|Gregg Smart, May 7, 1989: His wedding day, less than a year to live|
You may not know it but the trial that got the Court TV-gavel-to-gavel-preempt-all-other-shows genre going was the Pamela Smart murder trial.
Pam was a trailblazer of sorts. Not only did her trial set the stage for the Menendez brothers and O.J. Simpson but she also made headlines for the affair she'd been having with a fifteen year old student who attended the school she worked at. In 1990 this was big news; it influenced pop culture in our society and continues to.
Pam's husband Gregg Smart, 24, was murdered on May 1, 1990, six days before their first anniversary, in the entryway of the couple's Derry, New Hampshire townhome. The scene made it appear as though Gregg had walked in on a burglary and was shot in the process. Detectives, though, were wary and with good reason. Despite the disarray, very little of value was taken. The townhome had the distinct appearance of being staged. Gregg's widow certainly did her part to raise flags and eyebrows. Immediately after coming home to find her husband's body in the foyer, Gregg's brother recalled that she expressed more concern over the whereabouts and safety of her dog than what befell Gregg. The authorities also requested that Pam not speak to the media as they were working the case. Within a week, Pam had contacted local media, donned a bright blue dress and sat down in her home to talk about the case. It only got worse.
She didn't go down alone. Teenagers JR Lattime, Pete Randall, Raymond Fowler and Billy Flynn were also arrested and a sordid tale was released. Pam, then 22, had been having an affair with the then 15 year old Billy. According to Cecelia, Billy, Pete and JR, Pam was unhappy with her husband, claimed he physically abused her and wanted him dead. Billy Flynn would later testify that she told him they could no longer be together unless Gregg was out of the picture. If so, with those words, she turned a hormonally charged teenager, one that was experiencing sex for the first time, into a killer.
Lattime stole his father's pistol and volunteered to be the getaway driver, ferrying Randall, Fowler and Flynn to the Smart home on the night of May 1, when Pam would have a solid alibi of being at a school meeting some 40 miles away. While Lattime and Fowler waited in the car, Randall and Flynn waited inside the home for Gregg Smart; when he did arrive, they ambushed him. They forced him to his knees and demanded his wallet (which he turned over) and his wedding ring, which he declined to forfeit, saying his wife "would kill him." Randall, holding a knife to Gregg's throat, encouraged Flynn, holding the gun, to do away with Gregg. While Randall held their victim down, Flynn said "God forgive me," and put a bullet in Gregg's head.
In no surprise to anyone, after fourteen days of testimony, the jury found Pam guilty of being an accomplice to first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and witness tampering (having to do with encouraging Cecelia to keep her mouth shut and not talk to authorities, which was recorded.) On the same day, she was given a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
|Billy Flynn on the stand with the murder weapon|
In 1996 she was badly beaten by two other inmates who believed she was "snitching" on their personal relationship. The beating was so bad that a metal plate had to be inserted on the left side of her face. She says as a result of that attack, she suffers with chronic pain requiring medication.
In 2003 the National Enquirer published photos of a scantily dressed Pam, leading her to file a complaint against the publication. That action led her to solitary confinement for two months. She sued, claiming the photos were taken by a prison guard who raped her. The lawsuit was dismissed but in 2004 Smart and the previously mentioned Carolyn Warmus sued the institution for sexual harassment and sexual assault. In 2009 a U.S. District Court judge awarded her nearly $24,000.00 in damages.
In 2015 she named Pete Randall as the actual shooter of her husband, citing ballistics reports that Gregg was shot by a right handed individual. Billy Flynn was left handed.
She continues to maintain her innocence, saying only that she regrets her relationship with Billy Flynn; if she had not gotten involved with him, Gregg would still be alive. It's never been reported that she has apologized to the Smart family or taken accountability other than regretting the affair. She has a solid group of supporters, some of whom are demanding her freedom. Since all of her co-conspirators, and especially the person who actually pulled the trigger, have been paroled, many think it's unjust that Pam continues to be locked up while they are free. Her mother, Linda, has been fighting for her daughter's innocence and freedom since 1990. She continues to fight.
Gregg Smart's parents also fought to keep the memory of their son alive and the woman they believe orchestrated his murder in prison. Gregg's mother Judy died from a neurological disease eight years after her son, in 1998. Bill Smart remarried after Judy's death and had six happy years with his second wife before he himself lost a battle with pancreatic cancer in 2010. Gregg's younger brother Dean, who was only 20 years old when his older brother was killed, has carried the family's torch, writing and releasing a book titled Skylights and Screen Doors, recounting the personal toll Gregg's murder took on the entire family.
|Pam at the time of Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart|
Without arguing Pam's guilt or innocence, I do understand why she received the harshest sentence. She was found guilty of murder and she was the linchpin, at least according to the prosecution. Without her, Gregg Smart would have lived. Without Pam masterminding the plot to kill Gregg, Billy Flynn never would have put a bullet in his head. In other words, Billy Flynn was nothing more than a messenger, doing Pam's dirty work. It could have been anyone.
