In 1989, Pamela Wojas was young and in love. She married her boyfriend, Gregg Smart, and the seemingly picture-perfect couple settled into a quiet, suburban condo in the small town of Derry, New Hampshire.
One year later, Gregg was brutally killed—and Pamela was put on trial in connection with his murder.
At the end of Pamela's televised, sensationalized trial, a jury found her guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, and she was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Now, 20 years into her sentence, Pamela speaks with Lisa Ling from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
It's a situation no one would have expected from the pretty, outgoing former cheerleader who graduated with honors from Florida State University. Although the couple seemed happy, Pamela says trouble started soon after the wedding. Just before their first anniversary, she says Gregg confessed that he had been unfaithful.
"I blamed myself for the whole thing," Pam says. "I thought it must be my fault, so really I wasn't feeling too good about myself at the time that I ended up beginning a relationship with [Billy Flynn]."
William "Billy" Flynn was a 15-year-old student at the local high school when he met 22-year-old Pamela. "I worked across the street from his school, and I was a volunteer in a self-esteem program that he was also volunteering in," Pamela says.
The two began spending a lot of time together and developed a relationship. "He made me feel good," Pamela says. Eventually, Pamela started having sex with this teenage boy.
A few months after her relationship with Flynn began, Pamela says she returned to her home one evening to find her condo ransacked and her husband, Gregg, brutally murdered.
"It was really horrible," Pamela says, recalling the moment she found her husband's lifeless body. "At first, I thought he was hurt, and when I looked up, the whole house was ransacked. The first thing I thought was to go get him help because I didn't know if somebody was still in the house or not."
When the police arrived, they confirmed that Gregg was dead and began investigating what they initially believed was a botched robbery attempt.
Within weeks, investigators turned their attention to Pamela's teenage lover after a friend overheard him talking about the murder. Flynn became the prime suspect along with three of his friends, teenagers police named as accomplices.
"According to their own testimony, they were laughing about it in the car on the way home [from murdering Gregg] and talking about the thrill of killing him and the power of it," Pamela says.
Flynn and his three accomplices were arrested for the crime, but the case was not open-and-shut. In fact, it was just beginning.
Flynn and two of the boys, Vance "J.R." Lattime and Patrick "Pete" Randall, took a plea bargain and pled guilty to second-degree murder. The third accomplice, Raymond Fowler, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Then, Flynn and his friends dropped a bombshell—the boys told the police that murdering Gregg was all Pamela's idea.
"There was a lot of speculation and people were saying, 'Listen, you're going to get arrested,' but I wasn't even worried about it because I knew I hadn't done anything," Pamela says to Lisa. "If they do arrest me, they're going to find out I didn't do anything, and I'm just going to go home."
Pamela was arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder her husband. It was a scandal the media couldn't get enough of.
Pamela: It was a complete circus. The media was everywhere. Nobody was swarming me because they wanted to catch a photo of someone they adore. They were swarming because they thought I was a cold-blooded killer.
Lisa: You were painted as this vixen who seduced this teenage boy and was complicit in the murder of your husband. Once those are in the headlines, how does anyone perceive you as anything but that?
Pamela: They don't.
Pamela's salacious trial was broadcast live on TV in New Hampshire every day. "It preempted the soap operas," she says. "It was a living soap opera for a lot of people."
During 11 days of damaging testimony, prosecutors brought out the evidence, including a recorded conversation between Pamela and another student. In the call, Pamela seems to implicate herself.
Student: He's going to say you knew about it before it happened, which is the truth.
Pamela: Right. Well, so, then I'll have to say, "No, I didn't." And then, they're going to believe me.
After 13 hours of deliberation, the jury delivered their verdict. Fowler, Flynn's friend, was sentenced 15 to 30 years for conspiracy to commit murder. In 2005, he was paroled and is now a father of three. Lattime, the boy who drove the getaway car and supplied the gun that killed Gregg, was sentenced to 18 years to life and was also released from prison in 2005.
Randall and Flynn pled guilty to second-degree murder. They both received 28 years to life and will be up for parole in 2015.
Pamela received the harshest punishment. "Natural life," she says. "I was literally sentenced to spend the remainder of my life in prison."
That was 20 years ago. Pamela is now 43 years old and will have soon spent more time in prison than in the free world.
