Kentucky's longest-serving inmate still hoping for freedom

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LA GRANGE, Ky. (WDRB) - Kentucky's longest-serving prison inmate is hoping a new program will set him free after more than 50 years behind bars. Willie Smith, 76, is serving life in prison for a 1960 murder and robbery in Lexington.

Smith has been behind bars at the Kentucky State Reformatory in La Grange for 54 years next month.

"I'd rather be free than be in here," said Smith. "I think I've been in here long enough."

Smith and another man were convicted of killing a Lexington gas station clerk on March 18, 1960. But during the trial, they blamed each other for firing the fatal shot. And according to his court appeal, Smith claims he was forced to confess by police but didn't actually commit the crime.

Reporter asks, "Did you shoot him?" And Smith says, "No." Reporter asks another question, "Did your co-defendant shoot him?" And Smith answers, "I guess he did."

His co-defendant was released more than 30 years ago, but Smith is still in prison despite being diagnosed with multiple mental disorders. In 1963, he escaped an electric chair death sentence because of an insanity plea.

Now defense attorneys, like Ted Shouse in Louisville, are taking a closer look at Smith's case since he's been denied parole every time. 1980 was Smith's best shot to get out. But when family members were contacted, no one expressed any interest in taking him in.

"A serve out in Mr. Smith's case is exactly that," said Shouse. "You'll serve until you die."

The parole board decided to never hear his case again. But by granting medical parole to some prisoners in a pilot project, the new program could be Smith's ticket out.

"Where inmates, like Mr. Smith, can be medically paroled to private nursing facilities, so they don't cost as much money for the prison," said Jason Riley, who is researching the case. "It will be paid for by Medicaid. The problem is you have to find a nursing home that will take them."

Willie Smith is on that list the parole board has decided to review, possibly giving him what he's always wanted.

"Freedom," said Smith.

Olin Alexander is the Lexington gas station clerk who was robbed and then murdered in this 1960 case.

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