PHOENIX - A woman imprisoned in Arizona for 49 years was released from custody after the state's clemency board agreed she had proven she is no longer the troubled woman who was convicted in the 1963 murder of a child.
The Arizona Republic reports that 69-year-old Betty Smithey walked out of the gates of the Perryville state prison on Monday with the aid of a cane.
Smithey was 20 when she was arrested in the killing of 15-month-old Sandy Gerberick, less than a week after she was hired to care for the child as a live-in baby sitter in northwest Phoenix. Authorities determined the girl had been strangled.
A jury convicted Smithey of first-degree murder. She was sentenced to life without parole, under laws that make her parole-eligible only if the governor commutes her sentence.
In 1994 and 2003, boards recommended clemency for Smithey only to have first Gov. Fife Symington and then Gov. Janet Napolitano deny it. Smithey became eligible to be released from prison after Gov. Jan Brewer granted her clemency in June, reducing her sentence to 49 years to life.
Clemency board members voted 4-1 on Monday to free Smithey from prison.
Much of the questioning by board members of Smithey, her attorneys and supporters focused on Smithey's youthful mental state, whether the board could be sure she had changed, and whether she could handle the stress of returning to the outside world after five decades.
"I really see no value in keeping you in prison any longer. I really see no value in keeping strings on you any longer," Parole Board Chairman and Director Jesse Hernandez told Smithey before voting to grant her release.
After Monday's vote, Smithey smiled and waved to her supporters, mouthing "thank you" and then clutching her niece in a tearful hug. Smithey shook each board member's hand and thanked them before being led into the prison to prepare for her release.
"It's wonderful driving down the road and not seeing any barbed wire," Smithey said by phone as she traveled with relatives to her niece's Mesa home, where she will reside. "I am lucky, so very lucky."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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