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America’s Longest Serving Female Inmate Is Released From Prison After 49 Years

By Debbie EmeryRadar Reporter

After being handed down a life sentence for strangling a 15-month-old baby girl in 1963, Betty Smithey is finally a free woman again. 

A parole board ruled on Monday that following 49 years behind bars and earning the title of the nation’s longest serving inmate, the 69-year-old has paid her debt to society and was permitted to walk out of the gates of the Perryville state prison in Goodyear, Arizona, reported AZCentral.com.

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“It’s wonderful driving down the road and not seeing any barbed wire. I am lucky, so very lucky,” said Smithey as she traveled to her niece’s Mesa home where she will live. “I know it is going to be a big adjustment but I will take it and make it good.”

The world is a very different place to when the convicted child killer last walked free — but then, so is she, she claims.

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“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 a rare discharge.

The former Phoenix resident was convicted of the murder of toddler Sandy Gerberick while she baby-sat on New Year’s Day in 1963 just a week after she was hired as a live-in child-minder. Far from a model prisoner, the then-troubled 20-year-old was rebellious and troublesome during her early years of incarceration, escaping four times from three different prisons between 1974 and 1981.

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Smithey began her road to redemption in 1983 when she received a letter from Emma Simmons, Sandy’s mother, forgiving her for the crime. “She made me feel that I wasn’t a monster,” said the former inmate. “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.”

Sentenced to life in prison before August 1973, Smithey was numbered among the so-called “old-code lifers” who are eligible for parole only if first granted a commutation by the governor and she is only the third such inmate to be granted clemency since 1989.


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