Pamela says she misses her husband and often thinks about what their lives would be like had she never gotten involved with Flynn. Unlike Pamela, Flynn will likely be a free man within a few years, a fact that Pamela says makes her feel "angry and disgusted."
Lisa asks Pamela what she would say to her former teenage lover if he were watching. "Tell the truth," Pamela says. "But I know he doesn't care. He's going home. He killed somebody and got away with it in one way or another. He's still going to have a life."
Without the possibility of parole, Pamela will spend the remainder of her days behind bars—a sentence she believes is worse than the death penalty. "When I came to prison, I was 20 years old," she says. "I could live to 100. I fear being old and dying and getting sick in here. So, to me, death would be an easy way out."
Even though she didn't fire the gun that killed her husband, Pamela says she accepts responsibility for what happened to Gregg.
"At the beginning of my whole experience, it was easy for me to blame everybody else," she says. "It took me years to realize and accept my own responsibility in the whole situation."
But, to this day, Pamela maintains her innocence and says she never plotted her husband's murder. "I never wanted him dead," she says. "I never asked anybody to kill him. I didn't suggest it, didn't plant the idea in anybody's head. And I've spent 20 years in prison already for something I didn't even do."
Pamela's mother, Linda, says she's always believed in her daughter's innocence. "The people that murdered Gregg, my son-in-law, will be leaving prison, all of them—and they know it," Linda says. "They will never man up and say what really happened, I don't believe."
Pamela deserves a new trial, Linda says, because the judge should have put more safeguards in place.
"There were 1,200 newspaper articles screaming her guilt, calling her the 'Black Widow' and so on and so forth," Linda says. "When you have such publicity that accompanied this trial, you move the trial—you change the venue. You [dis]continue the trial until the publicity abates, and then you absolutely sequester the jury. He did none of those, and I believe he violated her constitutional right to a fair trial."
Although Pamela may never be released from prison, Linda says it hasn't stopped her daughter from working to better herself. Years ago, Dr. Eleanor Pam became Pamela's academic mentor and helped her earn two master's degrees while in prison.
Now, Pamela spends her time teaching academic lessons to other inmates. "She's going to spend the rest of her days in prison, yet she wants to study, learn and improve herself," Dr. Pam says.
When she first met Pamela, Dr. Pam says she didn't know if she was innocent or guilty. Now, she says she knows for certain. "I believe absolutely that she's innocent," Dr. Pam says. "I think she should not spend one more day in prison, much less her entire life."
Twenty years ago, Alec had just graduated from college when he was selected to be one of the jurors in Pamela's trial. Today, Alec still believes Pamela was given a fair trial. "I can only speak to the part I participated in, which was being a juror, and I felt we were diligent and acted with integrity," he says. "I can't speak for the rest of the mechanics of the trial, but at least for the part that I was involved with, yes, I feel it was fair."
Pamela's mother believes the jurors could have been swayed by the media because they were not sequestered, but Alec says he did not take his responsibility lightly.
"At the time, the judge made it very clear what was expected of us and to essentially sequester ourselves," he says. "I, for one, took it very seriously and never talked to anybody at home or never watched any news, so I felt sequestered."
Alec stands by the guilty verdict, but he says the jurors did not know Pamela's sentence would be life without parole. "That information had been kept from us," he says. "Our job was to render the verdict on the evidence, and the sentence was not our concern. So it was definitely chilling to learn the life without parole option, especially considering that the boys would be getting out of jail at some point."
Does Alec think this was a fair sentence? "No, to me personally it doesn't feel fair, but I guess it's just the system we have," he says. "[Flynn and his friends] are the ones who cut the deal. If she had cut the deal, I suspect they would still be in jail right now and she would be getting out."
Oprah: So let me ask you pointedly here. Do you think Pamela Smart should get out of prison?
Alec: I don't know. It's not my place. I feel like it was chance that put me on that jury. I tried to do the right thing. I don't feel qualified beyond that to answer anything about her fate from this point on.
Gregg's family was contacted for a statement, and Dean Smart, Gregg's younger brother, sent the following response:
"As far as Pam maintaining her innocence, the state of New Hampshire believes she's guilty, as well as my family and most of the public. There was overwhelming evidence proving her guilt. There was the testimony of the three boys, as well as the wiretap recordings. As far as her sentencing, the boys got a lighter sentence because they made a deal. They pled guilty. She could have done the same thing. If she had admitted her guilt, she may have received a lighter sentence also."