Woman Granted Clemency Freed After 27 Years in Prison

Friday, Nov 15, 2013  |  Updated 7:17 PM EDT
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After serving 27 years Foreshaw walked out of prison a free woman today

After serving 27 years Foreshaw walked out of prison a free woman today

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For the last 27 years, Bonnie Jean Foreshaw has been in prison, serving time for the murder of a pregnant woman in the 1980s.

Friday morning, she was set free early.

"As a spiritual person, I have faith that I will be an asset to the community and has a lot to offer and I have goals in life that I would like to pursue because others helped me I would like to help others in return," she said. 

The move comes after Connecticut state officials took the rare step of granting her clemency.

Foreshaw, 66, has been incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in East Lyme and relatives plan to drive her to her new home at her granddaughter's house in Manchester.

Friday also happened to be one of her grandchildren's birthdays.

Foreshaw was convicted in 1987 of shooting Joyce Amos in Hartford and claimed that she shot the woman by accident while trying to defend herself against a man she feared.

In her first moments of freedom, she thanked her supporters and asked Amos' family for forgiveness.

While incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Foreshaw studied writing with Connecticut-based writer Wally Lamb and her work was published in two books featuring York inmates' writings that were edited by Lamb.

Lamb was there today as Foreshaw was released.

Foreshaw testified at her trial that she was scared of Hector Freeman and she shot at him with a .38-caliber pistol she was carrying when he moved toward her, court documents say. But Amos was shot instead and later died.

During the clemency hearing, Foreshaw told a near-capacity room that she can never forget the grief she caused for not only her family, but Amos' family as well.

A psychiatrist testified at the trial that Foreshaw had post-traumatic stress disorder after having been abused as a child and being in two abusive marriages. The psychiatrist testified that Foreshaw was scared that Freeman would beat her like her husbands had and panicked, firing the gun before she could really think about what she was doing.

The state Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Foreshaw's application for a clemency hearing in May, but changed the ruling after learning about a 1989 public defender's memo through newspaper columns, board Chairwoman Erika Tindill said. The board didn't know about the memo when it rejected the application May 1, she said.

The memo was written by then-public defender Jon Blue, who said he believed Foreshaw didn't get a fair trial because of serious mistakes made by her trial public defender, Dennis O'Toole.

Blue wrote that O'Toole failed to challenge a "highly questionable" confession Foreshaw gave to police, a confession she refused to sign. He also said O'Toole failed to present an effective mental state defense.

"Mr. O'Toole's performance is, depending on one's point of view, either disturbing or downright shocking," Blue wrote.

O'Toole has since retired from the public defender's office

Amos' family has argued against releasing Foreshaw early and the victim's mother said she did not condone early release.

"I can forgive her, but I can't go along with early release. To lose a child, there is no hurt above that," she said.

Amos' daughter gave a victim impact statement and said she wanted Foreshaw to serve her sentence. 

"In a minute, I learned I lost my mom and baby brother," she said. "Inside I don't see why you just don't serve your time ... because that night you had a choice that March 26th night."

Foreshaw's supporters say the shooting should have been a manslaughter case and Foreshaw should have been freed years ago.

"Everything I've done has prepared me to be a better person," Foreshaw said during the hearing, and said she has been rehabilitated.

"I had to come to prison to be educated and get the help I need," Foreshaw said.

Blue, now a state Superior Court judge, said he took no position, positive or negative, on early release and said he left that to the panel. 

Blue wrote the memo to the public defender's chief appellate lawyer at the time, Joette Katz, who went on to become a state Supreme Court justice and is now commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families.

Tindill said a staffer in her office alerted her to the memo after it was written about in news columns by Andy Thibault, a contributing editor for Journal Register Co. newspapers in Connecticut. Thibault declined to tell the Associated Press how he obtained the document.

"Had it not been for the surfacing of that memo, which we had no idea about, we would not have reconsidered her case," Tindill said Thursday.

Tindill said she was stunned the memo wasn't presented with Foreshaw's clemency hearing application.

Richard Emanuel, a lawyer for Foreshaw, said during the parole board hearing that he made a mistake not including the memo in the clemency application.

Emanuel said that his main argument for clemency had been Foreshaw's efforts to rehabilitate herself because a judge had rejected the argument that O'Toole had been ineffective in an appeal by Foreshaw.

"Our application and supporting documentation focused on the extraordinary efforts at rehabilitation that Bonnie has made during the 27 years of her incarceration," he said.

Blue wrote in the memo that O'Toole "bungled" his direct examination of the psychiatrist and failed to present many pieces of evidence about Foreshaw's mental state.

Foreshaw was also the focus of a documentary called “Nature of the Beast,” which focused on the years of abuse Foreshaw suffered as a child and during three separate marriages.

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