PLAINS, Ga. — One of the many trailblazing things former First Lady Rosalynn Carter did during her lifetime was hire Mary Prince, a woman convicted of murder, to be the family’s nanny.
In 1970, while Jimmy Carter was the governor of Georgia, Prince traveled to the governor’s mansion to interview for a job as part of her rehabilitation after being convicted of murder.
“All my life, I had wanted to meet a governor or a President. But I was nervous too. I wondered how the Carter family would take to me,” she said.
After her interview, Rosalynn Carter hired her to look after Amy Carter.
“She was totally innocent,” Rosalynn Carter said.
According to “A Story of Love and Rehabilitation: the Ex-Con in the White House” by Clare Crawford, in 1970, Prince was at a bar with her cousin, Aniemaude, in Lumpkin when her cousin got into an argument with another woman.
“I went outside and heard a shot. Aniemaude and this woman were fighting over Aniemaude’s gun,” Prince said. “I didn’t know anything about guns, but I tried to take it away, and it went off. We didn’t know it had hit anyone.”
Crawford wrote that the other woman claimed that Prince seized the gun and deliberately fired it, killing her boyfriend.
During her trial, Prince was defended by a court-appointed lawyer she met on the first day of the trial.
“I was under the impression I was pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, but it turned out to be murder,” Prince said.
Prince was sentenced to life in prison after her lawyer advised her to plead guilty, Crawford wrote.
Former President Jimmy Carter would later write that Prince’s lawyer promised her a light sentence if she pleaded guilty. Rosalynn Carter said she believed Prince was convicted because of the color of her skin.
When Jimmy Carter’s term as governor ended in 1975, the family returned to Plains and Prince returned to prison.
“When I left, Amy really screamed,” Prince said. “Later, Mrs. Carter would see me at the Fulton County Jail and the Atlanta Work Release Center, where I went as a cook in 1975.”
Although Prince wasn’t eligible for parole until April 1975, she was allowed to travel unguarded to Washington for Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. Crawford wrote that Prince spent two nights at the White House and attended an inaugural ball in a gown sewn by her fellow inmates.
“Before I left [Washington], Mrs. Carter said, ‘How would you like to work in this big old place?’” she said.
Rosalynn Carter was so confident in Prince’s innocence that she wrote the parole board and secured her a reprieve so that Amy’s beloved nanny could work for them at the White House. Jimmy Carter was also designated as Prince’s parole officer during his time as president.
After a reexamination of the evidence and trial proceedings by the original judge, court officials determined that Prince was completely innocent and she was granted a pardon.
Prince then moved into the White House, where she cared for Amy Carter and Rosalynn Carter’s clothes. Crawford added that Prince also helped take care of the Carter grandchildren.
Years later, Prince moved to Plains to live near the Carters. She saw them frequently and, to this day, babysits their grandchildren.
WSB-TV’s Mary Alice Royse Ginther contributed to this story
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