By COLIN MANNING, N.H. Statehouse Writer

Foster’s Daily Democrat

CONCORD — Raymond Fowler has been granted his freedom.

A Jan. 29, 1991 file photo of Raymond Fowler when he was arrested for his part in the death of Gregory Smart. [AP photo Jon Pierre Lasseigne]

A physically fit Fowler was dressed in street clothes Thursday as he sat in front of the parole board for less than 10 minutes as board members reviewed his case.

There were questions about Fowler’s tardiness in reporting back to the halfway house on two occasions, but with those minor infractions aside, the board granted parole.

Fowler, then 18, sat in the car on May 1, 1990, while his friend William Flynn shot Gregory Smart in his Derry condominium in what has become the most infamous murder case in state history. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years on attempted burglary and murder conspiracy charges.

The fact that Gregory Smart’s father, William, did not oppose Fowler’s release weighed heavily in the board’s decision.

“(William Smart) did not specifically object to it and the board always takes into consideration victim impact and victim’s relatives. If Mr. Smart truly felt he would be a danger to society and danger to him, then we would definitely have taken that into consideration,” said Thomas Winn, chairman of the parole board. “Obviously, he didn’t feel that way.”

Swarmed by media, Fowler’s family rejoiced in the board’s decision and eagerly awaited his return home to Seabrook.

“I have never felt in 12 years that he got what he deserved. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Fowler’s grandmother, Phila Sturgis.

His grandfather, Raymond Sturgis, said Fowler has always been a “mild-mannered boy.” Sturgis said his grandson, and namesake, will never be able to put the events of that horrific night behind him.

“He still has nightmares about that night. It’s something he’s going to have to live with for the rest of his life,” Sturgis said. “But I feel good right now and I know he does, too.”

After being granted parole, Fowler was escorted back to the halfway house and did not speak to the large media gathering outside the facility.

Fowler will be released from the halfway house in the next few weeks once his parole officer reviews his living and employment situation, according to Department of Corrections officials.

One family member said Fowler will live in Seabrook again once he is released.

“They’ve already got his room redone,” said a family member who did not give her name.

Since moving to the halfway house, Fowler worked in the Concord area as a dishwasher. His grandfather reported he was quickly promoted to cook.

While in prison for nearly 11 years, Fowler spent his time lifting weights, receiving his GED, and becoming an accomplished furniture maker.

His mother, Paula Fowler, said she has spent that time trying not to think about where her son was staying.

“People don’t understand that when this happened, Raymond fell apart,” she said outside the prison as a cold rain began to fall. “Every day I would think about him up here, and if I thought about it too much, it would drive me crazy. So that’s when I would go into the garden. That was my way of getting through.”

Fowler’s brother Robert was also at the hearing. He said the Fowler family is very close-knit and spent much of the past 11 years traveling from the Seacoast to Concord for holiday visits with his brother.

“We would try to manage Christmases and telephone calls as much as possible. Before he went away he was always involved in family, so it’s been difficult,” Robert Fowler said.

As to what happened back on that night in 1990, Robert Fowler said his brother had second thoughts about accompanying his three teen-age friends to Derry.

“You don’t think your friends would do something like that. You don’t think your friends would be capable of something like that,” he said. “When it happens it’s a shock to everybody, including the family. I think he was trying to avoid it.”

Pamela Smart, then the media coordinator at Winnacunnet High School in Hampton, is serving life in prison for plotting the murder.

Her former 15-year-old lover, Flynn, and Patrick Randall were sentenced to 40 years to life with 12 years suspended. They are both eligible for parole starting in 2018. Vance Lattime was sentenced to 30 years to life, also with 12 years suspended. He is eligible for parole starting in June 2008. Flynn, Randall and Lattime are housed in the Maine state prison system. Smart was in the state women’s prison in Goffstown and later transferred to a facility in New York.

Fowler, who spent about one-third of his life behind bars, is not married but has an 11-year-old son. He will be on parole until 2013. As conditions of his parole, Fowler must regularly report to his parole officer, refrain from drugs and alcohol, and cannot possess a firearm.

Winn said it was a rather easy decision for the parole board to grant Fowler his freedom.

“He has done all of the programming he was supposed to do. He participated in everything we asked him to and he has a good disciplinary record,” Winn said after the hearing. “Now we don’t consider him a danger to society, which is a main rule of the parole board.”

As for life after prison for someone involved in such a high-profile case, Winn said he believes Fowler can adapt.

“I think it’s going to be difficult for him to adjust because it is such a high-profile situation. Although he has already been subjected to a considerable amount of publicity, I’m sure he will be able to handle it,” Winn added. “He does have a lot of support from his family so I’m sure he’ll find a way to handle it.”