Forty-nine years in prison, you think a lot about what you’ve been through.”
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