Smart's 1991 trial for conspiring to murder her husband was the first to be broadcast gavel-to-gavel. It had higher ratings than the afternoon soap operas and became a national news story about sex, violence, and heavy metal.
Now, more than 25 years after the murder case in small town New Hampshire first made headlines, Investigation Discovery premieres a three-part documentary, Pamela Smart: An American Murder Mystery. Featuring interviews with some of the story’s key players, including Daniel Pelletier, the original police detective assigned to the case; Bill Spencer, the investigative reporter who followed the case from the very beginning; and an exclusive interview with Smart from behind bars, the series reexamines the motives and some of the key evidence used to convict and sentence Smart.
On the night of May 1, 1990, then-22-year-old Smart walked into her New Hampshire condominium and discovered the body of her husband, Greggory Smart, lying face down in the dining room, dead from a bullet to the back of the head. She ran to the neighbours shrieking for help, “My husband’s hurt! He’s on the floor!”
Four years earlier, Pamela and Gregg met at a New Year’s party, and connected over their shared love of heavy metal music. Gregg wore his hair long and curly, eighties rocker-style, and he played guitar. Pamela had hosted a radio show at Florida State University called Metal Madness. They married, made their home in Derry, New Hampshire, acquired two cars, leather furniture, and a Shih-tzu they named Halen, after their favourite band, Van Halen.
Pamela found work as a media coordinator for the local school district and volunteered in a drug awareness program at a local high school. She was attractive, into cool music, and only a few years older than the students she worked with. With Gregg working long hours and spending most of his free times with friends, Pamela became close to some of the high schoolers she worked with, in particular fifteen-year-olds Billy Flynn and Cecelia Pierce. Flynn had long brown hair, a troubled childhood, and his favourite metal band was Mötley Crüe. Before long, he and Pamela allegedly became involved in an illicit sexual relationship.
The details of what happened next vary, but this is the version that went down in the public record: Pamela used her sexual wiles to convince Flynn to kill her husband so she could receive a life insurance settlement. The young media services coordinator was portrayed as the "sexy schoolteacher," a woman who seduced an innocent boy to get what she wanted. Pamela fit many of the sexist tropes of the wicked woman: she was the black widow, the ice princess, no man stood a chance against her manipulations — or so the narrative went.
For her part, Pamela has maintained that she was the one being manipulated by 15-year-old Flynn, who she says viewed her husband as a romantic rival.
Pamela Smart: An American Murder Mystery reexamines the case. What role did media saturation play in the trial? Why is Pamela serving a life sentence while Flynn - the one who shot Gregg — was released from prison in 2015? Was the jury pool hopelessly tainted from the very beginning by more than two months of sensational and sexist news coverage that included pictures of Pamela posing in a bikini, and focused on lurid details of her affair with Flynn?
Perhaps the more important question: how do we reckon the real Pamela Smart — the woman who in 2017 received her Masters of Fine Arts in English Literature from behind bars, is well-liked by fellow prisoners, and maintains her innocence to this day — with the image of the calculating seductress forged by the media more than two decades ago? The documentary presents a balanced reconsideration of key evidence, events, and witnesses and includes the perspective of both the defence and the prosecution. The result is an exploration of a fascinating crime that helped lay the groundwork for how trials would be covered in a 24-hour-news cycle and what we've come to understand as the complicated interaction of the media and the judicial system.
Pamela Smart: An American Murder Mystery premiered Sunday 19th August and is available for streaming on ID GO.