Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart

The answer is: Phil Spector and Pamela Smart.


The question is: Who are the two imprisoned people who have had HBO filmscaptivated-the-trials-of-pamela-smart-1024 about their trials and that question their convictions and sentences?

Written and directed by David Mamet, and starring Helen Mirren and Al Pacino, the narrative film, Phil Spector, was first cablecast in 2013.

Directed by veteran filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar, and cablecast in 2014, Captivated reviews the 1990 murder of Greggory Smart, the trial of wife Pamela for the charge of accessory to first degree murder, and her conviction, sentencing, and imprisonment.

The Pamela Smart trial was the first criminal trial to have gavel-to-gavel television coverage. It is considered the Big Bang of ‘reality TV’ — including court-based litigation presented in real time. The phenomenon of this massive amount of media coverage and its impact on the trial is thematically woven throughout Zagar’s film which describes a semi-conscious conspiracy between the media and the prosecution to tell the lurid, money-making tale of a wife who seduces a teenager and convinces him to murder her philandering husband.

In addition to the massive amount of regional and national coverage the crime and the ensuing trial engendered, there was the 1991 TV movie, Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Wojas Smart Story starring Helen Hunt; the 1995 Gus Van Sant film, To Die For, starring Nicole Kidman — along with a plethora of cablecast documentaries.

In addition to questioning the extent to which media coverage influenced the guilty verdict against Smart and her life-with-parole sentence, Captivated documents aspects of her trial that bring both verdict and sentence into question — phenomena such as breaking protocol by keeping the four young boys who participated in the murder housed closely together during the pretrial time window, allowing them to develop their defense story; disallowing a full analysis of a recording made via a wire on a prosecution witness; neither relocating the trial, nor sequestering the jury in the full knowledge of the massive publicity generated by this made-for-tabloid story.

A woman, described as the ‘13th juror’ followed instructions. She did not talk about the case; but, instead made an audio tape diary of her daily experience. Portions of her diary are played throughout the film. By the end of this diary, by the end of the film I was left with the distinct impression that although it is not clear that Pamela Smart is innocent, it is very unclear that she is guilty. It is also very clear that she did not receive a fair trial. She didn’t have the money for one.

I’m haunted by a couple pieces of information in the film. One is that the judge wondered out loud who would portray him in the film — he preferred Clint Eastwood. The other is the fact that the boy who shot Greggory Smart and the boy’s associates pled down to and were convicted of second degree murder. They received 25 to life, and were eligible for parole. Two have been released, and the other two may be released as early as 2015.

Pamela Smart, who is serving a life sentence, was charged and convicted of accessory to first degree murder. But that doesn’t match the charge given to the murder’s perpetrators. That simply doesn’t make sense.

Please Login to leave your comments