Rosalynn Carter opened her home to a convicted felon, hiring Mary Prince, then Mary Fitzpatrick, as a nanny for Amy Carter.
WSB reported it all started in December 1970 when future president Jimmy Carter was still governor of Georgia.
Prince was on a rehabilitation plan as part of a prisoner-to-work program, Time magazine reported. She said she unknowingly pleaded guilty to a murder that same year. Prince had been at a bar with her cousin Anemaud when the cousin got into an argument with another woman in April.
“I went outside and heard a shot. Anemaude and this woman were fighting over Anemaud’s gun,” Prince told writer Clare Crawford-Mason for Crawford’s article in People magazine “A Story of Love and Rehabilitation: The Ex-Con in the White House.”
“I didn’t know anything about guns, but I tried to take it away, and it went off. We didn’t know it hit anyone,” Prince said.
Both Prince and her cousin were arrested. Aniemau was released on bail but Prince was not, staying in jail for four months.
The other woman said Prince intentionally grabbed the gun and shot her boyfriend.
An attorney was appointed by the courts for Prince, a lawyer whom she had only seen twice for 10 or 15 minutes and who told her to plead guilty.
“I was under the impression I was pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter, but it turned out to be murder,” Prince told Crawford-Mason for her article.
In less than an hour, Prince had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
She was working in the kitchen at the women’s prison at Hardwick, Georgia, but was eventually allowed to apply for a job watching over Amy Carter as part of her rehabilitation, leaving at night. Prince and the young girl, who was 3 years old at the time, had a strong bond.
“She would even cry at night because she hated to see me leave.”
Eventually, the Carters left the governor’s mansion in January 1975 and returned to Plains, Georgia. Prince went back to prison.
“When I left,” Prince told Crawford-Mason, “Amy really screamed. Later Mrs. Carter would come and see me at the Fulton County Jail and the Atlanta Work Release Center, where I went as a cook in 1975. I was really excited about Governor Carter running for President. I’ve always had faith in him. I used to ask him questions about history and farming. He would tell me what different words meant in books I took from their library. When he won for President, I stayed up all night and kept everyone else up too.”
Prince was allowed to leave the jail to travel to Washington for the inauguration in January 1977, despite not being eligible for parole for weeks. She spent two nights at the White House and even attended a ball, wearing a gown sewn of fabric from other inmates, People magazine reported.
“Before I left,” Prince said, “Mrs. Carter said, ‘How would you like to work in this big old place?’”
White House officials wrote to Georgia prison officials and Prince was released. She moved to Washington, living in an apartment in the White House and resumed her care for Amy.
The president was designated as Prince’s parole officer until she was given a pardon after a reexamination of the evidence and the trial proceedings of the original judge who heard Prince’s case, WSB reported. It was determined that Prince was innocent and she was given a pardon.
“She was totally innocent,” Rosalynn Carter told Kate Anderson Brower for her book, “The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House,” Time magazine reported. “She had nothing to do with it.”
Jimmy Carter said in 2006 in his book “Our Endangered Values,” that Prince had been victimized by the criminal justice system because she was Black, Time reported.
“The only difference is that she has homework now,” Prince told Cawford-Mason in 1977. “She watches television and does it. I understand some of the new math, but Amy’s a better reader. She puts my cigarettes out — she doesn’t like me to smoke — and I tease her about her freckles. She’s not choicy about clothes the way she used to be. And Amy and I dance a lot. We do the bump and the robot and stuff.”
Prince also attended church with the first family during their time in Washington.
After their time in the White House, like the Carters, Prince also moved to Plains to be close to the family, WSB reported. She continued to visit with the couple and babysat the Carters’ grandchildren.
Jimmy Carter dedicated his book “Sharing Good Times,” to Prince, writing “Mary Prince, whom we love and cherish.”
Anderson Bower told C-Span in 2015 that Rosalynn Carter and Prince remained close over the decades.
“She’s still a huge part of the Carter family. They consider her one of their own, and they just love her,” Bower said, according to Time.