See correction at bottom of story

Niantic – Bonnie Jean Foreshaw, who was convicted of murder when Ronald Reagan was president, was granted clemency today by the state Board of Paroles. Her release date is Nov. 15.

She had been convicted of the fatal shooting of Joyce Amos, who was pregnant at the time, near a Jamaican social club on Albany Avenue in Hartford. At that time, Foreshaw’s 45-year sentence was the longest ever given to a woman.

At the six-hour hearing at Gates Correctional Institution, Foreshaw, 66, sat with her lawyers at a table facing the three-person board. She wore shackles, a gray sweatshirt and a blue skirt. A long black scarf covered her long braids.

As Erika Tindill, the head of the parole board, made the announcement, Foreshaw bent her head and wept. A few of her relatives attending the hearing, also cried.

“This was not an easy decision,” Tindill said. The case was “complicated and nuanced,” but the board felt that Foreshaw has been rehabilitated and would not present a future threat.

During the testimony, a sad story came out about the two women — the victim and her murderer — who were both abused by their partners so badly they were hospitalized.

It also revealed the story of the failure of the judicial system in the case of Foreshaw, who was bounced between 22 lawyers, from the beginning of her case until now.

Initially the hearing did not seem as if it would go Foreshaw’s way. As Amos’ relatives testified about the pain and anger her death had caused them, they said they doubted that Foreshaw was sincerely remorseful. “You play the role of the victim,” said Amos’ daughter, Tammy Miller. “You had a choice that March 26th night, and you did not make the right choice.”

Amos’ mother, Betty Gibson, said, “I can forgive [Foreshaw], but as far as early [release], I can’t  go along with that.”  

After the decision, as the crowd left the hearing room, Silva Robinson, Foreshaw’s oldest daughter, started singing a hymn. Then she said, “I’m happy that my mama is coming home. It’s been a long journey.”

Amos’ brother Ahmed Gibson looked grim. “We’re going to abide by what the board said. That was their decision, and we’re going to abide by that decision.”

During the unusual clemency hearing, Foreshaw spoke to the family of her victim. “I’m a mother, she was a mother,” Foreshaw said “The fact that I brought so much grief to my family and her family, all I can do is apologize.”

Foreshaw has served her sentence at the York Correctional Institution in East Lyme, the only state women’s prison.

The state Board of Parole heard Foreshaw’s lawyers present new information that criticized the original handling of her trial for the 1986 shooting.

Foreshaw never met Amos. She has said she had bought the pistol to protect herself against her third ex-husband.

While at the club, she has said she was being harassed by a man, Hector Freeman, who was accompanied by Amos. Fearing she was going to be assaulted, Foreshaw said she pulled out a gun and fired, but accidently shot Amos, who later died. Her supporters say she should have been charged with manslaughter, though her murder conviction was upheld on appeal.

The board originally denied Foreshaw’s request for clemency, but reconsidered after new information emerged recently in the form of a 1989 memo written by her first appellate attorney, Jon C. Blue. In the memo, Blue, who is now a Superior Court judge, was highly critical of her trial lawyer’s performance in the case. He claimed the lawyer failed to challenge a questionable confession and present an effective mental state defense.

Foreshaw had been scheduled to be released in 2017, but sought immediate release based on the time she has served.

While in prison, Foreshaw was one of the inmates who studied writing with author Wally Lamb. Her essays were published in two books of inmates’ writings edited by Lamb.

Since then, she has become a cause celebre. The cinder block hearing room at Gates was ringed with reporters, photographers and videographers. She was also the subject of a 1993 documentary, “The Nature of the Beast.”

Lamb, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, said, “I’m just overjoyed not only for Bonnie, but her family, and of course my heart goes out to the victim’s family. In the end, I think the panel was compassionate, and I respect them for that.”

Because of an editor’s error, an earlier version of this story said Foreshaw’s release date is Nov. 22. The story has been corrected to say that the release date is Nov. 15.

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