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The Eye of the Camera and Blind Justice: The Pamela Smart Trial
August 17, 2014  | By Eric Gould  | 5 comments

The star of the upcoming HBO documentary on the sensational Pamela Smart trial is a hand-held mini-cassette recorder sitting on an empty desk. The little device is a substitute for Juror 13 – who held out for part of the deliberations for acquittal – since, to this day, she prefers to remain anonymous. The program plays part of her audio diary made during the 14-day trial in 1991.

Her fascinating words, along with footage of a lot of bad '80s haircuts, are part of the revisitation of the media onslaught that surrounded the case that began with the grisly murder of Gregory Smart in New Hampshire in 1990.

Recounting events during and after the Smart trial – the first ever televised nationally, gavel-to-gavel – Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart also follows the Smart trial as one of the early instances of reality TV. It airs Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET on HBO.

For those who may or may not recall, Pam Smart was first seen in the media as the grieving widow of her husband of just one year who had been shot in the head after surprising presumed burglars at their condo. Police shortly unraveled her affair with Billy Flynn, a student enrolled at the high school where she worked. Flynn was soon arrested along with two of his pals, petty criminals from the tougher side of town, as the triggermen. Soon after, Smart was charged as an accomplice and mastermind of the scheme (although not at the condo at the time of the murder, she was accused of making Flynn do the murder if he wanted to stay her lover).

Up to that point, the press had painted Smart – a pretty, stylish, 22-year-old – as a victim. Quickly, the New Hampshire locals, asked in man-on-the-street interviews, began describing a scheming ice princess, a guilty, cold-hearted sexual manipulator.

Smart was soon the daily subject of tabloid shows like Inside Edition and talk shows like Geraldo and Donahue. Video from these and other shows form the documentary’s main thesis: the television pressure cooker having essentially convicted Smart before she ever went to trial and assisted the outcome.

There are plenty of historical clips here, and new interviews with reporters and writers who covered the case. They recount how hundreds of potential jurors were released because of their exposure to the coverage, and how the eventual jurors – not sequestered during the 14-day trial – were free to go home and watch the news after each day’s proceedings.

Director Jeremiah Zagar paints a palpable picture of the media storm at the time, along with extensive audio clips from Juror 13’s diary of the trial – a televised event that got higher ratings than afternoon network soap operas. Juror 13 expresses sobering displeasure with Smart’s conviction in the press at the time, and anguishes over convicting Smart solely on the basis of statements she made to an informant recorded by police wiretap.

Smart, maintaining her innocence after almost 25 years in prison, is interviewed several times for the documentary. There are compelling ideas here about television perception becoming public reality and, more disturbingly, how Flynn and the others received reduced second-degree murder charges in exchange for testimony against Smart. They will be eligible for parole next year, while Smart, who appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, is still serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

None of Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart changes the fact that Gregory Smart is still dead nearly 25 years later and isn’t coming back. But the manner in which Pam Smart was convicted for the crime does deserve its moment, along with Juror 13’s tape recorder, spotlighting why television, when it comes to serving justice, should dedicate itself more to the principles of journalism than the pursuit of ratings.
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Dani Elle
I just watched this very interesting doc and have the fortune of not having heard about the case (other than having seen To Die For as I was young) and it definitely raises a reasonable doubt with several angles, the scariest representing media as monster and machine capable of overpowering our consciousness and creating a story or guilty verdict of its own, making our minds up for us. Very unsettling indeed.
Dec 13, 2015   |  Reply
Pamela Smart is an icy, remorseless sociopath. There is nothing behind her evil black eyes. Greg's family got the life sentence and Gregg got the death sentence. She has never shown any remorse.
Nov 30, 2015   |  Reply
Bill Dexter
Why should she show remorse for something she didn't do? Like so many others you have convicted her in your mind based on a lack of knowledge of the actual facts of the case. She was, in my professional opinion, framed by the detectives and prosecutors in the case. The fact is, it actually was an interrupted burglary and Gregg Smart was actually shot by Patrick "Pete" Randall, not Billy Flynn. You should know the facts of the case before you comment on it.
Nov 7, 2016
denise quinn
She is no victim. She is an evil, dangerous, narcissistic witch
All that anguish and heartbreak she caused the Smart family.
Nov 28, 2015   |  Reply
No suggestion of Pam Smart's innocence was suggested or implied. The story outlines the documentary's argument that the media focus perhaps influenced the proceedings of her trial, some of which was obvious from the number of jurors dismissed because of their exposure to pretrial coverage. One of the key witnesses against Smart had already sold her story for $100,000. None of that had the appearance of pretrial impartiality – and maybe in such public trials, that's an impossibility. The Smart trial, along with other recent ones (i.e., Casey Anthony, who was acquitted) are better left off the tabloid news shows and tried inside a courtroom where they belong. Please watch the documentary to see the media effect on high profile cases and make you own conclusions. –EG
Sep 20, 2014   |  Reply
Tony K.
Please. Any suggestion that Pam Smart is innocent of this crime is ludicrous, and this column does a disservice in even hinting at that.
Sep 20, 2014   |  Reply
Bill Dexter
Yeah sure, it's not like innocent people get convicted in this country right? Pinheads like you are EXACTLY why Pam smart and so many other innocent people end up being convicted. You obviously don't know the first thing about the actual facts in the case. You DO realize that the medical examiner testified that it was impossible for Flynn to have shot Gregg Smart because Flynn was standing behind Gregg and is left handed. But Gregg was shot from the front by a right handed person. And there is just so much more. What a disgusting injustice this case is. The real killer now walks the streets again. The Smart family deserved the truth and true justice. They didn't get either
Nov 8, 2016
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