Smith: Child Murderer or Victim?
of the letter read, "You will, without a doubt, make some lucky man a
great wife. But unfortunately, it won't be me." Another passage began,
"Susan, I could really fall for you. You have some endearing qualities
about you, and I think that you are a terrific person. But like I have
told you before, there are some things about you that aren't suited
for me, and yes, I am speaking about your children." The letter was a
mixture of a "Dear John" letter and a pep talk. The letter was dated
October 17, 1994 and was written on a word processor and had the
appearance of a formal, business document. The writer was Tom Findlay,
27, the son of the owner of Conso Products, the largest employer in
Union, South Carolina. Tom was considered by some to be Union's most
eligible bachelor, although when judged strictly on his physical
appearance, Tom was average. Tom's hair was thinning and his facial
features were indistinct. The letter was addressed to Susan Smith, a
secretary at Conso, and a woman Tom Findlay had dated on and off in
The tone of
the letter was gentle and sections of the letter were flattering
toward Susan. Tom wrote that he thought Susan was a great person and
that he was impressed that she had enrolled in night school at the
local college. Tom encouraged Susan to continue her studies. Tom also
wrote that he was proud that Susan was trying to improve her life.
John" part of the letter was where Tom explained that he was not
Susan's "Mr. Right" because he did not want the responsibility of
caring for another man's two small children. Tom also wrote that he
was afraid that their backgrounds -- he was a child of privilege, she
was a child of a mill worker who committed suicide when his wife had
divorced him -- were just too far apart. Tom wrote that he was upset
by some of Susan's behavior, especially at a hot tub party that he had
recently thrown. At that party, Susan and the husband of a friend of
Susan's kissed and fondled each other while they were naked in
Findlay's hot tub. Findlay wrote, "If you want to catch a nice guy
like me one day, you have to act like a nice girl." "And you know,
nice girls don't sleep with married men."
furious at Tom and hurt by his rejection.
It was a mild
October night in Union. Susan had been driving around for the last
hour, trying to calm herself. She drove along Highway 49 and followed
the signs to John D. Long Lake. Before driving to the lake on this
evening, she had never before been there. Susan preferred to take her
sons to the pond at Foster Park, which was closer to her home. At
Foster Park, Susan and her sons would feed breadcrumbs to the ducks.
arrived at the shore of John D. Long Lake, Susan drove across a
portion of the seventy-five-foot boat ramp and parked in the middle of
the ramp. The ramp was unpaved and consisted of gravel and stones.
Susan sat quietly behind the wheel of her 1990 burgundy Mazda Protégé,
listening to the sounds of her two young sons sleeping. Michael, her
oldest son had celebrated his third birthday two weeks earlier and
Alex was fourteen months old. Susan was twenty-three, with long, sandy
blond hair that she tied in a ponytail. She wore wire-rimmed glasses
and was in the best physical shape she had been in since before
becoming pregnant with Michael.
the Mazda into neutral and felt the car slowly begin to roll down the
remaining length of the boat ramp. The car only traveled a few yards
before Susan stepped on the brake. With a shift tug, Susan pulled the
emergency hand brake, stopping the car from further rolling forward.
She opened her door and stepped out of the car. Susan stood outside of
her car, on the boat ramp, on the banks of John D. Long Lake and
thought about suicide. Susan looked around and saw only black. The
lake was not illuminated and she stood alone thinking about her life.
The darkness and loneliness of the deserted lake mirrored how Susan
relief from her loneliness and the problems in her life. Susan and her
husband, David, were in the middle of a divorce and her boyfriend, Tom
Findlay, had just rejected her the week before. She wanted to commit
suicide, but she did not want her sons to suffer. Susan believed if
she killed her sons first and then committed suicide, that her sons
would suffer less, rather than if she committed suicide and left them
on their own. Yet, something was stopping her from surrendering to her
depression and loneliness. She did not want to commit suicide, what
she wanted was relief from all the stresses and burdens that
overwhelmed her. She felt that her life was filled with loss and
rejection, and that the responsibilities of being a single mother were
decision will never be forgotten. Attempts to explain it will always
fall short and continue to leave the question "why?" open to further
released the emergency brake and softly closed the driver's side door.
