Mentally-ill mother sentenced to 35 years in
prison for suffocating her two young sons, then putting them in a
car and staging crash into a river
Shaquan Duley, 30, pleaded guilty to suffocating her two sons,
aged two and 18 months and dumping them in a river
March 31, 2012
An unemployed and mentally ill
South Carolina mother has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for
killing her two young sons, then putting them in her car and
staging a crash into a river.
Shaquan Duley, 30, said nothing
during the hearing except a very quiet 'yes sir' as Circuit Court
Judge Edgar Dickson asked her questions.
Dickson said he appreciated
Duley taking responsibility but she needed to be punished for what
'The sentence I hand down today
does not reflect in any way this court minimizing the horror of
what you did to your children, your family and this community,'
Duley faced 30 years to life in
prison after pleading guilty earlier this month to two counts of
murder in the deaths of her sons, 2-year-old Devean and
18-month-old Ja'van in August 2010.
The mother made no deal with
After pleading guilty, Duley
tearfully apologized for what she did. She also said she was happy
that God let her keep her memories of her sons.
'In spite of whatever I've gone
through,' Duley said. 'I still have hope and joy in my heart that
one day I will see them again.'
The case brought back
heartrending reminders of Susan Smith, who rolled her car into a
lake in Union County with her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons in
the back seat in Union in 1994.
But the cases differed in big
ways. Prosecutors said Smith's sons were alive when her car went
into the lake, and she killed her boys because a man with whom she
had an affair broke off their relationship.
Prosecutors said Duley
suffocated her sons with her hands in a motel room before
strapping them into their car seats and driving to the river 10
She killed them because she was
depressed over failing online classes and not having a job.
She also was upset the father of
the boys didn't have anything to do with them and just had a fight
where her mother said she was a bad parent, investigators said.
Duley first told police she fell
asleep before running off a bridge over the North Edisto River.
But there were no skid marks or
damage to the bridge. Instead, investigators think she drove to a
boat ramp and got out of her car before letting it roll into the
Duley's attorney said she
intended to stay in the car and kill herself.
She also tried to commit suicide
a couple of other times by taking an overdose of headache medicine
and trying to cut her wrist with a box cutter after killing her
Police at the time said she
confessed after initially lying about the deaths and trying to
make them look accidental.
'She was a mother that was
unemployed. She had no means of taking care of her children,'
then-Sheriff Larry Williams said in 2010.
A state-appointed forensic
psychiatrist found last summer that Duley suffered from mental
illness but that she knew right from wrong and knew what she was
doing when she killed her children, Pascoe said.
The father of Duley's children
was never located, the Orangeburg County Sheriff's Office said.
South Carolina mother Shaquan Duley pleads
guilty to murder in sons' death
March 16, 2012
(CBS/AP) ORANGEBURG, S.C. - A South Carolina
mother pleaded guilty Friday to killing her two young sons by
suffocating them, then putting their bodies into a car and rolling
it into a river.
Shaquan Duley, 30, pleaded guilty without
making a deal with prosecutors. She faces between 30 years and
life in prison when she is sentenced later this month.
Divers pulled the bodies of 2-year-old Devean
and 18-month-old Ja'van from the North Edisto River on August 16,
2010. Duley initially told police she fell asleep at the wheel
before the car went into the river about 40 miles south of
Columbia, but authorities questioned her story after finding no
skid marks or signs of a crash.
Later, police said Duley told them that, after
being badgered by her sister and mother about her failings as a
parent, Duley fled with her sons to a motel, where she held her
hands over the boys' mouths.
Duley's relatives and attorney have said the
young mother was depressed, out of a job and failing online
classes. A month after her arrest, Duley's family was on
television, telling Oprah Winfrey the woman was in a manic state
and irate after the family fight.
