Published November 15. 2013 6:00AM Updated November 15. 2013 10:29PM
East Lyme — A Connecticut woman who spent 27 years in prison for the murder of a pregnant woman was released Friday — four years early — after state officials took the rare step of granting her clemency.
Bonnie Jean Foreshaw, now 66, thanked supporters and asked for forgiveness from the victim's family after walking out of York Correctional Institution.
"Leaving York correctional facility has been a goal and now it's a reality, and it still seems surreal," said Foreshaw, who plans to live with a granddaughter in Manchester.
Foreshaw was sentenced to 45 years in prison for premeditated murder in the 1986 shooting death of Joyce Amos in Hartford. Amos' fetus didn't survive. Foreshaw argued that she shot Amos by accident while defending herself against another person, a claim rejected by prosecutors.
Foreshaw is only the second inmate in a decade to have a clemency application approved by the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Her supporters, including author Wally Lamb, have sought her release for years, arguing that she should have been convicted of a lesser manslaughter charge. The clemency hearing last month was scheduled after a 1980s memo questioning the fairness of her trial came to light.
Chairwoman Erika Tindill said parole board members believe Foreshaw isn't a danger to the community and has rehabilitated herself by participating in prison programs such as mentoring and hospice care. Foreshaw had been scheduled to leave prison in four years with credits for good behavior.
Amos' relatives made emotional pleas to reject the leniency. "To lose a child, there's no hurt above that," Amos' mother, Betty Gibson, told the board last month.
On the night of the 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 made 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 pulled Amos in front of him when he saw Foreshaw had a gun, using Amos as a human shield.
But prosecutors noted a Supreme Court decision that rejected an appeal by Foreshaw and found that she initially walked away from Freeman, then 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.
The parole board initially rejected Foreshaw's bid for a clemency hearing but later changed its decision based on a 1989 memo written by a public defender who told a supervisor he believed Foreshaw didn't get a fair trial because the trial public defender failed to present an effective mental state defense and to challenge a questionable confession.