(PERRYVILLE, Ariz.) — For the past 49 years, Betty Smithey has woken up in a prison cell, the nation’s longest serving female inmate. But today she is waking up a free woman.
Smithey, now 69, was granted parole by the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency on Monday. She was released from the Arizona State Prison Complex in Perryville, walking with a cane.
“It’s wonderful driving down the road and not seeing any barbed wire,” Smithey told the Arizona Republic. “I am lucky, so very lucky.”
At age 20, Smithey was convicted in the 1963 New Year’s Day murder of Sandy Gerberick, a 15-month-old girl she had been babysitting.
Smithey was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. According to Arizona law at the time she was sentenced, only the governor could grant her clemency.
She tried, appealing to then-governors Fyfe Symington and Janet Napolitano, but was denied until Jan Brewer, the current governor, agreed to lower her sentence to 48 years to life.
Smithey will live with her niece in Mesa, Ariz.
Smithey has battled breast cancer and “a myriad of other health issues,” said her attorney, Andy Silverman
“She’s absolutely not a threat to society. She’s almost 70 years old now,” Silverman said. “She’s done a lot of reflection. Forty-nine years in prison, you think a lot about what you’ve been through.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Z. Byron Wolf, CNN
Christopher Dawson, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Kristina Sgueglia, CNN