Michael and Alex were asleep in the back seat, strapped into their car
seats. As the car drifted into John D. Long Lake, the headlights were
on. The car entered the water slowly and did not submerge immediately.
Instead, it remained on the surface, bobbing peacefully, while slowly
filling with water.
the car submerge into the lake. She turned away from the sinking car
and began to run toward a small house. The story that Susan would tell
would capture the nation's sympathy. Susan's story would also raise
doubts in some and cause a community to question some of its own
citizens, based solely on the race of those citizens.
truth was revealed, many would try to imagine the thoughts running
through Susan Smith's head the night of October 25, 1994, when she
took the lives of her children. To this day, the question still asked
is how could she do it? Susan Smith committed the most unthinkable act
when she broke humanity's most sacred trust, the love of a mother for
Vaughan Smith was born in Union, South Carolina on September 26, 1971.
She was the only daughter born to Linda, a homemaker, and Harry, a
firefighter who later worked in one of the textile mills that
Carolina is in Union County and both the city and the county received
their names from the old Union Church that stood a short distance from
the Monarch Mill. When it was first founded, Union was known as
Unionville; later it was shortened to Union. The county's first white
settlers came from Virginia in 1749. Union County's population grew
the fastest between 1762 and the start of the Revolutionary War.
Settlers built log cabins and cultivated tobacco, flax, corn and
wheat. Union was one of the first towns settled in the area and was
untouched during the Civil War because the Broad River flooded and
turned Sherman's troops away from the town.
County has a population of 30,300. The city of Union, the county's
largest town, has a population of 9,800. 69.8% of the population of
Union County is Caucasian and 29.9% is African American. Union County
includes several smaller towns: Lockhart, Carlisle and Buffalo. There
are many industrial and manufacturing plants located in these towns
which employ 13,000 people. A large portion of Union County is part of
Sumter National Forest.
The per capita
income in the town of Union is $9,230; the median family income is
$25,760 and the median household income is $18,790. Downtown Union is
composed of a shopping area, four shopping centers and a branch of the
University of South Carolina. Union is also home to the first Carnegie
Library in South Carolina.
In 1960, Harry
Ray Vaughan was twenty and Linda was seventeen and pregnant from a
previous relationship when they married. Together, Harry and Linda had
a son, Scotty, a daughter, Susan and they raised Linda's son, Michael.
Harry and Linda's marriage had many conflicts and some of those
conflicts escalated to the point where Harry became violent and
threatened to kill Linda and then himself. Harry's violence was the
result of his alcoholism and his obsession with the idea that Linda
was unfaithful. During Susan's early childhood, her home life was very
The turmoil in
the Vaughan's household caused Susan and her older brother Scotty to
be very frightened. They were especially frightened by the behavior of
their parents toward one another. Before Susan entered preschool, her
half-brother, Michael, tried to commit suicide by hanging himself.
Michael was treated at Duke University Medical Center and at other
residential treatment facilities during Susan's childhood. As a result
of her turbulent home life, Susan was an unhappy child. The mother of
one of her playmates described Susan as "unusual and sad." "Susan
would stare in space, like she wasn't there."
was a sad child, she was especially close to her father and would
"light up" whenever Harry was around. In 1977, after seventeen years
of marriage, Linda divorced Harry. Susan was six years old. Harry was
devastated by the divorce; he became even more depressed and continued
to drink heavily.
