Longest-serving CT prisoner, now 97, released 72 years after Greenwich yacht club murder

Longest-serving CT prisoner, now 97, released 72 years after Greenwich yacht club murder

GREENWICH — Francis Smith, the longest-serving prisoner in the state of Connecticut — incarcerated for a 1949 Greenwich murder he was convicted of in 1950 — is no longer behind prison walls.

Smith, now 97, has been released on “supervised parole” to the 60 West nursing home in Rocky Hill.

A longtime petty criminal from Noroton, Smith was sent away for his part in the killing of a night watchman at the Indian Harbor Yacht Club on the Greenwich shore, a conviction that observers and legal experts believe he was innocent of. Since that trial ended in a Bridgeport courtroom, he has spent 70 years in the custody of the state of Connecticut, aside from two short intervals.

He escaped from a prison farm in Enfield in 1967 and eluded a huge manhunt for 12 days. In his last taste of freedom before his release, he was out on parole for 10 months before committing a violation that put him back behind bars in 1975. After decades in jail, Smith had most recently been incarcerated at the Osborn Correctional Institute in Somers, which is a specialized jail unit for older prisoners.

Marchant, Rob

According to the state Department of Correction, he was released in September 2020.

Smith had initially been reluctant to accept parole when it was offered to him several years ago, according to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, but has since accepted a placement at the 60 West facility, a privately-run operation that contracts with the state for housing elderly parolees.

Richard Sparaco, executive director of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, said there had been no problems with Smith since his release.

“He’s doing well under supervision,” he said.

Like prison and parole officials around the country, Sparaco said the issue of an aging prison population has become a significant question. The prison population has been seeing a rising number of older inmates behind bars, a consequence of longer prison sentences that were imposed in the 1980s and 90s for convicted felons.

The state of Connecticut allows prisoners who was are diagnosed as “debilitated” to receive a “compassionate” release, but that threshold was fairly high, said Sparaco. A new policy was implemented in June 2021, lowering the threshold for commutation and giving the parole board more flexibility.

“We’ve expanded our own policies to account for somebody who may not meet the requirements of compassionate release, but who is in that elder category,” said Sparaco. Now parole officials are looking at the “extent to which whether continued service on a sentence is in the interest of justice,” and other factors involving a prisoner’s conviction.

“What the board is doing is … to take the opportunity to take another look, and ask: where are they now? What’s in the best interest for the state of Connecticut and justice, too? We’re looking at all factors. And it’s not just, ‘they’ve been been incarcerated a long time, we should let them out’ — that’s not what we’re doing,” Sparaco noted.

In Smith’s case, a number of observers and legal officials have questioned the length of his sentence, as well as the handling of his murder conviction nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

Newspaper articles about the trial of Francis Smith.

Newspaper articles about the trial of Francis Smith.

Zachary Frey, a data analyst from Greenwich with a strong interest in history, has questions about Smith’s guilt after closely reading about the shooting death of the night watchman, Grover Hart, at the yacht club. Two guns and two shooters were involved in the killing of the 68-year-old security guard. One of the shooters, George Lowden of Stamford, quickly took a plea deal offered by the State’s Attorney and claimed the other suspect was Francis (Frank) Smith. Lowden was released from jail in 1966.

Ferne Dekker

Learn More →