A Carlisle woman, who spent 42 years behind bars after being sentenced to two life sentences in a 1972 double-murder arson case, was released from state prison Monday, two weeks after her conviction was overturned, pending a new trial.
Letitia Smallwood, 62, was released from SCI Muncy on Monday, according to Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which is conducting Smallwood’s defense.
“This is what we agreed upon with the Commonwealth, so it is not any big surprise, but we are just happy that we were able to get this accomplished relatively quickly after the judge authorized her to able to be released on bail,” she said.
Smallwood — who was a 20-year-old student studying to become a hearing disability specialist — was convicted in a jury trial on Jan. 11, 1973, after the Aug. 29, 1972, fire that destroyed the apartment building at 11 N. Pitt St., and killed Steven Johnson, 26, and Paula Wagner, 23.
Prosecutors said a lovers’ quarrel prompted her to set fire to the building, but her attorneys have argued that modern fire science has since discounted the theories once used in arson cases.
That conviction was overturned earlier in April by Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Edward Guido, and bail was granted April 24, pending the retrial of the charges in Cumberland County Court. However, her release was hindered by an unrelated sentence on prison contraband charges from 1983 and 1995.
Guido set bail at $20,000 unsecured, with conditions that Smallwood live in Carlisle with her aunt, not travel outside of the state, not contact the family of the victims and report biweekly to the Probation/Parole Department to make sure that she is complying with all conditions of her bail.
“The fact that the government agreed that she should be home kind of gives some kind of indication to us that they are taking into consideration her health, her extenuating circumstances of the case,” Bluestine said. “We of course feel that is part-in-parcel with the lack of evidence they have to continue to prosecute Ms. Smallwood, but I am sure the district attorney would disagree with that.”
The Commonwealth has appealed the decision to overturn the conviction to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said Monday that his office continues to pursue that appeal.
Moving forward, Freed said his office will continue the investigation into the case, and if the appeal is overturned, will make the decision to retry the charges.
Freed previously said he does not believe that Smallwood is innocent of the crime.
“Despite the district attorney’s refrain that there is means, motive and opportunity in this case, he has yet to point to a single fact which establishes any of those things, so we are pretty confident that on retrial there will be a successful outcome for Ms. Smallwood, and this nightmare of hers will finally be over,” Bluestine said.
Bluestine said Smallwood would not be making any statements, but that she “is quite happy, her family is quite happy.”
No date is set for the retrial.