Her attorney, Carl B. Grant, told Winfrey that
Duley was distraught, in part owing to a lack of contact with her
children's father. She tried to kill herself the night of her
sons' deaths by consuming a dozen packages of a common headache
remedy and trying to slit her wrists with a box cutter, Grant
When those attempts failed, Duley intended to
die inside her car in the river before changing her mind and
climbing out, Grant has said.
Duley has been held without bond since her
August 2010 arrest.
Shaquan Duley admits murdering her sons
By Richard Walker - Thetandd.com
March 17, 2012
Shaquan Renee Duley will go to prison. It’s
just a matter now of how long.
Dressed in a white blouse and matching pants,
Duley spoke for about three minutes, asking for forgiveness during
her plea hearing Friday.
“This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever
gone through in my life,” Duley said. “I’d like to ask forgiveness
from my family. I’d also like to apologize to the community.”
Duley entered guilty pleas to two counts of
murder. She told the court she loved her children and that her
“heart hurts” for her two sons, 18-month-old Ja’van and 2-year-old
Circuit Court Judge Ed Dickson accepted Duley’s
However, Dickson deferred making a decision on
sentencing until the week of March 26.
Duley faces between 30 years and life in prison
on each count for killing her two toddler sons in August 2010.
Her guilty pleas can’t be withdrawn at this
point. But they can be appealed within 10 days.
Defense attorney Carl B. Grant asked the court
to be lenient in sentencing Duley, reminding the court of Duley’s
remaining child, a 7-year-old daughter.
“Some cases obviously tug your heart more so
than others,“ Grant said. “This is one of those.”
Duley lost custody of her remaining child in a
December 2010 Family Court hearing.
First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe described
the case as extraordinarily sad because the victims were so young
and also part of the defendant’s family.
“This case has been tough on a lot of people,
Your Honor,” the prosecutor said. “This is also an uncommon case.”
But Pascoe said with a confession and
considerable evidence against Duley, he was ready to go to trial.
Otherwise he would only accept a straight plea to murder.
No insanity plea, no reduced charge such as
manslaughter. Murder only, Pascoe said.
The prosecutor gave credit for the evidence
that secured that decision to the investigators of the Orangeburg
Department of Public Safety, the South Carolina Highway Patrol and
the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office.
Plans were tentatively being made for a trial
in the fall before an agreement was worked out this week. As late
as Thursday, offers were made by the defense to reduce the
“I just couldn’t do that in good conscience,”
According to affidavits, Duley argued with
family members about how she cared for her children on the
afternoon of Aug. 16, 2010.
Pascoe said she then grabbed up her two small
sons and left home to check into Trumps Inn on Five Chop Road east
of Orangeburg. At some point after midnight, Duley smothered the
An Orangeburg County coroner’s inquest
determined Duley used her hands to smother the boys by covering
their nose and mouth.
She then strapped the boys’ lifeless bodies in
her Dodge Intrepid and drove around for several hours before
sending the car into the Edisto River at Baughman’s Landing on
Shillings Bridge Road.
Four days later, more than 700 mourners filed
past two tiny gold-trimmed white caskets.
During Friday’s hearing, Helen Duley described
her daughter as a caring, com-passionate child who displayed
affection for children, including her own.
“She loved her children, I know she did,” Helen
Duley said. “She’s been a gentle child all her life.”
Adrian Duley told the court the murder of her
nephews was not typical behavior for her sister.
“I miss her. I miss my two nephews as well,”
she said. “I just want you to know this is a good person.”
When she was finished addressing the court,
Adrian Duley hugged her sister and wiped away her tears.
Grant said Duley had been suffering from
emotional issues that day. Despite that, Grant formally dropped
his earlier notice to seek a defense of “mentally insane” and
asked the court to consider sentencing Duley to the minimum of 30
years in prison.
“We feel, your honor, a 30-year sentence would
serve the intent of justice,” he said.
After the 30-minute hearing, Grant said
regardless of the court’s decision, his client will be in
“confinement for a very, very long time.”
