Woman who spent 42 years behind bars set free by Cumberland County judge

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A woman who has spent the past 42 years in prison has been set free by a Cumberland County judge. Letitia Smallwood was convicted of setting an apartment fire that killed two people 1973. But she has maintained her innocence ever since.

Smallwood appeared in court by a video conference and when the judge announced the terms to her release she gasped in disbelief and so did her family members. But, Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed says he still believes Smallwood is guilty. The Commonwealth filed an appeal on Thursday. Freed says there was motive behind this fire that happened years ago.

“It’s been a long time coming I mean as you could see she was quite emotional even over the video and her family of course is very anxious to have her home,” said Marissa Bluestine, Smallwood’s attorney.

Earlier this week a judge granted Smallwood a new trial, and today at her bail hearing he ordered her free on $20,000 unsecured bond. The Commonwealth and Smallwood’s attorney agreed to a few conditions that she must abide by. She must reside in Carlisle with her aunt and she has to agree to stay within the state. She also is not allowed contact with the family of the two victims that died in the fire. And, she’s required to report to a parole officer every two weeks. Freed says the public has no need to worry.

“We think the conditions have been in place, we think the home plan is appropriate and the monitoring plan is appropriate so I feel that safety has been ensured,” said Cumberland County District Attorney, David Freed.

Freed says just because a judge granted Smallwood a new trial doesn’t mean she’s innocent. Smallwood was convicted of setting an apartment fire that killed two people in 1972. Freed says her motive was a complicated relationship between Smallwood’s ex-boyfriend and his new lover. But, he’s concerned the state may not have enough evidence to prove she’s guilty in a new trial.

“Obviously we’ve got to see what we can resurrect now one of the things that we have going for us in this case is that as I’ve said from the outset, this is much more than a fire science case this is a case where there are witnesses there was motive there was means there was opportunity,” said Freed.

But, Smallwood’s attorneys say advancements in fire science raise questions about the evidence used to convict her in the first place.

“What we thought was good evidence 40 years ago we now know is not and that really raises a question with all of us in terms of whether we want to keep those people in prison,” said Bluestine.

The tricky part is that the Department of Corrections could uphold the state’s appeal which will draw out Smallwood’s release. Her attorneys expect her to be home by the first week in May.

The state’s appeal now goes to superior court. A decision is expected within a year.