Betty Smithey has been in jail for 49 years after being sentenced to life without parole. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer reduced her sentence to 48 years to life, making the 69-year-old eligible for release.
The grant of clemency came somewhat as a surprise. As the New York Daily News reports, clemency requests were denied by two previous Arizona governors; Fyfe Symington and Janet Napolitano. And Jan Brewer has granted the fewest clemency requests of any Arizona governor during the past 20 years.
Matt Benson, a spokesman for Governor Brewer, was quoted by ABC News as saying, "Given the circumstances of Ms. Smithey's case, Governor Brewer believes this is an appropriate time for the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency to review the case for parole."
In late 1962, Smithey went to work for Emma Gerberek, a single mother of four, as a live-in babysitter. She had been in the home for about a week when Gerberek's six-year-old son ran into the kitchen and said, "Mama, Sandy's dead." Sandy, who was 15-months-old, had been strangled. Smithey was arrested the next day while hitchhiking and has been in custody ever since. She was eventually convicted in the baby's death and was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Her only chance for freedom was through a grant of executive clemency.
About the murder, Smithey was quoted by the Arizona Republic as saying that she had fallen asleep next to Sandy and when she woke up, the baby was dead. She said, "When I seen the stocking in my hand...I don't remember doing it, but I must have. Then when I couldn't find any pulse, I kind of knew she was dead."
As the Daily Mail reports, Smithey had a troubled childhood. Growing up in Oklahoma, her father died when she was four and the state determined her mother was not capable of raising Smithey and her six sisters. The girls were separated and Smithey never saw any of her siblings again.
She grew up in orphanages and foster homes and was beaten and sexually abused by foster parents. She constantly ran away. In a previous job as a live-in babysitter, she ran away with her employer's 18-month-old son. She was convicted of kidnapping and served four years in a juvenile detention center.
On Aug. 13, the five member panel of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency will meet to decide Smithey's fate.