Pascoe said a mental evaluation determined
Duley to be marginally mentally ill. But her level of perception
did not meet the elements required to determine she was mentally
The prosecutor would not speculate on the
court’s potential sentence, saying he would leave that decision to
“Whatever he does sentence her to, I’ll respect
that decision,” he said. “The main thing is getting that
Dickson said several weeks worth of trials
prior to Friday’s hearings have not given him time to review the
case closely. The judge said he would expedite his decision to
give closure to the family.
Judge denies bond for Duley
By Richard Walker - Thetandd.com
September 13, 2010
Shaquan Duley was denied bond Monday after her
attorney argued his client faced severe depression and "suicidal
tendencies" the day her two toddler sons were killed.
Citing state law regarding bond denial in a
capital case, 1st Circuit Court Judge Ed Dickson granted the state
motion to deny bond for the 29-year-old mother, accused of killing
her toddler sons Aug. 16.
"Everyone in this courtroom knows this is a
very sad and tragic event," Dickson said. "After giving due weight
to the information provided and to the nature and circumstances of
this event, I am denying bond."
Dickson did order that if a trial date has not
been set in six months, Duley can make another motion for bond, if
she has new information for the court.
Duley is accused of smothering her two sons,
18-month-old Ja'van and Devean, who would have turned 3 in
October, before strapping them into her car and rolling it into
the Edisto River.
Four days after their deaths, the two small
boys were laid to rest in matching white caskets.
Duley did not attend the double funeral
services. It has not been made public if she made a request to
Dressed in all black, Duley sat in court Monday
with her head down during much of the hour-long hearing. At times,
she covered her eyes with her hands while the argument over her
release went on.
She did not speak during the hearing.
First Circuit Solicitor David Pascoe said Duley
stood in a woods line a quarter mile away the morning her children
were discovered in her car, which was found submerged in the North
Edisto River at Shilling's Bridge.
Duley told passersby that she had been involved
in an accident resulting in her car plunging into the river,
"The Highway Patrol saw no evidence of an
accident," he said. "They reminded her of her rights and the
defendant said she was going to her father's house ... and must've
Citing Duley's statement to authorities, Pascoe
said investigators pointedly asked Duley about her 5-year-old
daughter and why she didn't kill her.
"She wasn't with me," Pascoe said was Duley's
answer to law enforcement.
"If she had of been with you, would you have
killed her?" Pascoe said, reciting an investigator's question.
"I don't know."
The two boys died of asphyxiation, suffering
abrasions to their necks. Devean had bruising to his is lip while
Ja'Van had bruises on his chin, Pascoe said.
The solicitor said he wanted put on the court
record that he has not ruled out seeking the death penalty for
Duley is a danger not only to herself but the
community as well, Pascoe said, and requested bond be denied.
Defense attorney Carl B. Grant, meantime,
hinted at a defense hinged on insanity of his client.
He said the day the children died, Duley was a
woman facing severe depression caused by three years of
unemployment, raising three children with no physical or financial
support from any fathers, and a disapproving mother.
"How do we go from Shaquan Duley, a loving and
caring mother, to a woman charged with killing her children?"
The defense attorney said his client had been
prescribed an anti-depressant. She tried to overdose on sleeping
medications and take her own life the day her toddler sons died.
"Which in her severely depressed and drugged
state, she strapped in her children, lifeless is the disposition
by the solicitor at that point, and drove her car into the Edisto
River," Grant said. "This is a person who made three attempts at
committing suicide within hours of climbing out of the Edisto
River on Aug. 16, 2010."
Grant hinted to the court that the case could
be considered for dismissal entirely since his client did not know
right from wrong at the time of the toddlers' deaths.
Citing what he says is an "absolutely
strikingly" similar case, Grant said a psychiatrist found an Ohio
woman guilty but insane of the 2007 drowning of her two small
In that case, a defense psychologist and a
state psychiatrist testified that Amber Hill's depression
escalated to a point where she became disconnected from reality.
