Pamela Smart Trial: 1991
Pamela Smart Trial: 1991
Defendant: Pamela Smart
Crime Charged: Conspiracy to commit murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Mark Sisti and Paul Twomey
Chief Prosecutors: Paul Maggiotto and Diane Nicolosi
Judge: Douglas R. Gray
Place: Exeter, New Hampshire
Dates of Trial: March 4-22, 1991
Sentence: Life imprisonment
SIGNIFICANCE: Millions watched this trial on live television, fascinated by the sensational saga of a murderous plot hatched in high school involving sex and the lure of life insurance money.
Just one week before his first wedding anniversary, Gregory Smart, a 24-year-old insurance salesman, was shot dead at his New Hampshire condominium during what appeared to be a botched burglary. Six weeks later William Flynn, 16, Vance Lattime, 17, and Patrick Randall, 18, were arrested and charged with the murder. All three pleaded guilty. In return for reduced sentences the teenagers agreed to testify against the person they claimed persuaded them to carry out the killing: Pamela Smart, wife of the dead man.
When oral argument commenced March 4, 1991, Assistant Attorney General Diane Nicolosi portrayed the teenagers as naive victims of an evil woman bent on murder. Nicolosi claimed that Smart, a 22-year-old high-school teacher, seduced Flynn with the sole intent of duping him into murdering her husband, so that she might avoid an expensive divorce and benefit from a $140,000 lifeinsurance policy.
Graphic details of the murder were provided by Patrick Randall. He told how Flynn had enlisted his services, together with Vance Lattime, and how all three went to the Smart residence. While Lattime waited outside, Flynn and Randall ransacked the townhouse, then ambushed Greg Smart when he returned home from a sales meeting. Randall admitted holding a knife at Smart's throat as Flynn fired a. 38-caliber bullet through the victim's brain. Afterward the two took some jewelry to create the impression of a robbery gone wrong.
Defense counsel Mark Sisti bitterly denounced all of Randall's allegations, noting that only in the course of pleabargaining had he implicated Pamela Smart.
"Pamela Smart didn't make you kill anybody, right?" Sisti asked.
"No," agreed Randall.
"You went to kill Greg Smart for your friend Bill [Flynn], right?"
"Pamela Smart had nothing to do with that, correct?"
"Correct," Randall admitted.
Payoff for Murder: Stereo
Speakers and $250
Vance Lattime, driver of the getaway car, told the jury that Smart gave him a pair of stereo speakers and promised an additional $250 for his part in the slaying. He added that, prior to the murder, she asked the other gang members how she should act upon finding her husband's body. "She didn't know whether to scream, run from house to house or call the police. We told her just to act normal." About one point Lattime was adamant: Smart insisted that they shoot her husband rather than stab him, because she didn't want blood splattered all over her white furniture.
When William Flynn took the stand, he tearfully recounted how Smart seduced him, interspersing the sexual blandishments with repeated and ever more urgent stories of physical abuse inflicted by Greg Smart on his wife, especially one incident when he locked her out of the house in winter while she was clad in only her nightclothes. Flynn said, "She started crying and said the only way she could see for us to be together was if we killed Greg." At first Flynn doubted Smart's seriousness, but as her temper and threats worsened, he yielded to her demands. "I was afraid if I didn't do it, she would leave me."
Flynn described to an emotion-packed courtroom how he put the revolver to Smart's head, then uttered, "God, forgive me," before pulling the trigger.
"Why did you say 'God, forgive me?'" asked Assistant Attorney General Paul Maggiotto.
"Because I didn't want to kill Greg," said Flynn. "I wanted to be with Pam, and that's what I had to do to be with Pam."
Of all the prosecution witnesses, none created more of an impact or did more damage than Cecelia Pierce, 16, another Winnacunnet High School student. She repeated a conversation with Smart: "I have a choice: either kill Greg or get a divorce," she quoted Smart as saying. "I told her to get a divorce," Pierce said. Asked how Smart responded, Pierce replied, "She said she couldn't, because Greg would take the dog and the furniture and she wouldn't have any money or a place to live."
Pierce did admit prior knowledge of the murder plot even to the point of aiding Smart in her search for a gun, but she claimed that conscience led her to the police afterward. At their behest she secretly taped several conversations with Smart. In one, Smart ordered Pierce to keep quiet, otherwise they would all "go to the slammer for the rest of our entire lives." On another occasion Smart boasted of committing the perfect murder.
Sisti cast a pall over much of this testimony by revealing that Pierce had sold the rights to her story to a Hollywood production company for a considerable sum of money. "What this all comes down to," he said, "is that you have a shot at $100,000 … and you claim to have been Pam's best friend?"
"Yes," admitted Pierce.
The Ice Melts
Throughout the proceedings Pamela Smart had maintained her composure, but contrition took over in the witness box. She claimed that her attempts to break off the affair with Flynn had been thwarted by his threats of suicide. "I was devastated," she said. While conceding the impropriety of their relationship, Smart vehemently denied any suggestion that she had planned murder. "I didn't force anybody to kill Greg!"
Then why, wondered Maggiotto, had she made those statements to Cecelia Pierce?
That had been a subterfuge, Smart said, all part of her own investigation into the murder of her husband.
"What were you going to do," asked Maggiotto, "Make a citizen's arrest?"
"Or was Pam Smart going to use her own investigation skills… and write a report and mail it in?"
"Yes," replied Smart, blaming some medication she was taking at the time for her apparent instability.
It was Smart's position, as it had been for the defense from the outset, that the murder was solely the work of the three teenagers, who now saw a way to ameliorate their sentences by implicating her. "They murdered Greg," she cried. "They're the ones who broke into the house. They waited for him. And they're the ones who brought him to his knees and brought a knife to his throat, before shooting him!"
The jury took 13 hours to decide Smart's fate. She stood emotionless as the guilty verdict was read. When Judge Douglas Gray imposed a life sentence without the possibility of parole, she seemed equally unaffected.
For their involvement in the murder, William Flynn and Patrick Randall each received sentences of 28 years to life. Vance Lattime received 18 years to life. Yet another student who knew of the plot, Raymond Fowler, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was jailed for 15 to 30 years.
In 1995, To Die For, a film loosely inspired by the Pamela Smart trial and starring Nicole Kidman, was released. In a made-for-television movie, Murder in New Hampshire, Pamela Smart was depicted as a scheming architect of murder. While the pertinency of that view is a matter of record, often overlooked is the ease with which her young lover was able to recruit assistants for his deadly mission. In this extraordinary case there was more than enough blame for everyone.
On March 11, 1993, it was announced that Smart had been moved from the New Hampshire State Prison for Women in Goffstown, New Hampshire, to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, 35 miles north of New York City. Although spokesman Donald Veno declined to comment on the move other than to say it was for "security reasons," rumors had reached the media concerning a relationship that Smart was allegedly conducting behind bars. Needless to say, her defense team was less than enthralled by the fact that they had not been told of the transfer beforehand. Commented one sarcastically, "There was a time in this country when prisoners had no rights."
Suggestions for Further Reading
Case, Tony. "Trial Coverage Under The Microscope." Editor & Publisher (April 20, 1991): 25ff.
Diamond, John N. Washington Journalism Review (June 1991): 15-16.
Plummer, William and Stephen Sawicki. People Weekly (February 4, 1991): 105-110.