On January 15,
1978, five weeks after Harry and Linda's divorce became final, Harry
Vaughan committed suicide. The suicide was preceded by an argument
that Harry and Linda had that escalated and forced Linda to call the
police. When the police officers arrived at Linda's house, they saw
Harry strike Linda. The police report also noted that Harry had broken
a window to gain entry into Linda's home. After the police came to
Linda's home, Harry apparently feared that he would hurt someone and
appealed to one of the police officers to take him to court so that he
could have himself jailed.
committed suicide by placing a gun between his legs and aiming the gun
at his abdomen. Harry then pulled the trigger, mortally wounding
himself, but he did not die immediately. Harry called 911 for
assistance and was rushed to the hospital, but emergency surgery could
not save his life. Harry was thirty-seven years old when he died.
suicide left a huge void in Susan's life. During her childhood, Susan
would treasure two possessions: Harry's coin collection and a tape
recording of his voice.
after her divorce from Harry became final; Linda married Beverly (Bev)
Russell, a well-to-do businessman who owned an appliance store in
downtown Union. Bev had been previously married and had several
daughters from his first marriage. Bev had once been a Democrat, but
had switched to the Republican Party, becoming a South Carolina State
Republican executive committeeman and a member of the advisory board
of the Christian Coalition.
mother's remarriage, Susan and her brothers moved from the Vaughan's
modest home outside of Union, into Bev's three bedroom home in the
exclusive Mount Vernon Estates section of Union.
Susan did well
in school. Throughout her elementary, junior and high school years,
Susan excelled. While she was in high school, she was a member of the
Beta Club, a club for students with a grade point average of B or
better. She also was a member of the Math, Spanish and Red Cross
Clubs. Susan volunteered in Union's annual Special Olympics and worked
with the elderly. Susan was named president of the Junior Civitan
Club, a high school club that performed volunteer work in the
community, and from 1986 to 1988, Susan and her best friend, Donna
Garner, volunteered as candy stripers at Wallace Thompson Hospital in
senior year of high school in 1989, she was voted "Friendliest Female"
at Union High School. Susan's classmates remembered her as "cheerful
and down to earth." Although she was a bit chubby in high school,
Susan wore miniskirts and blouses which flattered her figure. Susan
was vivacious and outgoing, but this only masked her insecurity and
burning need for male attention.
Susan's record of achievement and her image as a model daughter and
friend, Susan's life was filled with turmoil. Some of it came from her
relationship with her stepfather. Over the years, Bev's attention and
approval became increasingly important to Susan and she found herself
competing with her mother for his attention.
In 1987, when
Susan was about to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, one of Bev's
daughters from his previous marriage stayed overnight in the Russell
home. The daughter was given Susan's bedroom and Susan was to sleep on
the family room sofa. When Susan was ready to go to sleep, Bev was
sitting at one end of the sofa. Rather than ask Bev to move, Susan
crawled into Bev's lap and began to fall asleep. It was odd for a
fifteen-year-old to act like a two-year-old, but Susan may have felt
that this behavior was harmless. Bev, on the other hand, seemed to
feel that Susan's behavior was provocative. Susan fell asleep, but
gradually awoke to the awareness of Bev's hand moving slowly yet
firmly from her shoulder to her breasts. Bev then took Susan's hand
and placed it directly on his genitals. Susan pretended to be asleep
while the molestation took place. Susan later told her mother that she
did not object to Bev's behavior because she "wanted to see how far he
would go." Susan's response was clearly inappropriate.
Susan filed a
compliant against Bev that was investigated by the South Carolina
Department of Social Services and the Union County sheriff's office.
Linda contacted Susan's guidance counselor and obtained the name of a
family counselor. Bev, Linda and Susan only went for family counseling
four or five times before discontinuing the sessions. While the matter
was being investigated, Bev agreed to move out of the family's home,
but returned a short time later.
murder trial, it was revealed that the abuse never stopped. According
to Seymour Halleck, the defense's psychiatric expert, "the family
seemed to blame Susan as much as Bev." The family was concerned that
stories about the sexual abuse would spread into the community and
they blamed Susan for worsening the situation by making it public and
reporting it to the Department of Social Services.
