The Juror and the Convict

Lynne Harriton was the jury foreman at Andre Smith's trial in the Carnegie Deli murder case. Now she's his closest friend.

There you have it—some insight on what happens when you enter prison reception. . . .

Lynne: You write beautifully. Your descriptions are completely involving—I can see through your pen. I have been teaching for 10 years; few of my students have that sense of writing, that ability to enable me to see—and to hear their voices as I could hear yours. Your descriptions are really vivid—you move from observations to thoughts and back to observations again really skillfully. You use sound descriptions as well as visual. . . . You can't teach this! I hope you are writing every day.

Memorial Day weekend 2004: Lynne's first trip to see Andre at Green Haven prison
photo: Courtesy Lynne Harriton
Memorial Day weekend 2004: Lynne's first trip to see Andre at Green Haven prison

Lynne Harriton, at her apartment in midtown Manhattan
photo: Shaune McDowell
Lynne had never been one to believe in fate, but there were so many coincidences with this case that she imagined they were signs telling her to stay involved. The crime had occurred in her neighborhood, just two blocks from her home; she'd been the very first person picked for Andre's jury; after the trial, she'd discovered that the mother of one of her students was a close friend of Jennifer Stahl; and she had learned that one of her neighbors used to buy pot from Jennifer.

Throughout the fall and into the winter, letters traveled back and forth between Lynne and Andre.

Lynne: Let me tell you a little bit about myself. Oddly, I live on West 55th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, not far from the Carnegie Deli. I have lived here for 26 years. I have a 2-bedroom apartment. . . . I'm an identical twin and my sister is an assistant principal at a high school in Brooklyn. We grew up in Pennsylvania—near Delaware Water Gap, and our parents still live out there. I am very lucky that they are still alive and still together.

Andre: My childhood was basically normal besides both my parents were not actually there. My brother and I were raised by our grandmother. She was a wonderful lady, who didn't tolerate no mess from us or others. She was strict as hell. . . . I don't care if you were someone else's child, she'll chastise you as well, so children in our neighborhood who knew Ms. Freida did not give her back talk.

Fifty years before Andre was incarcerated for the Carnegie Deli murders, his own mother was born in a New Jersey prison. That was in 1952, when his grandmother Freida was 17 and serving time for "incorrigibility." Two decades later, Freida took custody of Andre and his brother Tyrone, raising them in an apartment in Newark. She never talked about her time in prison, but she always preached the importance of staying out of trouble. She attended classes at Essex County College and paid the rent by doing maintenance work at the local courthouse.

Andre occasionally saw his mother, but he didn't call her Mom or Ma. Instead, he called her Sharon or sometimes just Sha. She seemed more like a sister than a mother. He never saw her shoot heroin, but he knew she was an addict. He also knew she supported herself by shoplifting; her favorite loot was $100 dresses from department stores in Manhattan. "Why are you doing that?" he asked one day, when they went to Macy's and she started shoving clothes into bags.

His childhood memories include spending time with her in a jail visiting room on Rikers Island and tagging along when she went to her methadone clinic in the Village. When Andre was a teenager, she began showing the symptoms of AIDS; he started bringing her to emergency rooms whenever her condition worsened. By the end of 1989, Freida was sick, too. She'd suffered a stroke and a heart attack. Andre spent his days shuttling between two hospitals—one in Newark, the other in Union City—to visit his mother and grandmother.

His mother died at the end of 1989 at age 37. Six weeks later, his grandmother died too. She was 55. For both of them, Andre helped make the funeral arrangements and pick out the caskets. At the time, he was 19.

By then Andre already had a rap sheet. He'd been selling marijuana and cocaine for a few years, even though he knew his grandmother did not approve. At one point, she'd even refused to give him and his brother Christmas presents. "Since y'all are going to sell that poison, buy your own gifts," she'd said.

In 1990, five months after Freida's death, Andre was arrested and charged with cocaine possession. While this case was pending, he got arrested again; this time police said he had 140 vials of crack. He pleaded guilty in both cases and spent a total of 20 months in a New Jersey prison. He was released on parole in the spring of 1993.

Two months later, he stuck up a coke dealer in Washington Heights with a .38-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Nobody was injured. Andre spent three years in a New York prison, then four more years in a New Jersey prison for violating his parole.

At one point, he and his brother were in the same medium-security facility in Camden. (Tyrone was serving time for manslaughter.) According to Andre, the two shared a prison cell for seven or eight months.

Lynne: You write with such sensitivity about your grandmother, this woman who worked so hard to raise you right. And she produced a young man who respects her values and appreciates her efforts totally (you). Yet something went wrong. Can you put your finger on it—when, where, what happened? What was going on that you dropped out of school in the eleventh grade? Something must have been appealing to you, tugging you toward another direction.
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