OF 235 PARDONS and sentence commutations Bill Clinton doled out between Christmas and his final day in office, one that drew almost no criticism was the pardon of drug conspirator Kemba Smith. Her life on the run ended here seven years ago, followed by the murder of boyfriend Peter Michael Hall in the University District. Smith, then 24, and Hall, 31, a violence-prone coke dealer, were sought on federal drug conspiracy charges out of Virginia. They holed up in Seattle, which Hall thought would be "the New York of the West Coast." Instead he and Smith found paradise lost.
"We were homeless," Smith recalled in a 1996 jailhouse interview with Emerge magazine, "had no money, were living day by day, spending nights at the bus station, in rinky-dink hotels." She was also pregnant. "I was confused. I wanted a normal life. . . . Peter yelled at me and said, 'Stop talking about a normal life. What is a normal life?'" She split and gave herself up in October 1994. A month later, Hall was shot to death in his U District apartment. (Seattle Police last week said the case remains open; Hall's unclaimed remains were buried in a pauper's grave in Renton.)
Meanwhile, Smith pled guilty to drug charges in Norfolk Federal Court in 1995; her parents took up the task of raising her newborn son, William. At a sentencing hearing, Smith insisted she never sold drugs. Her attorney likened her conduct under Hall's influence to that of a battered woman. Prosecutors said she was well aware of her illegal activities, and aided and abetted the cocaine conspiracy. Smith got 24 years, making her the poster girl for groups opposing unfair mandatory minimum sentences. She served six years before Clinton's pardon freed her. "I made some bad decisions," she said. "I don't put the blame on anybody."