1988, Susan was seventeen and sought out her guidance counselor,
Camille Stribling for advice. Susan told Stribling that her stepfather
had been molesting her. Stribling was required by law to report the
sexual abuse allegations to the South Carolina State Department of
Social Services. An official in that department called the Union
County sheriff's office.
the Union County sheriff's office indicate that in March 1988, Susan
reported an incident of sexual molestation by her stepfather to her
high school guidance counselor and to her mother. Linda told officials
from the sheriff's office that when she confronted Bev, he had not
denied that the incident of abuse had occurred. The Department of
Social Services sent a caseworker to interview Susan, Susan's guidance
counselor and several of Susan's teachers.
trial, the caseworker testified that she had learned that Bev Russell
had on repeated occasions, fondled Susan's breasts on top of her
clothing, french-kissed her and had taken Susan's hand and placed it
on his genitals.
were brought against Bev Russell regarding this second series of
molestation acts and there was no court hearing because Susan,
probably under pressure from Linda, agreed not to press any charges
against Bev. The Department of Social Services caseworker did not let
the matter drop so easily and notified Assistant Circuit Solicitor
Jack Flynn. The caseworker tried to convince Flynn to take the matter
to court in order to obtain a court order so that charges of "assault
and battery of a high and aggravated" nature could be brought against
Bev. However, an agreement was reached between Robert Guess, Bev's
attorney, and Solicitor Flynn and charges were never filed against
Bev. The agreement reached by Guess and Flynn was presented to Judge
David Wilburn on March 25, 1988. Judge Wilburn sealed the agreement,
which meant that the agreement would never be made available to the
In the summer
of 1988, between her junior and senior years of high school, Susan
began working at the Winn-Dixie supermarket in Union. Susan's first
job at the market was as a cashier, but within six months she was
promoted to head cashier and later she was promoted again and became
the market's bookkeeper. At the beginning of her senior year in high
school, Susan began to secretly date one of her co-workers from
Winn-Dixie, an older married man. Shortly after her relationship with
the older, married co-worker began. Susan became pregnant and had an
abortion. At the same time that this relationship was occurring, Susan
was also dating another co-worker. After the abortion, the older
married co-worker found out about the other relationship, and ended
his relationship with Susan. Susan became deeply depressed over the
breakup. In early November 1988, Susan attempted to commit suicide by
taking an overdose of aspirin and Tylenol. Susan was admitted to the
Spartanburg Regional Medical Center on November 7, 1988 and remained
hospitalized for one week. During her hospitalization, Susan's doctors
discovered that this was not Susan's first suicide attempt. When Susan
was thirteen years old, she had taken a similar overdose of aspirin.
Susan spent a month recovering from her suicide attempt. The managers
of Winn-Dixie were supportive and allowed Susan to return to her job.
Prior to her
suicide attempt, Susan became friendly with David Smith, one of the
stock clerks at Winn-Dixie. Susan knew David because they had attended
Union High School together at the same time. During the time Susan was
involved in her two relationships, David was dating his long time
girlfriend, Christy Jennings. David and Susan became friendly and when
Susan returned from her month long recovery, David broke up with
Christy and began to pursue a relationship with Susan.
was born on July 27, 1970, the second of three children born to
Barbara and Charles David Smith. Charles Smith was also called David
and was a Navy veteran who had served two tours of duty in Vietnam.
Barbara Smith was a devout Jehovah's Witness who sheltered David from
many outside influences during his childhood. When David was two years
old, the Smith family moved from Royal Oak, Michigan to Putnam, five
miles northwest of Union. David's father worked in a clothing store in
downtown Union and later as manager of Wal-Mart. While David was
growing up, his mother had two part-time jobs: she worked in a
lawyer's office and in a dialysis clinic. David's mother also attended
college part-time and studied to be a nurse. David had an older
stepbrother, Billy, from his mother's first marriage, an older
brother, Danny and a younger sister, Becky.
parents' marriage was troubled. Over the years of their marriage,
David's father grew to dislike his wife and her devotion to her
religion. As David grew older, he found the strict religious practices
of his mother's religion and its insistence on isolation from the
larger community distasteful. In David's long time girlfriend Christy
Jennings' opinion, David's childhood was difficult and deprived. David
followed his father's example and rejected the Jehovah's Witnesses.
