Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jennifer Martin greeted by hugs, cheers as she leaves prison

TAMPA — Jennifer Martin walked out of prison at 10:40 a.m. Wednesday, hugged her father and kissed him on his cheek. She hugged her mother, who didn't appear to want to let go. Then she hugged the prosecutor who helped convict her and then fought for her release.

Martin, 30, who spent the past eight years in prison after her 1998 fatal car accident, is a free woman.

She spoke in a shaky voice as she struggled for the right words in her address to a crowd of waiting reporters.

"I'm not sure I deserve all this attention," she said, "but thank you."

Inmates cheered as Martin walked out, yelling, "We love you, Jen" and "good luck." Reporters and photographers were poised outside the prison to capture the moment, while inmate groundskeepers cheered and yelled from a truck, "Jennifer's free, Jennifer's free!"

"We're so happy today," said Martin's mother, Lynn, as she arrived. Martin's parents brought her clothes, which she changed into before exiting prison.

The prosecutor in Martin's case, Paul Duval Johnson, described his relief.

"With the sentence there was so much pressure," he said. "I always wished there was more I could have done to get into the hearts and minds of the victim's families. It felt like a failure to me. But now it's over."

Martin found out that she received clemency Tuesday after Gov. Charlie Crist commuted her 16-year sentence, a rare move by the governor.

Martin was convicted of manslaughter by culpable negligence after a crash in April 1998. She was speeding on Interstate 4 near Ybor City and lost control of the car. Passenger Josh Nicola, 23, was killed. Another, Scott Schutt, 23, was severely injured. Martin, 18 at the time, had no alcohol in her system.

In April, Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, read an article in the St. Petersburg Times about Martin's case and requested the clemency hearing.

At the hearing Thursday in Tallahassee, prosecutor Johnson said that Martin had not been drinking but that her two passengers were "inebriated" and "chose not to wear their seat belt."

To win release, three of the four clemency board members — Crist, Sink, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson and State Attorney General Bill McCollum — had to vote to release Martin. The vote was unanimous.

Crist, who was in Tampa on part of a multi-city tour signing a rail bill Wednesday, said he was happy to help release Martin just in time for the holidays.

"It was a tragic accident," Crist said. "No question about it. But for her to have an opportunity to come before the clemency board and not have that freedom (before), I'm very happy for her and her family."

Meg Laughlin can be reached at or (727) 893-8068.

Jennifer Martin greeted by hugs, cheers as she leaves prison 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 9:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Twins eventually cash in as Rays lose, fall back to .500 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays could only battle their way out of trouble for so long Saturday afternoon before succumbing in a 5-2 loss to the Twins.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 27: Brian Dozier #2 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates hitting a two-run home run as Derek Norris #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on during the eighth inning of the game on May 27, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Rays 5-3. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010973
  2. Rays Tales: The stories behind Corey Dickerson's ascension

    The Heater

    The 25 pounds DH/LF Corey Dickerson lost during the winter through diet and exercise are considered the primary reason for his ascension to one of the American League's most productive hitters, going into the weekend leading in hits, multi-hit games and total bases, and ranked in the top five in average, runs and …

    Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
  3. Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget Gregg Allman

    Music & Concerts

    The end can come quickly for those who live fast and live hard, who create worlds with their talent and sometimes come close to throwing them away.

    This Oct. 13, 2011 file photo shows Gregg Allman performs at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn. On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a publicist said the musician, the singer for The Allman Brothers Band, has died. (AP Photo/Joe Howell, File)
  4. Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning, a former senator, dies at 85


    LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jim Bunning, a former Hall of Fame pitcher who went on to serve in Congress, has died. He was 85.

    In this June 21, 1964 file photo, Jim Bunning of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches a perfect game against the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in New York.  The Phillies beat the Mets, 6-0.  Bunning retired all 27 batters who faced him in the first game of a doubleheader to become the first pitcher in 42 years with a perfect game in regular season play.   (AP Photo/File)
  5. Trump to decide next week whether to quit Paris climate agreement


    TAORMINA, Italy —President Donald Trump declined to endorse the Paris climate accords on Saturday, saying he would decide in the coming days whether the United States would pull out of the 195-nation agreement.

    President Donald Trump, right, arrives to a G7 session with outreach countries in Taormina, Italy, on Saturday. Climate and trade were sticking points at the two-day summit in Taormina, Sicily. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli)