clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


A school principal once sentenced to die for the 1979 slayings of a teacher and her two children was freed from prison Friday after the state Supreme Court said prosecutors badly mishandled the case.

In a 5-0 decision ordering Jay C. Smith freed, the court said the prosecution hid crucial evidence that could have helped his defense against the murder charges. He was convicted in 1986, and his death sentence was later reduced to a life sentence."Sure I'm bitter. I'm angry," Smith said after walking out of state prison Friday night in Huntingdon, about 100 miles west of Harrisburg. "I don't think I can be happy anymore. What is there to be happy about? You can see what kind of justice system you have."

Smith said his time in prison was "worse than a nightmare."

His lawyer, William C. Costopoulos, said: "I honestly believe I have set an innocent man free."

Author Joseph Wambaugh's book about the case, "Echoes in the Darkness," became a best seller and television miniseries.

Susan Reinert's nude and battered body was found in her car parked at a motel near Harrisburg. Her children, Karen, 11, and Michael, 10, were never found.

Authorities contended Smith and William Bradfield Jr., a teacher at the school in Montgomery County, killed Reinert and her children to collect $750,000 from their estate. They contended Bradfield, who is serving a life sentence, was romantically involved with Reinert, an English teacher.

Smith's defense had argued that Reinert was murdered at the New Jersey seashore where Bradfield had been.

Smith won a new trial in December 1989 after the state Supreme Court ruled improper hearsay evidence was introduced in his first trial. But the court said Friday that prosecutional wrongdoing was so bad that retrying him would violate his constitutional protections against double jeopardy.