This caused friction within the Smith household and when David was
seventeen, he distanced himself further from his mother and moved out
of his parents' home and into his great-grandmother, Forest "Moner"
Malone's home next door. David's older brother Danny was also living
at their great-grandmother's house.
At the age of
sixteen, David began working after school at Winn-Dixie. David was an
average student, but he had a very strong work ethic and was a
pleasant and personable young man.
summer of 1990, David and Susan began to date, although at the time,
David was engaged to Christy Jennings. David viewed his relationship
with Susan as casual and not serious. In January 1991, after dating
for about a year, Susan found out she was pregnant. David told Christy
about Susan and Christy broke off her relationship with David
Susan decided to get married because they were both against Susan
having an abortion. Although marriage represented safety and stability
to Susan, it also meant that she would have to give up her plans to
attend college. Susan desired to go to college, but she really had no
idea what college she wanted to attend or what she wanted to study.
In their own
ways, Susan and David were emotionally needy people who found comfort
and in the beginning of their relationship, similarities with each
other. David and Susan seemed to fulfill what the other needed
emotionally, however their relationship was filled with many stresses
and strains. Susan and David's backgrounds were completely different
and this also caused friction between them. David was raised in the
country and Susan was raised in the city. In Union, the city kids like
Susan looked down on the country kids like David.
and stepfather were not pleased by the news of Susan's pregnancy and
marriage. Susan's mother was disappointed that David did not have a
college education and was not from the same economic background as
On March 4,
1991, David's older brother, Danny who was twenty-two, died of
complications from Crohn's disease, a painful inflammation of the
intestinal tract. During the winter of 1991, Danny had undergone
surgery at the Spartanburg Regional Medical Center. After the surgery,
Danny developed a bacterial infection and, in his already weakened
condition, quickly deteriorated and died. Eleven days later on March
15, 1991, Susan and David wed at the United Methodist Church in
Bogansville. Susan was nineteen and two months' pregnant. David was
twenty. Even though David's family was dealing with the death of
Danny, Susan's mother, Linda, insisted that the wedding go forward as
scheduled. Linda was concerned that Susan's pregnancy would begin to
show before the wedding could take place.
worked steadily over several years renovating a small house located on
the same property as his great grandmother's house. Before Susan and
David were married, David had shown Susan the house and told her of
his plans for living in the house after they were married. In David's
eyes, Susan had agreed with him that they would live in the house
after they were married, but those plans changed when Bev and Linda
saw the house. Susan lost interest in living in the house after her
parents' visit. To David, the simple country home was comfortable and
ideal for his and Susan's needs. To Susan, it was a "tin-roofed
country shack." Susan probably dreamed of moving into a new home that
was bigger and grander than the home she had been raised in. Susan and
David compromised, and Susan moved in with David at Moner's house.
In May 1991,
three months after Susan and David's wedding, David's father attempted
to commit suicide. Susan found him at his home on the floor. David's
father had taken an overdose of pills. From the strain of Danny's
death and David's father's attempted suicide, David's parent's
marriage fell apart. David's mother, Barbara, moved to Garden City,
South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach. David's father continued to live in
Putnam. After his suicide attempt, David's father was hospitalized and
treated for depression. During his hospitalization, David's father met
Sue, the woman who would become his second wife.
at Winn-Dixie until she went into labor. Michael Daniel Smith was born
on October 10, 1991 at Mary Black Hospital in Spartanburg. Michael's
middle name was chosen in honor of David's brother, Danny. After
Michael's birth, Susan continued to work part-time at Winn-Dixie and
enrolled in several college courses at the branch of the University of
South Carolina in Union.
