Grandmother joyful after shaken-baby sentence commuted
A 51-year-old woman convicted of shaking her infant grandson to death 15 years ago expressed joy and relief after Gov. Jerry Brown commuted her prison sentence.
Shirley Ree Smith, who has been living with her daughter in Minnesota in recent months waiting for action on her petition for clemency, said she was overwhelmed by the decision.
“I just can’t believe this is finally over with,” said Smith, choked with tears of relief. “Everybody’s so excited, but I just can’t believe it.”
Smith’s attorney, Michael J. Brennan, said she may still pursue an overturning of her guilty verdict to expunge her second-degree murder conviction, which remains on her record despite the clemency grant.
Smith has already served 10 years of the 15-years-to-life sentence she was given after a Van Nuys jury convicted her in the death of 7-week-old Etzel Glass. The jury relied on testimony by two coroner's officials relating evidence that another deputy medical examiner recently deemed "inconclusive."
Smith was the subject of a five-year legal jousting match between the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down her conviction three times saying there was "no demonstrable support" for the prosecution's theory that she must have shaken the baby to death.
Smith was freed by the 9th Circuit action in 2006 when the 9th Circuit said the evidence presented at her 1997 trial was "simply not the stuff from which guilt beyond a reasonable doubt could be established." But the Supreme Court reinstated her conviction five months ago, saying the jury's conclusions about the evidence had to be respected. She was to be returned to California and reincarcerated as a result of the high court's final ruling.
In the divided opinion issued by the Supreme Court on Oct. 31, even the six justices in the majority observed that "doubts about whether Smith is in fact guilty are understandable" and that clemency might be appropriate for her.
Gil Duran, a spokesman for the governor, said the commutation of Smith's sentence to time served was Brown's first grant of clemency in this term as governor and that he granted only one other during his first two terms as governor. Gov. Ronald Reagan, by contrast, issued 17 commutations while in office, Duran said.
--Carol J. Williams
Photo: Shirley Ree Smith. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times