When Ashley Smith was just 14 months old, her mother put her inside a searing hot oven set on broil.
Ashley survived, but her recovery has been long and painful. It took 28 surgeries over 10 years to repair the third-degree burns that charred and scarred more than a third of her toddler body. She is 15 now.
Last week she stood in front of the Alabama Pardons and Paroles Board and said she’s forgiven her mother. But she also said her mother should spend more time in prison for the unspeakable crime she committed.
Parole officials agreed.
Melissa Wright received 25 years in prison for what she did in 2002. Attempted murder, the law called it.
It was an accident, Wright told police, saying Ashley fell into the oven and the door slammed behind her. She later said “voices” told her to do it.
Wright removed the racks from the oven, turned it to broil, waited for it to heat up, then put Ashley in head first, prosecutors said.
Ashley’s father ran into the kitchen when he heard his baby’s screams.
The family lived in Millbrook, Ala., at the time, on a street named Harm’s Way.
Friends and neighbors told reporters that Wright, 26 at the time, had manic episodes and had become increasingly unstable, according to The Daily Mail.
Last week was Wright’s first chance at parole, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. She was not allowed to attend the hearing. Parole officials were shown photos of Ashley’s burned body as a baby.
After the incident Ashley went to live with an aunt who she now calls mom and dad. Ashley’s older sister went to live with other relatives.
Elmore County District Attorney Randall Houston told the parole board that Ashley’s last memory of her mother was as a 14-month-old.
“She is an extremely strong child,” Houston said. “How many adults can undergo the number of surgeries she has gone through in her life? That’s just incredible.”
Both the district attorney and state attorney general’s office opposed releasing Wright early. Houston said it’s important that Wright serve every single day of her sentence.
“I can't imagine anyone being in as much pain as I went through mentally and physically,” Ashley told the parole board. “Now I have a great life thanks to my mom, dad, stepbrothers and sisters.”
She also said she wouldn’t trust Wright to be around her young niece and nephew.
“I honestly do not trust her and I’m afraid for their safety,” said Ashley. “I can't imagine anybody being in as much pain as I was in.”
Ashley’s older sister, Courtney Brunson, who was 8 at the time of the incident, made an emotional plea to the board to grant parole to her mother, the Advertiser reported. She argued that her mother was mentally ill at the time and is changed now.
Wright has served 13 years and nine months of her sentence. She was denied parole until 2021.
According to WSFA in Montgomery, a parole board member who spoke directly to Ashley said he was impressed by her recovery.
“Good luck to you,” he said. “We are really sorry for your troubles.”