Early in their
marriage, David and Susan felt a great deal of tension. The tension
and trouble was no surprise to their friends. In Union, it was
customary for young people to marry after finishing high school and
then begin to have children. Young couples often found themselves with
demands and responsibilities that exceed their expectations of married
life. One of the areas that caused tension between David and Susan was
money. According to David, Susan was always interested in material
things. Susan also worried about paying the bills and often asked her
mother for loans. This angered David. David and Susan earned a fairly
good income; David earned about $22,000 a year and Susan earned about
$17,000 during the years that they were married.
of tension in Susan and David's marriage was Linda and David's
relationship. Linda and David did not get along with one another.
Linda was very controlling and would often visit the Smiths without
calling first. Linda often offered unsolicited advice and opinions
about how David and Susan were raising Michael and how to deal with
problems in their marriage. According to David, Susan seemed to almost
always follow what Linda said.
on their marriage was the fact that Susan and David both worked at
Winn-Dixie. At Winn-Dixie, David was Susan's boss. Another problem
with David and Susan's marriage were their extramarital affairs. By
their third wedding anniversary, David and Susan had separated several
times. David moved between Moner's house and the Smith's house on
Toney Road frequently.
first separation in March 1992, shortly after their one-year wedding
anniversary, Susan rekindled a relationship with a former boyfriend at
Winn-Dixie and this angered David.
separation in the summer of 1992, Susan and Michael lived at Linda and
Bev's home. David and Susan tried to mend their relationship and
throughout 1992, David and Susan's relationship seesawed back and
forth. Susan became pregnant in November 1992. In December, David and
Susan decided to try again to live under the same roof. Susan told
David that the only chance their relationship had to succeed was if
they had their own home. In the winter of 1993, David and Susan
brought a small ranch style house with dark red shutters at 407 Toney
Road in Union. Bev and Linda provided the down payment.
pregnancy was not as happy an experience as her first with Michael.
David remembers that Susan complained non-stop about becoming "fat and
ugly." Slowly, Susan began to shut David out of her life. She
complained about the physical aspects of their relationship and
stopped sharing anecdotes about Michael with David. David became
lonely and wanted someone to talk to. In June 1993, David began a
relationship with a cashier at Winn-Dixie, Tiffany Moss. Susan and
Tiffany had attended high school together at the same time. They were
not friends, but they knew each other. Susan was jealous of David.
Employees at Winn-Dixie remember incidents when Susan would visit
David and scream at him when she saw David talking to women in the
David's second son Alexander Tyler was born on August 5, 1993. Susan
had an emergency Cesarean section. After Alex's birth, Susan and David
put aside their differences for a short time in order to settle their
new baby at home and allow Susan time to heal from her Cesarean.
Within three weeks of Alex's birth, Susan and David decided that their
relationship was over and David moved out of the Toney Road house and
into Moner's house. Although Susan and David's marriage was troubled
and headed for divorce, by all accounts, Susan and David were devoted
parents who adored their children.
recovering from Alex's birth, Susan found a new job at Conso Products.
Susan decided that she could not return to Winn-Dixie because she was
not getting along with David, who would be her supervisor. Nor did she
want to work in the same place as David's girlfriend, Tiffany Moss.
hired as a bookkeeper at Conso Products and eventually became the
assistant to the executive secretary for J. Carey Findlay, the
president and CEO of Conso. Findlay was an accountant from Charlotte,
North Carolina, who bought Conso in 1986 with a group of investors.
