NIANTIC — The state’s parole board Wednesday granted clemency to a 66-year-old woman who has served 27 years for shooting a pregnant woman to death.
Bonnie Foreshaw will be released on Nov. 15. She had been sentenced to 45 years in prison after a jury found her guilty of murder in the March 1986 shooting death of Joyce Amos, 28 at the time. She would have been released in August 2017 if clemency had been denied.
Previous efforts by supporters to secure a new trial or reduce Foreshaw’s sentence were rebuffed — until Andy Thibault, a writer for the Journal-Register newspapers, unearthed a 24-year-old memo earlier this year that harshly criticized Foreshaw’s representation by a Connecticut public defender. That criticism came from a source difficult to ignore — fellow public defender Jon C. Blue, who soon after would become a Superior Court judge.
“Ms. Foreshaw did not have a fair trial,” Blue bluntly declared in the 1989 memo, saying that Foreshaw’s public defender failed to challenge a “highly questionable confession” that followed an interrogation that lasted from 2 to 7 a.m., and failed to present an effective mental-state defense for a woman who gave birth after being raped at age 12 and who suffered through three abusive marriages.
The Connecticut Board of Pardons and Parole, which turned down Foreshaw’s request in May for a clemency hearing, reversed itself a month later after Blue’s memo surfaced. So Wednesday morning the parole board revisited the sad and violence-torn life of Bonnie Jean Foreshaw.
Foreshaw was not seeking a pardon — an action that would undo her murder conviction. Instead, her lawyers asked to have her sentence commuted to the time she has served.
In author Wally Lamb’s book, “Couldn’t Keep It To Myself” — a collection of essays by women incarcerated at the York Correctional Institution in Niantic — Foreshaw wrote of being sexually abused by cousins as a young girl and enduring constant emotional abuse by her stepfathers. She became a mother through rape at age 12 and married a succession of abusive men, including one who put her in the hospital after beating her with a baseball bat. After her third ex-husband began stalking her, she bought a .38-caliber handgun.
Bonnie Foreshaw and Joyce Amos had never met until their worlds collided after midnight on March 27, 1986, outside a Hartford social club. Foreshaw had stopped into the club for a beer and testified that she found herself fending off advances from a man named Hector Freeman. When she left the club, Freeman followed, and at some point was joined by Amos, a friend of his.
Foreshaw and Freeman exchanged words, and when Freeman moved toward her, Foreshaw, saying she feared that she was about to be assaulted, pulled out her gun and fired. Amos, who by some accounts was attempting to defuse the situation, was hit and died soon after.
Although Foreshaw’s conviction was upheld on appeal, supporters say there was little justification for a charge of murder, which requires a clear-headed intent to kill. Had Foreshaw been charged and convicted of first-degree manslaughter — defined as killing someone through an act intended only to cause serious physical injury, or intentionally killing someone while under extreme emotional distress — she would have been sentenced to no more than 20 years in prison and would have been released years ago.
Supporters also say that Foreshaw has been a model prisoner, mentoring and tutoring fellow inmates and working with the prison’s hospice program. They say she deserves leniency for her work to rehabilitate herself and help others.
Story by Matthew Kauffman, Hartford Courant; Video By Jeevan Vittal, Fox CT