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Crime News

Sex, Murder, And Heavy Metal: How The Pamela Smart Case Became A Media Sensation

A handsome victim, a young, pretty suspect, and a lurid sex scandal made the trial of Pamela Smart a touchstone for how the media covers true crime. 

By Constance Johnson
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The Pamela Smart case has has always been as much about the murder of Gregg Smart as it is about the media and the ways it ushered in a new era of criminal trial coverage. It wasn't the first trial that Americans could not get enough of, but The State of New Hampshire V. Pamela Smart was the first time that the insatiable desire for details was fed with gravel-to-gravel television coverage.

It was the beginning of CNN. It was the beginning of Court TV. It was the beginning of all these cable news networks who needed to fill a 24-hour news cycle,” Jeremiah Zagar, the director of the HBO documentary, Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart told WNYC. “WMUR, the local TV station, decided to cancel all the shows that were broadcast during the trial and broadcast only the trial. People were hungry for whatever they could hear about the Pamela Smart case.”

The case generated massive headlines both local and nationwide, and spawned books and at least two movies that would star four eventual Oscar winners: Helen Hunt in Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Smart Story and To Die For starring Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck.

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Pamela Wojas met Greggory Smart in 1986 while home in New Hampshire during her college Christmas break. She was a student at Florida State University studying communications. He was long-haired, handsome, and shared her love of heavy metal. They quickly became an item — Smart even moved to Florida so they could live together during her senior year of college.

When she graduated, the couple moved back to New Hampshire and Gregg gave his wife a puppy that she named Halen, after Van Halen, one of her favorite bands. The Smarts were married in May of 1989. 

But married life didn't seem to suit Wojas (now Pamela Smart). Her rocker husband had to cut all his hair off and wear a suit and tie to take a job at his father's insurance company. In a 2016 New Hampshire Magazine profile, Smart alleged that Gregg cheated on her just a few months into their marriage. 

Smart had harbored ambitions of a career in television and had worked as a DJ for her college radio station, but in the real world she had trouble finding a job that fit her interests. In 1989, when she was 22-years-old, she became the director of media services for the New Hampshire school district that included Winnacunnet High School in Hampton. She also volunteered for Project Self Esteem, a program geared toward keeping high school students away from drugs. By February 1990, she'd developed a sexual relationship with one of her high school mentees, 15-year oId William "Billy" Flynn.  

Flynn would later tell investigators that he and Smart first had sex after she invited him and another friend, Cecilia Pierce, over to her condo to watch 9 1/2 Weeks, a sexually explicit movie starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. Flynn said that Smart sent Pierce to walk her dog and then initiated sex with him.

Several weeks after Smart and Flynn began having sex, Flynn told police, Smart told him he would have to kill her husband if they wanted to be together. Smart had been married to the 24-year-old Gregg for less than a year.

Flynn said he was resistant, but that Smart threatened to end their relationship. He testified in court that she manipulated him sexually.

"'If you loved me, you'd do this!'" Flynn alleged Smart said to him, referring to the murder. "I told her I did love her."

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Flynn testified that Smart instructed him to make the killing look like a burglary gone awry. He enlisted the help of his friend, 17-year-old Patrick Randall, and said Smart promised to pay them $500 each once she received Gregg Smart's life insurance settlement. She was set to receive $140,000. 

On May 1, 1990, Flynn and Patrick Randall entered the Smart condo and forced Gregg Smart to his knees in the foyer. While Randall held a knife to Gregg Smart's throat, Flynn fired a .38 caliber bullet into his head, killing him. 

Smart came home around 10 p.m., the Portsmouth Press Herald reported, and found her husband's body face down on the floor. 

But when investigators examined the crime scene, they quickly realized Gregg Smart hadn't been killed in a bungled robbery.  

"No signs of a struggle," Derry Police Captain Loring Jackson, told E! News. "Burglars don't usually fight. They don't pack guns. There were red flags all over the place."

Jackson, who died in 2003, also questioned Smart’s conduct at the crime scene. 

"Cold, calculating, manipulative, self-centered, totally unfeeling for anybody but herself," Jackson told People in 1991.

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She, in his opinion, was too eager to speak with the police, and share her theory that this was a botched burglary. He was disturbed by her openness to the media and granting interviews. Jackson also noted that she walked right through the bloodstains on the carpet after police let her return to collect some of her belongings. Police quickly began making a case against Smart, even if they didn't have all the details. 

On June 10, Ralph Welch, a friend of 17-year-old Vance Lattimer, who had been driving the getaway vehicle the night of the killings, told his parents that Patrick Randall and Lattimer had admitted to him that they were involved in the murder. Welch also told them that Lattimer still had the .38 caliber gun. Ballistics tests later confirmed that it was the weapon used in the murder.

Police would also ask Cecilia Pierce to wear a wire and record phone calls with Smart. 

Smart was arrested on August 1, three months after her husband’s death.

While the sound quality of Pierce's recordings made them almost inaudible, prosecutors provided transcripts of them at court.

"When we first listened to the tapes, they were difficult to hear," Prosecutor Paul Maggiotto admitted to the Keene Equinox. "We recorded it through speaker phone to a hand-held recorder. I would have done it differently. It wasn't the best conditions, [but] the tapes speak for themselves."

Prosecutors alleged that Smart said, on one recording: "If you tell the f--king truth, you'll send me to the slammer for the rest of my f--king life." She later added: "If you tell the truth, you're gonna be an accessory to murder.”

A teary Flynn testified that he shot Gregory Smart in the head as Randall held a knife to his throat.

On March 22, 1991, Pamela Smart was found guilty of accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and tampering with a witness and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

The film, To Die For, movie was adapted from Joyce Maynard’s 1992 novel, which was based on the murder.  

It appears Maynard may regret that. She’s among several high-profile women including Gloria Steinem, advocating for Smart’s release from prison

"At the time the jury reached its verdict in the Smart case, my novel was a full year away from publication," Maynard wrote to then-New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan in 2015. "But if the existence of the film and adaptation of the book has contributed in any way to a public perception of Pamela Smart as a ruthlessly ambitious killer, I will say: this was not my intent."

Smart told the Washington Post that she happened to catch the film during a movie night.

"It's almost like when you see a car accident and you think to yourself, 'Why am I looking at this?'" she told the Post. "Later, the reality sinks in that people actually believe that because they've seen it on TV."

Both Flynn and Randall were sentenced to 40 years after pleading guilty to second-degree murder and were granted parole in 2015 after serving nearly 25 years. Lattimer, who also drove the getaway car in addition to providing the gun, was paroled in 2005. 

“They’re probably at the beach right now living the high life,” Smart told the Washington Post in 2019.

Smart’s most recent request for a sentence reduction was denied by the New Hampshire State Council on a 5-0 vote in March of this year. It’s the third time she has asked for a hearing.

Smart has exhausted all her judicial appeal options, according to Associated Press.

This time, she did something she has never done before in a petition: apologize to her late husband’s family.

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Critics have long noted that Smart blamed everyone else – the teens and the media – for what happened but refused to take any responsibility.

“I offer no excuses for my actions and behavior. I’m to blame,” she said in a recorded statement to the attorney general’s office.

“I regret that it took me so long to apologize to the Smart family, my own family, and everyone else. But I think that I wasn’t at a place where I was willing to own that or face that,” she said. “I was young and selfish, and I wasn’t thinking about the consequences of what I was doing."

At 54 years old, Pamela Smart is still behind bars, an inmate at the Bedford Hills Correctional Hill Facility for Women since 1993. She has spent more than half of her life in prison.  

And she is the only one convicted for the murder who is still incarcerated.