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Betty Smithey freed after 49 years in prison

4:27 PM, Aug 14, 2012   |    comments
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By Craig Smith

Perryville, AZ (KGUN/CNN) - An Arizona woman convicted of killing a toddler almost 50 years ago has been released from prison.

Betty Smithey thanked the clemency board for the freedom she has not felt since prison bars closed behind her almost 50 years ago.

She was just past her teens, with a history of mental illness when she killed a toddler she'd been hired to babysit.

Earlier she told the board how and why she began to turn her life around. The inspiration was a letter from the mother of the baby she killed. Nineteen years after the murder, the child's mother forgave her.

"If she could do that, it was my responsibility to try and become a better person than I was and ever since I received that letter, I started slowly turning things around," said Smithey.

A long line of supporters testified she has turned her life around, from friends and relatives she has loving relationships with despite the prison walls, from the psychiatrist who says Smithey is free of the mental illness she displayed years before, to the University of Arizona law professor who has represented her for 41 of her 49 years in prison.

"This is probably the best day of my professional life," said Professor Andy Silverman.

Becky Wilson is the niece who will take Smithey home and help her adjust to a world very different from the one she left in 1963.

[Reporter]: "What's it been like for you through this whole process, when you felt some hope and sat through the hearing and saw the outcome?"

"Actually I had faith right from the start," said Wilson.

One person who might have applauded Betty Smithey's release was not at the prison to see it; the woman whose child Smithey killed.

She sent Smithey the letter of forgiveness, but died 10 years ago.

KGUN/CNN

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