HAMPTON, New Hampshire — A judge has dismissed Pamela Smart’s federal lawsuit against prison officials alleging she was wrongly punished for possessing a plastic cake knife in 2012.
Smart is serving a life sentence at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York for coercing four students at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, New Hampshire, to kill her husband Gregory in 1990. The case captured national headlines and has since been the subject of several true crime-style television shows and even an CBS TV movie starring Helen Hunt.
She hoped a judge would erase from her record the 2012 incident and her resulting punishment of 90 days in solitary confinement of her New York prison.
Smart did not provide sufficient evidence that she was deprived of due process by prison officials, nor that she suffered inhumane treatment in the prison’s Special Housing Unit during her 90-day punishment, Judge Kenneth Karas wrote in the Jan. 12 order. The suit was filed in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York.
Smart alleged in her suit the infraction on her prison record could hinder her ability to receive a sentence reduction by the New Hampshire governor. She is the only person involved in the crime who is still behind bars. All four teens, including her then-teenage-lover William Flynn, who pulled the trigger to kill her husband, have been paroled.
A media coordinator at Winnacunnet High School at the time of her husband’s murder, Smart admitted to the affair but has denied her involvement in the murder and has said that if she had planned to kill her husband, the plot wouldn’t have involved teenagers.
Karas wrote in the order Smart’s suit only reiterated previous arguments for why having the knife should not have resulted in her punishment. The knife was not serrated and could only cut through soft cake, she argued. She also said the knife was left in plain sight in her cell and was never deemed a violation during four prior searches by of her cell.
Karas said more detail was necessary to validate Smart’s allegations — that prison officials hindered her due process by not giving her written notice of her disposition, predetermined her guilt before her hearing and were responsible for inhumane treatment in solitary confinement.
The court recognized Smart’s complaint that she was not given written notice of the disposition, but Karas wrote that oversight was effectively rectified when Smart was given a second hearing on the allegation a year later. That hearing, in which she was committed to the 90-day solitary confinement punishment, resulted in Smart ultimately receiving due process, he wrote.
Karas said only a portion of Smart’s claim of inhumane punishment could possibly be recognized, which was that Smart was allegedly deprived of sleep due to lights near her cell being constantly lit.
Smart also complained she was only permitted three showers a week regardless of her hygienic state or menstrual cycles. She described her living space as a “caged area,” as well as that she was deprived of phone use, church programs, Bible study or her work as a teacher’s aide in the prison.
Karas wrote Smart’s sleep deprivation from constant lighting could constitute “sufficiently serious conditions that jeopardized her health.” However, he wrote, “nothing in (Smart’s complaint) suggests that any Defendant was directly or indirectly involved in causing any physical injury or pain to (Smart).” Smart only argued that the prison as a whole was responsible.
Karas wrote prison officials cannot be held personally liable for constitutional violations merely because they held a “high position of authority” at Bedford Hills. He wrote that Smart failed to allege that any defendant was actually aware of her specific conditions in solitary confinement.
As for other conditions in her 90-day period, Karas wrote that administrative segregation conditions, though “restrictive and harsh… “are part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”
Smart’s spokeswoman, Eleanor Pam, could not immediately be reached for comment. Smart has previously said she has been a “model inmate” since her incarceration.
“These infractions work to characterize me as dangerous and lawless,” Smart stated prior to her case being dismissed. “I have never been violent or intended to commit any acts of violence (in prison). These offenses are simply wrong and unjust.”