August 25, 2003 (updated 05/29/07)
Sixty-nine year-old Edgar Smith lives an anonymous existence as one of almost 160,000 inmates in the California penal system. At one time, however, he was the most famous prisoner in the United States. His story begins on the other side of the country and almost half a century ago, in the peaceful town of Mahwah, N.J. In 1957, Smith was sentenced to die in the electric chair for the murder of Vickie Zielinski, a pretty young cheerleader whose savagely bludgeoned body was found in a sandpit. The crime and the trial drew national attention. Smith claimed he was innocent and named another man as the killer, but he was found guilty and sent to the Death House in Trenton State Prison. From his prison cell, Smith managed to stave off execution with a series of appeals, and even wrote a book giving his version of the case. He began to correspond with columnist William F. Buckley Jr., who helped him overturn his conviction and negotiate a plea bargain instead of a second trial. At the time of his release in December 1971, he was the longest-serving prisoner on death row in the United States.
by Lona Manning