Ten years passed. Then suddenly, in 1986, Kelly Jarrett got another chance at freedom. Claudia Angelos, a young law professor at New York University, was running a law clinic in which some of her students went to the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility to teach inmates about the law. Bedford Hills' superintendent pointed out Jarrett's case, saying he thought that she was innocent. Angelos became Jarrett's attorney and one of her law students, Abbe Smith, helped work on the case.
Angelos filed a writ of habeas corpus challenging the validity of the eyewitness identification by the elderly man. To her surprise and delight, the habeas was granted and the court said Jarrett was to be released or retried.
But there was a hitch. Angelos knew the state was going to appeal and the circuit court could very likely uphold that appeal. In the meantime, Jarret was offered a plea -- plead guilty to the robbery and the murder and she essentially would get time served and would have her freedom.
"She asked me what I would do," Claudia Angelos told FRONTLINE. "I told her I would take it. She asked, 'What if I don't?' And I said, 'I'll fight for you … we'll do our best, but we might lose.'"
Jarrett decided not to take the plea. "It's just morally wrong to say you did something you know in your heart you didn't do. I couldn't live with myself if I did that. I saw the pictures of the young man and … for them to want me to say that I did something so horrible just to get out of prison, I just couldn't do it."
"She's a religious woman," says Angelos. "God wouldn't let her do it, it would be wrong, it would be lying and [she said] that she would rather stay where she was than commit fraud just to get out. And I said I accepted her decision and then I left."
After Jarrett refused the plea offer, the state won the appeal and she has remained in prison to serve the rest of her sentence, which may be the rest of her life.
Since 1994 Abbe Smith, the law student who had worked on the habeas with Claudia Angelos, has been Jarrett's attorney. Smith says she would have strongly pressured Jarrett to take the appeal. "Most of us don't become criminal defense lawyers because we want to make innocent people plead guilty. But the system stinks and here's somebody who had been locked up for 10 years in a maximum security prison and everybody knew that the court of appeals was going to reverse. There is this one moment, this one opportunity to free her and I would have done everything within my power to get her to plead guilty."
In 2003, after 26 years in prison, Jarrett got a hearing in front of the clemency board. The clemency was not granted. There was no explanation. Only two clemencies were granted that year by Governor Pataki; one went to the satirist Lenny Bruce who died 37 years before.
The first parole hearing for Kelly Jarrett will take place in 2005. But her dilemma may very well follow her. Parole boards expect admission of wrongdoing and expression of remorse. Locked up for almost 30 years for claiming that she is innocent, it would be hard to imagine Kelly Jarrett now saying she is not.
Update: At Jarrett's first parole hearing in the spring of 2005, she was granted parole. She will be released on June 13, 2005.