A woman who has been in prison for 27 years for the death of an expectant mother in Hartford was granted clemency Wednesday after an extraordinary hearing before the state Board of Pardons and Paroles, despite emotional pleas to reject the leniency by the victim’s relatives.
Members of the board voted 3-0 at Gates Correctional Institution in East Lyme to approve early release for Bonnie Jean Foreshaw, effective Nov. 15, after questioning Foreshaw about the crime and her rehabilitation.
The 66-year-old Foreshaw had been scheduled to be released from prison in August 2017. It was only the second clemency hearing in Connecticut in the past decade.
Foreshaw was sentenced to 45 years in prison on a premeditated murder conviction in the shooting death of Joyce Amos in 1986. Foreshaw’s supporters, including author Wally Lamb, sought her release for years, arguing she should have been convicted of a lesser manslaughter charge and freed years ago because they say she shot Amos by accident while defending herself against a man who was threatening her.
“This is wrong,” said Ahmed Gibson Jr., Amos’ brother. “I just don’t feel that it was the correct decision.” But, he added, “We’re going to have to abide by what the board said. We have to accept their decision.”
Board chairwoman Erika Tindill and members Nicholas Sabetta and Robert Smith approved the clemency. Tindill said board members believed Foreshaw doesn’t pose a danger to the community and has rehabilitated herself by participating in numerous prison programs, including mentoring and hospice care.
“This was not an easy decision,” Tindill said.
Board members declined to answer questions after the decision was announced.
Foreshaw’s supporters were elated. When she gets out of prison, Foreshaw said, she plans to live with her granddaughter in Manchester and volunteer in the community.
“I never gave up hope,” said Foreshaw’s daughter, Silva Robinson of East Hartford. “I think my mom did her time, and it’s time to come home and spend time with her family. I still send my remorse out to the (victim’s) family.”
Foreshaw had no visible reaction to the decision and was taken away by prison guards afterward. She wore gray prison sweats and leg shackles as she sat next to her lawyer, Richard Emanuel, and state Chief Public Defender Susan Storey.
“I have claimed responsibility from Day One,” Foreshaw told the board. “I never intended to kill anybody. … I brought so much grief to both families. The remorse I feel cannot be conveyed in words.”
On the night of the fatal shooting, Foreshaw went for a beer at the Jamaican Progressive League club in Hartford’s North End and got in an argument with Hector Freeman, after she refused to allow him to buy her a drink. The dispute continued outside the club.
Foreshaw said she fired what she thought was a warning shot with her .38-caliber handgun as Freeman was making a threatening move toward her. A psychiatrist testified at her trial that Foreshaw suffered childhood and spousal abuse and was scared Freeman was going to hurt her.
Foreshaw’s supporters say Freeman, when he saw Foreshaw had a gun, pulled Amos in front of him, using her as a human shield.
But Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Leonard Boyle called those claims “lore” and noted a state Supreme Court decision rejecting an appeal by Foreshaw. The court found that Foreshaw initially walked away from Freeman but returned with the gun and shouted at Amos to get out of the way because she was going to kill someone. Foreshaw then fired the shot that killed Amos and her unborn child and drove away from the scene, but was arrested a short time later, the court ruling said.
Amos’ relatives told the Board of Pardons and Paroles that the killing devastated their family.
“The hurt that this lady caused my family is … I really … I can’t find the words,” said Amos’ mother, Betty Gibson. “To lose a child, there’s no hurt above that.”
Foreshaw’s supporters also argued that she didn’t get a fair trial because her public defender was ineffective. But Boyle noted that Connecticut courts rejected that claim.
The board initially rejected Foreshaw’s bid for a clemency hearing in May, but changed its decision based on a 1989 memo that resurfaced and hadn’t been seen by the board. The memo was by a different public defender who told a supervisor that he believed Foreshaw didn’t get a fair trial because the trial public defender failed to present an effective mental state defense and failed to challenge a questionable confession.