They had originally planned to reorganize Conso and turn around and
sell the company for a quick profit, but Findlay was excited by the
business and bought out his partners in 1988. Findlay settled
permanently in Union and purchased an estate seven miles south of
Union. In November 1993, Conso Products announced a public offering of
its stock, becoming the first publicly owned corporation in Union. At
the end of 1993, Conso had factories in Great Britain, Canada and
working at Conso. She liked the responsibilities she had handling
hotel arrangements for out-of-town clients, ordering flowers and
arranging for Findlay's travel. Susan was exposed to elements of an
expensive lifestyle were foreign to her. Susan also enjoyed working at
Conso for another reason: Tom Findlay. Tom was one of three sons of J.
Carey Findlay. Tom was twenty-seven and had grown up in an upscale
suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. Tom had graduated with a bachelor's
degree from Auburn University in 1990 and had moved to Union to work
as the head of the graphic arts department of Conso. Tom was
responsible for designing and producing Conso's brochures. He was
popular with young women in Union, because he was young, rich and
provided Susan with a new group of friends and Susan spent a lot of
time socializing with them at Union's only bar, Hickory Nuts, which
opened during the summer of 1993.
and David's last separation before Susan filed for divorce, Tom and
Susan began to date. Beginning in January 1994 and for a period of
several months, Susan and Tom frequently met for lunch or went to the
movies. Susan visited Tom at his cottage on his father's estate and
attended several parties thrown by Tom there.
spring and early summer of 1994, Susan and David tried one final time
to make their marriage work. David moved back to the Toney Road house
and stopped seeing Tiffany. During this time Susan and Tom had broken
off their relationship as well. At the end of July 1994, Susan told
David that she wanted a divorce. David had wanted the marriage to
work, especially because he believed his sons needed their mother and
David rented a two-bedroom apartment in the Lakeside Gardens complex
about two miles from the house Susan, Michael and Alex lived in on
Toney Road. David brought new furniture for his apartment and set up a
bedroom with a bed, a crib and new toys for Michael and Alex.
beginning of September, Susan began to believe that her life was
finally settling down. She and David had an amicable relationship
centered on taking care of their sons and Susan was beginning to
believe that her dreams of love and stability might be realized with
Tom Findlay, who she had begun to date again in September. However,
Tom Findlay had different ideas. Tom liked Susan but he ended their
relationship because he began to feel that Susan was too possessive
and too needy.
21st, Susan's attorney served divorce papers on David. Susan sought a
divorce on the grounds of adultery. On October 21st, Susan's divorce
papers were filed at the Union county courthouse; several days earlier
she had received Tom Findlay's "Dear John" letter. Susan was furious
and she sought Tom out at his cottage on Sunday, October 23 in the
hope of restoring her relationship with him. Susan tried to gain Tom's
sympathy by telling him about her sexual relationship with Bev
Russell, but this only seemed to shock Tom.
The Big Lie
The fall of
1994 had been full of activity for Susan. She worked full time at
Conso, managed a part time college course load at the University of
South Carolina, had custody of her two toddler sons and was sexually
involved with three men: Bev Russell, Tom Findlay and her estranged
husband, David. Increasingly, Susan was filled with anxiety and when
she was alone, she became deeply depressed. During this period of
time, Susan had begun to take days off from work to drink. This was
unusual behavior for her.
October 25, 1994 began like any other day for Susan Smith. Susan
dressed and fed her children breakfast and then drove them to daycare.
Susan went to work and at lunch joined a group of Conso employees, one
of whom was Tom Findlay, at a restaurant in Buffalo. While the group
laughed and talked, Susan sat quietly. At around 1:30 p.m., Susan
asked her supervisor, Sandy Williams, if she could leave work early.
Sandy asked Susan if something was wrong and Susan confided in Sandy
that she was upset because she was "in love who someone who doesn't
love me." Sandy asked Susan who that person was and Susan replied,
"Tom Findlay, but it can never be because of my children." Rather than
go home, Susan remained at her desk.
At around 2:30
p.m., Susan called Tom in his office to ask him to meet her outside of
the building to talk. Susan told Tom that David was threatening to
expose and make public some embarrassing information about her in
their divorce proceedings. Tom asked her to explain what the
information was and Susan told Tom that David would accuse her of
"cheating the IRS and of having an affair with your father." After
recovering from the shock of hearing about this alleged affair, Tom
told Susan that their friendship would remain intact, but that "our
intimate relationship will have to stop forever."