Is it possible that Pam Smart received a bum deal? Well, sure. It depends on who you choose to believe. Is it possible that she told Billy Flynn she had no intention of leaving her husband and Billy, in a fit of jealousy, decided to kill Gregg in order to eliminate the competition and took his friends along for the ride? Yes, it's possible.
|Cecelia Pearce testifies, 1991|
First, Billy's friends supported his story of Pam recruiting him and telling him that Gregg was abusive (something Gregg's friends and family hotly deny.) Now even if Billy lied to them about this, wouldn't they turn on each other at some point? Wouldn't they turn on Billy? They never did.
Secondly, according to Cecelia Pearce, she overheard conversations between Pam and Billy in which Pam plotted Gregg's murder. Not only was she well aware that the teen boys were involved in this plan and organized it but she also wanted to get rid of Gregg because she didn't want to divorce and believed that he would get everything, from the car to the furniture to the dog.
Thirdly, the recordings that were done via Cecelia's wire tell a story directly opposite to this. If Pam had nothing to do with the murder, why would she tell Cecelia to keep her mouth shut? Why would she say if they all kept their mouths shut, nothing would happen?
Lastly, if Billy was so hell bent on destroying Gregg, why take his friends along? He could have done it himself, without dragging others down with him.
|The Smart townhome, May 1990|
I think the biggest surprise is that Lattime, Fowler and Randall would willingly go along with this harebrained scheme for any reason but especially with very little reward to them. I think they were promised a small financial payout once Pam received Gregg's life insurance proceeds and the right to keep whatever they burgled from the home. Even at trial and in direct opposition to Billy Flynn, these boys showed no emotion, no remorse, no care for the lives they ruined.
This circles me back around to Pam's claim last year that Billy Flynn was not the actual shooter. At first glance, it does seem suspiciously timed. Pete Randall was granted parole in 2015. HBO was a year away from releasing its documentary on Pam and her case, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart. My first instinct was to dismiss this outright but then I read an accompanying article on the theory. In May of 1990, Pete Randall was 17 years old. He could have been charged as an adult. Billy Flynn was 15 years old. And far away a more sympathetic appearing witness. Just compare the two on the stand. Randall was indifferent, unemotional, almost tired of the entire thing while Flynn cried often. Randall allegedly had a long criminal record, even by the age of 17, and his goal in life was reportedly to be a hit man.
Even more importantly, forensic evidence suggests that the gun was fired by a right handed person. Randall is right handed; Flynn is left handed.
Why is this important? It impacts the motive/suggested motive for Gregg's murder. Prosecutors contend that Pam encouraged Billy to kill her husband for her and he certainly would have had a reason to.
If Randall, who Pam had never met at the time of the murder, and whom she could therefore not manipulate, was the shooter it could destroy the theory that Pam was involved in the conspiracy.
Could this have happened? Could Billy Flynn have taken the rap for Pete Randall? Sure. Their sentences were essentially the same and both men were released in the same year. We may never know the absolute truth as Billy Flynn has refused all interview requests and does not want to speak of what he did (or didn't do) that night in 1990.
If the prosecution had it right, why would Pam Smart want to have her husband killed? Why did Scott Peterson elect to kill his wife Laci versus divorcing? Narcissism? Feeling that murder is a more palatable choice than divorce?
I do think that by 1990, Pam wanted a different lifestyle than what she had. When they met and got engaged, Gregg Smart had long hair and was more of a rocker type, something she was greatly attracted to. Gregg realized that he needed to settle down, cut his hair and began working in insurance as his father and brother did. He and Pam married, moved into the town home in Derry and led a very average life until May 1, 1990.
I don't think Pam wanted average. I also think she was holding on to her teenage years, evidenced by becoming friends with Cecelia Pearce and Billy Flynn. If Pam had the emotional makeup of an actual adult, she would have realized that it would have been inappropriate for her to have personal relationships with any of the students at the high school, much less invite them over to her home and hang out with them as if she were a teen herself. I think she was attracted to the long haired Flynn who was clearly dazzled by Pam.
|Gregg in life|
|Gregg in death|
If Pam did mastermind Gregg's murder, beyond the obvious, what was she thinking? I can buy that she might believe the cops are stupid and would fall for the "interrupted burglary" angle, as overused as it is and rarely accurate. But why on earth would she assume that a teenage boy would not only keep his lips sealed over their physical relationship (which Billy did not) but that he and his friends would remain quiet over a janky murder for hire plot? Why did she go to the media and put more attention on herself? Was she more like Nicole Kidman's character in To Die For (a character that author Joyce Maynard based off Pam) than anyone thought?
Pam's story has been covered in numerous articles, books, television movies, documentaries and the aforementioned To Die For, which is based upon the Smart case. In each of the books and movies, Pam is presented as guilty of the charges to which she's been convicted.
What do you think? Did Pam recruit teens to get rid of her husband, to save herself the expense and possible embarrassment and disgrace of a divorce (as well as the $140,000 life insurance policy) or was Pam unfairly convicted for murder when she was "only" guilty of sleeping with a student? Has she served her time or should she never be released?