Janice did ok in my book, I would have done the same to such an abusive bastard. Justice served on him, but she should have walked IMO.
Posted on Wed, Jan. 18, 2006
Folk hero who killed abusive father paroled - Down a dirt road named Copperhead lives a woman who some would say had good reason to kill the man who gave her life.
But Janice Clark Smith, who was paroled from prison last week for fatally shooting her father, George Manley Clark - decades after he sexually abused his daughters and assaulted his grandchild, executed family pets and held a shotgun to his wife's head - said the reason still wasn't good enough.
"I done wrong; I should not have shot him in the chest like I did," said the 51-year-old grandmother of eight as she held her squirming 3-year-old grandson Austin Lamb in her lap. "And now I'm a criminal. But someone had to stop that man before he hurt someone else."
Smith is flying this morning to Los Angeles to tell her story tonight on "Larry King Live." Along with her today will be husband Jerry, her mother, two sisters, three brothers and York County's public defender. The show might air tonight, or later, depending on the day's news.
Smith, whose story has also been told on "Oprah," said she wasn't nervous.
"I spent most all of my life being scared to death of my own daddy, that he was gonna grab me, beat me or worse," she said, her clear brown eyes glinting in the winter sun. "He can't grab me no more; I'm free. Afraid of getting on TV and telling the truth? That ain't nothing."
During five hours of testimony from family members at her August 2004 sentencing hearing, Clark's deeds unfolded like scenes from a horror movie:
He held his 5-year-old daughter and she screamed and cried while he cut off her long blond hair with a pocketknife. She suffered from leukemia and died a year later.
He made his children watch as he threw their kitten off a bridge into the Catawba River.
He made his children who wet the bed, such as Janice, drink a concoction of sugar and kerosene or honey and turpentine.
He put guns in his children's hands and dared them to shoot him. When they didn't, he grabbed the gun and called them cowards.
Not one person came to Clark's defense, not even his brother.
It was Public Defender Harry Dest who arranged for the family members to tell their father's stories in court. Dest represented Smith, who pleaded guilty, and made the case for a reduced charge of manslaughter and a seven-year sentence under special guidelines, which allowed for early parole for victims of abuse.
"This was a horrible family tragedy with unimaginable suffering that went on for decades," Dest said. "But it's also a story of redemption, mercy and justice. You couldn't have asked for anyone to have handled all of this quite like Janice has."
Smith was released Thursday from a Columbia prison after 17 months with a unanimous vote by the parole board on her first hearing. She said prison was hard but with the help of her family, she fought becoming institutionalized and embittered.
Her favorite acts of freedom this week have been getting mail that has not been opened by guards, wearing her own clothes and putting on her beloved, tooled cowboy boots.
"One of the first things I did was make myself some toast; it was wonderful," she said.
She's quit smoking and drinking - she was drinking that night Dec. 11, 2003, when she calmed down her father with a glass of wine just before pulling out her .38-caliber revolver.
She's also had her eyes opened to the problems of physical and sexual abuse in families and how lucky she and her family are just to be alive. She has become a folk hero for some - a Justice for Janice Web site has been started, and she's received more than 2,000 letters of support from as far away as Israel. She plans to speak out on domestic abuse, to tell women and children there's help and that they can escape abusive households.
"We could have been killed in that man's house," she said. "I met women in prison who had it much worse than me and were doing more time for committing less of a crime than me. It's funny, but I am lucky."
Daughter Alicia Watts holds her mother's hands while listening to her story. Watts tells of being so scared of her grandfather that she would hide under the floor mats of the family car.
"I never got to see my grandma while he was alive," she said. "Sometimes he would come to my aunt's where I was baby-sitting and I'd lock myself into the bathroom."
Smith and her husband say that besides the two-day trip to California this week, they have nothing special planned in the coming weeks. They celebrated her freedom by going out to Waffle House for dinner.
"We're homebodies. We're thinking about maybe getting away down to the Santee State Park and maybe do some fishing," she said, winking at her husband. "I'll be going back to work sometime. You know I haven't really been back to enjoy my home and family since that night. I want to enjoy the peace."
"Why don't you just go to the hose and drink some water like the dog you are"