Hill's attorneys argued the woman's mental
illness was so profound when she drowned her two daughters in a
bathtub three years ago, that she did not understand right from
Grant presented his own forensic psychiatrist,
Dr. Thomas Martin, who told the court he had examined both mental
and medical records for Duley and found her to be little risk to
"I find therefore that she is a low risk to
hurt others, at this time," Martin said.
Grant asked the court for a bond between
$25,000 and $50,000 surety, saying his client could live with her
father and away from her small daughter.
When handed a copy of Hill's case, Pascoe
The prosecutor countered that Martin's
testimony represented "extraordinary statements" concerning
Duley's mental competency.
"Lying to law enforcement shows Duley knew
right from wrong," Pascoe said. "It is an absurd argument to make.
There is no excuse for the murder of those two children."
Pascoe told the court an argument just prior to
Duley leaving her mother's residence escalated to such a level
that law enforcement was called. Shaquan Duley was gone before
deputies arrived, Pascoe said.
About 25 of Duley's friends and family attended
the hearing, but none offered any statements to the dozen media
During the hearing, Duley's mother and father
spoke on her behalf, Helen Duley describing her daughter as
"loving and kind-hearted person" and a "good mother."
"This is truly a sad day in our lives and in
the community and in the nation as a whole," Helen Duley said.
Sheriff: Mom killed kids,
dumped car in river
By Meg Kinnard - Katu.com
August 18, 2010
ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - Broke, jobless and
berated by her mother for her failings, Shaquan Duley killed her
young sons, then strapped their lifeless bodies into their car
seats before rolling the vehicle into a South Carolina river in a
desperate cover-up attempt, authorities said.
On Wednesday, the 29-year-old mother was
expected to appear before an Orangeburg County judge for an
arraignment hearing on two murder charges.
Duley's attorney, Carl B. Grant, said Wednesday
morning he hasn't had the opportunity to review any of the
evidence against her.
"We want everybody to keep an open mind and to
understand that they don't know the whole story," said Grant, who
would not say what he discussed in his first talk with his client.
Investigators were not convinced when Duley
said her sons, ages 2 years and 18 months, drowned after her car
plunged into a river. She ultimately confessed to killing the
toddlers, they say - not by dumping them in the water but by
suffocating them earlier with her own hands.
"She truly felt, 'If I don't have these
toddlers, I can be free,"' Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry
Williams said at a news conference Tuesday. "I think she was fed
up with her mother telling her she couldn't take care of the
children, or she wasn't taking care of the children and just
wanted to be free."
Coroner Samuetta Marshall told several media
outlets Tuesday the older boy had defensive wounds that suggested
he had been in a struggle.
Monday's tragic scene of a car
found submerged with children's bodies inside was eerily
reminiscent of the 1994 case of another South Carolina mother,
Susan Smith, who is serving life in prison for killing her young
sons by rolling her car into a lake in the northwest part of the
Duley lived with her sons, a 5-year-old
daughter and her mother in a rented home along a street filled
with boarded-up, abandoned houses in Orangeburg, about 35 miles
south of Columbia, South Carolina's capital. Out of work and
estranged from the children's father, Duley relied on her mother
to support her and her children, Williams said.
The sheriff said Duley told
investigators her mother constantly harangued her about her
failures as a mother and inability to provide for her family
Leaving her daughter at the house after a night
of arguing with her mother Sunday, Duley strapped 2-year-old
Devean C. Duley and 18-month-old Ja'van T. Duley into their car
seats and drove the boys to an Orangeburg motel several miles from
where she lived.
Late that night, in a corner room tucked at the
back of the rundown, one-story motel complex, Duley suffocated the
boys with her hands, Williams said. On Tuesday, red evidence tape
still sealed the door to that room.
Distraught and not knowing what to do, Duley
strapped the boys into their car seats and drove to a boat ramp
some 10 miles away, investigators said. They said Duley rolled her
car into the water, watching as it sank into the slow-moving
current, then took off on foot.
