Baby killer released from prison after 49 years behind bars

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- At the age of 8, Betty Smithey’s mother died. Smithey was sent to live in an orphanage away from her six sisters and eventually adopted by an abusive woman.

"She was very physically assaultive," Smithey said. "If I accidentally broke a glass she would slap me across the room."

That troubled past would follow Smithey into adulthood.

By age 20, Smithey was convicted in the death of 15-month-old Sandy Gerberick while the child was in her care.

"I'm not a monster, no matter what I did," Smithey said.

She would spend the next 49 years in prison.

"I am not bitter. I deserved to go to prison for what I did," Smithey said.

According to court documents, Smithey's abusive past and resulting mental health issues played a large role in the murder.

Smithey received a letter from the child's mother, Erma Simmons, in 1983, forgiving her.

In June, Gov. Jan Brewer granted her clemency, reducing her sentence, and Monday the clemency board granted her an absolute discharge. That meant she was immediately a free woman.

"I'm rejoicing because good things are finally happening," said Rebecca Wilson, Smithey's niece, who is taking her in.

"I'm eternally grateful to the board for thinking I'm worthy enough to be released," Smithey said.

Smithey said she has reformed her life and plans to give back to the community. She also said the world has changed drastically in the nearly 50 years she spent behind bars.

"They didn't even have microwaves when I first went to prison," Smithey said.

Smithey tried her first Starbucks coffee Tuesday, but she's still waiting for the one treat she's missed all these years.

"My favorite ice cream place will always remain Dairy Queen," Smithey said.