Case Profile

Betty Smithey

Granted absolute discharge after 48 years

Betty Smithey went to prison for murder when John F. Kennedy was president (1963). She had major mental problems at the time stemming from her tumultuous upbringing in orphanages and foster homes – suffering physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Had this evidence been produced at her trial, she would likely have received a 2nd degree murder conviction and been released years ago.

At the time of her incarceration in 1963, at age 20, Betty hated herself. In the first 15 years of her incarceration, she tried to kill herself numerous times and escaped four times. But in her five decades of incarceration, Betty has transformed herself.

In 1983, Betty received a letter from the victim’s mom forgiving her. The letter changed Betty’s life and – though it took years – this letter gave Betty the strength to forgive herself and transform into a caring, wonderful human being who wants nothing more than to help and care for others.

Professors Bob Bartels of ASU and Andy Silverman of UofA, as well as Arizona Justice Project Founder Larry Hammond, have dedicated years to this case. Their work, along with Betty’s optimism, show the importance of perseverance.

The Arizona Justice Project and Middle Ground Prison Reform achieved amazing success when – after a unanimous recommendation by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency – the Arizona Governor agreed to commute Betty Smithey’s sentence to 48 years.

On August 13, 2012, Smithey was in front of the same Board on a request for parole and ultimate release from incarceration. The Board granted her absolute discharge and she walked free that afternoon.