Without a cell phone, Duley walked some
distance down a country road, flagging down a passing motorist to
call the Highway Patrol at around 6:15 a.m. Monday.
The children were still strapped in their child
seats when divers found them and recovered their bodies about 45
minutes after being called to the scene.
Duley was initially charged only with leaving
the scene of an accident, but Williams said deputies knew there
was more to the story than she was telling. There were no skid
marks on the road leading to the water, and no obvious signs of a
"We felt that the story she was telling us
wasn't factual," Williams said.
Williams said Duley eventually
admitted to a female deputy after hours of questioning that she
killed the boys, citing the pressures both of parenthood and those
she felt from her own mother. He said Duley expressed little
remorse about the deaths.
"I think that the opportunity presented itself
and she reacted to whatever condition presented itself for her to
get rid of the children," Williams said.
Duley's mother declined to speak with reporters
camped outside her home Tuesday. A woman who would not identify
herself came outside and asked reporters to leave, saying, "We are
grieving right now. We need our privacy."
Funeral services for both boys have been
scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at St. Paul Baptist Church in
Orangeburg, officials with Simmons Funeral Home, which is handling
arrangements, said Wednesday.
The state agency responsible for child welfare
in South Carolina said it has had no involvement with Duley.
Williams said the 5-year-old girl is now staying with Duley's
The boys' deaths stunned another young single
mother who lived near the struggling family.
"I can never imagine it getting that bad to
where you just feel that that's the end of it," said Shannon
Stamos, 22, who has two children about the same ages as Duley's
sons. "There are so many other families that are willing to take
on kids nowadays ... for somebody that feels they need freedom, or
whatever the case may be."
In the 1994 case, Smith left her 3-year-old and
14-month-old sons strapped in their car seats as she rolled her
car into a lake in Union County. Smith, who is white, initially
claimed a black man had carjacked her and drove off with the
Shaquan Duley Charged With
Drowning Sons In SC River
August 17, 2010
Shaquan Duley charged with murder.
Two young children were pulled dead from their
child seats in a submerged car and South Carolina authorities
expressed doubts about the mother’s account that it was an
Two-year-old Devean C. Duley and 18-month-old
Ja’van T. Duley were dead in their child seats by the time divers
got to the car Monday near a rural boat landing, Orangeburg County
Sheriff Larry Williams said. County Coroner Samuetta Marshall
would not speculate on a cause of death until autopsies were
completed Tuesday, and police were trying to determine whether
their deaths were accidental.
The boys’ mother, 29-year-old Shaquan Duley,
was charged with leaving the scene of an accident and it was
unclear if she had a lawyer.
But Williams said that early in the
investigation, state patrol officers felt the facts didn’t support
that there was accident.
“We are looking into all possibilities as to
what happened,” the sheriff said.
Highway Patrol was notified around 6:15 a.m.
that a woman needed help getting her children out of a car.
Shaquan Duley, who did not have a cell phone, had walked some
distance down the country road by the boat landing and flagged
down a passing motorist to call the Highway Patrol.
The sheriff said investigators were considering
how a traffic accident could have happened at the boat ramp, about
20 yards upstream from a main road that crosses the North Edisto
River in Orangeburg, some 35 miles south of Columbia, the state
“She showed some emotion, but I can’t say she
was overly distraught,” Williams said of Shaquan Duley. “Through
her statements, there are some things we think are not
Williams planned a news conference for 10 a.m.
Tuesday to discuss more details of the case. Sheriff’s spokeswoman
Keisa Peterson said early Tuesday she was unaware of additional
A woman who watched divers pull the toddlers’
limp bodies out of the car near her home said she couldn’t
understand why the boys’ mother didn’t bang on her door for help.
Ramona Milhouse, whose side porch door is steps from the river,
said at first Monday she thought the boys were unconscious, until
she realized their bodies were being taken to the ambulance with
no attempt to revive them.
