Aug 16, 2012 7:00 PM by Alyse Rzemek
After 49 years behind bars, the nation's longest-serving female inmate is free. Sixty-nine year old Betty Smithey, who has been in prison since her conviction for the murder of a 15-month-old phoenix girl in 1963, appeared at a parole hearing Monday morning and by that afternoon walked out of the Perryville State Prison in Goodyear, Arizona.
Members of Arizona's board of executive clemency agreed that Smithey had proven she is no longer the troubled woman who at age 20 murdered Sandy Gerberick, while working as the family's live-in baby-sitter.
Monday, board members voted 4-1 to grant an absolute discharge, freeing Smithey from prison and community supervision.
According to a psychiatrist who examined her, Smithey endured a horrific childhood of abandonment, abuse and mistreatment by foster and adoptive parents, creating a fragile youth with poor coping skills who became psychotic under extreme stress. Smithey describes her time in prison, "I couldn't look at myself, I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. I couldn't look at anybody else and not see what I did because it's one of the most horrendous crimes you can commit."
The key moment of change, said Smithey, came in 1983 when she received a letter from Emma Simmons, Sandy Gerberick's mother, forgiving her for the crime. "And I read that letter and it just blew me away, saying that she had forgiven me. She thought about me over the years and not with hatred like I thought, Smithey said.
Smithey became eligible for discharge after Governor Jan Brewer granted her clemency in June.