Clemency Granted in 1980s Murder Case

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bonnie Foreshaw appeared before the Connecticut parole board for a clemency hearing. Foreshaw has served 27 years of a 45 year sentence for killing Joyce Amos in 1986. (Published Wednesday, Oct 9, 2013)

    The state Board of Pardons and Paroles has decided to grant clemency for Bonnie Foreshaw, a 66-year-old woman serving a 45-year sentence for murder for the shooting death of an expectant mother.

    Foreshaw has spent the last 27 years in prison, convicted of premeditated murder for the shooting death of Joyce Amos in Hartford.

    Foreshaw claimed that she shot Amos by accident while trying to defend herself against a man she feared.

    On Wednesday afternoon, all three members of the board decided to grant clemency after deliberating for an hour.

    "We believe you have sufficiently rehabilitated yourself and that you do not pose a threat to anyone," one board member said.

    Foreshaw is set to be released from prison on November 15, which happens to be one of her grandchildren's birthdays.

    "I am guilty of shooting Ms. Amos," Foreshaw told members of the Board of Pardons and Paroles this morning. "I'm asking for your mercy."

    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.

    Amos' family attended the hearing and argued against releasing Foreshaw early.

    Amos' mother spoke at the hearing and said she does 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 during the hearing and said she wants 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."

    Amos' daughter said she has been in contact with Foreshaw through letters and did not sense any remorse.

    "She committed a crime and I would like her to do her sentence," Amos' daughter said.

    Members of the board questioned Foreshaw.

    They said there were several inconsistencies in the file that don't make sense. One said Foreshaw was at fault for Amos' death, but that she was afraid and asked to hear Foreshaw's intentions and know she is remorseful.

    One board member said there were were so many points in the justice system that failed her.

    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," she 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.

    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 and could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Blue, now a state Superior Court judge, said he takes no position, positive or negative, on early release and said he leaves 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.

    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.

    She was convicted in 1987 of murdering Joyce Amos the year before in an encounter with Amos and a man named Hector Freeman.

    Foreshaw testified at her trial that she was scared of 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.

    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.

    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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