“It sounds fishy to me,” the 81-year-old
Milhouse said. “If that was an accident, that woman would’ve been
over here screamin’ and hollerin’ and really raising the devil."
The story is reminiscent of an infamous South
Carolina case in 1994. Susan Smith left her 3-year-old and
14-month-old sons strapped in their car seats as she rolled her
car into a lake in Union County in the northwest part of the
state. She was convicted in their deaths and is serving a life
Milhouse said when she and her husband woke up
and looked outside, rescue workers were already at the car, and
she could see the head of one boy above the water. The car had to
come from the boat landing, on the other side of a concrete bridge
adjoining her property, and down the slow-moving river, said
Milhouse, who’s lived full-time at the riverside home for about 35
“It’s real low,” she said, so it could have
The car windows were up, and she heard rescuers
say the ignition was on. She watched as the car was pulled down
the middle of the river and hauled onto the bridge with a crane.
Williams said authorities were attempting to
contact the children’s father, who did not live with the family.
Besides the Milhouses, a mobile home and a
mechanic’s shop are also nearby.
Local residents said they, too, were
Shakeyia Baxter said the main road was heavily
traveled in the mornings and would have been especially busy on
Monday — the first day of school. Baxter stopped by the boat ramp,
which is littered with empty beer cases and discarded soda
bottles, on her way home from work to tuck silk flowers into a
sign that warns of high levels of mercury in the fish. Lily pads
dotted the dingy water by the ramp, and mosquitoes swarmed.
“My heart goes out to them,” said Baxter, a
30-year-old mother of two. “I would have been doing everything I
could to get those kids out of that car seat."
Timeline of the Duley case
By Lee Hendren - Thetandd.com
March 15, 2012
Aug. 16, 2010 – The Highway Patrol is alerted to a car crash that
resulted in a vehicle plunging into the Edisto River at Shillings
Bridge, five miles west of Orangeburg. Later that day, authorities
say the act may have been intentional.
Aug. 17 – Shaquan Duley, then 29, is charged
with smothering her two children and placing their lifeless bodies
into her car before pushing it into the river. Flowers and stuffed
animals begin showing up at the bridge where the car went into the
Aug. 18 — In a media frenzy, Duley makes her
first appearance in court before Orangeburg County Magistrate
Derrick Dash. Because she faces murder charges, the case is
forwarded to circuit court for any bond consideration.
Aug. 19 — Three days after the tragedy
unfolded, authorities reflect on what happened. Two Orangeburg
Department of Public safety officers who recovered the bodies of
the two toddlers recall a baby shoe floating up from the vehicle
during the rescue efforts.
Aug. 20 — More than 700 mourners attend the
joint funeral of 18-month-old Ja’van T. Duley and 2-year-old
Devean C. Duley. Four days after the world came to Orangeburg to
hear their story, they shed tears over the two small toddlers.
Aug. 26 — A bond hearing scheduled for Duley in
circuit court is canceled.
Sept. 13 — Duley is denied bond after her
attorney argued his client faced severe depression and “suicidal
tendencies” the day her two toddler sons were killed. Grant sends
notice to the 1st Circuit Solicitor’s Office that he intends to
utilize an insanity defense.
Sept. 16 — Duley’s family appears on the Oprah
Winfrey Show. Helen Duley, Shaquan’s mother, said she was
hysterical when the coroner came to say two of her grandchildren
Sept. 20 — Solicitor David Pascoe places a
motion before a circuit court judge for a neutral, court-appointed
psychiatrist to examine the accused child killer.
Sept. 21 — Four and a half weeks after the
toddlers are found dead, Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams,
who led the investigation into the toddler’s deaths, dies from
heart complications. He was 53.
February 16, 2011 — First Circuit Court Judge
Ed Dickson orders that Duley be seen by a court-appointed
psychiatrist, granting the prosecution’s September motion. The
results have not been made public.
March 14 — Word leaks that Duley is scheduled
to enter a plea on Friday, March 16 concerning the deaths of her