At 4:30 p.m.,
Susan sought out Tom again in the Conso photography studio. Susan
attempted to return Tom's Auburn University sweatshirt that she had
borrowed, but Tom refused to accept it. Tom told Susan to hold on to
collecting her sons at day care, Susan headed in her car to Hickory
Nuts, while she was driving there she spotted Sue Brown, the marketing
manager at Conso, in her car. Both Sue and Susan pulled into the
Hickory Nuts' parking lot. Susan talked to Sue and convinced her to
return to Conso with her so that she could apologize to Tom for lying
to him about sleeping with his father. Susan had concocted the story
in order to see Tom's reaction to it. The woman arrived at Conso
around 5:30 p.m. Susan wanted Sue to watch her children while she
spoke to Tom. Tom was not happy to see Susan and quickly led her out
of his office. Susan told Sue Brown that she was upset after talking
to Tom and that she "may just end it." Sandy Williams was leaving
Conso for the day when she spotted Susan Smith and Sue Brown in the
parking lot. Sandy felt manipulated and deceived by Susan who had
insisted that she could not stay at work and had to go home because
she was so upset by her boyfriend's rejection. Susan dropped Sue Brown
off at Hickory Nuts and drove home, it was about 6:00 p.m.
Later in the
evening, Sue Brown was eating dinner at Hickory Nuts with several
friends, including Tom Findlay. During the meal, a waiter brought a
cordless telephone to Sue. Susan Smith was calling to ask Sue if Tom
Findlay had asked about her. Sue told Susan that he had not.
At 8:00 p.m.,
Susan dressed her sons, placed them in their car seats in her car and
began driving around Union. Susan later described her reaction to
Tom's rejection by saying that she had "never felt so lonely and sad
in my entire life."
p.m., Shirley McCloud was relaxing in the living room of her home,
located about one quarter mile from John D. Long Lake. Shirley was
just finishing Tuesday's Union Daily Times when she heard a wailing
sound coming from her front porch. Shirley switched on the porch light
and saw a young woman sobbing hysterically. The young woman cried,
"Please help me!" "He's got my kids and he's got my car." Shirley lead
Susan Smith into her home and Susan told her, "A black man has got my
kids and my car." Shirley's husband, Rick told his son Rick, Jr. to
At 9:12 p.m.,
the 911 dispatcher called the Union County sheriff's office to direct
them to respond to the Rick McCloud's 911 call. Once Susan had calmed
down, Shirley asked Susan to tell her what happened. Susan told her
the following story: "I was stopped at the red light at Monarch Mills
and a black man jumped in and told me to drive." "I asked him why was
he doing this and he said shut up and drive or I'll kill you." Susan
continued and told Shirley that, at the abductor's direction, she
drove northeast of Union for about four miles until, "he made me stop
right past the sign." Shirley confirmed that the sign was for the John
D. Long Lake, which was located several hundred yards outside of
Shirley's front door. "He told me to get out. He made me stop in the
middle of the road. Nobody was coming, not a single car." Susan
continued, "I asked him, 'why can't I take my kids?'" Susan told
Shirley that the man said, "I don't have time." Susan said that the
man pushed her out of her car while he was pointing a gun at her side.
Susan continued by telling Shirley that "When he finally got me out he
said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt your kids." Susan described
how she had laid on the ground as the man drove away as both of her
sons cried out for their mother. After awhile, Susan wasn't sure how
long, she began to run and stopped when she reached Shirley McCloud's
porch. Susan asked Shirley if she could use the bathroom and if she
could call her mother. When Susan was unable to reach her mother, she
called her stepfather and then her husband, David at Winn-Dixie. By
the time Susan reached David by phone, the Union County Sheriff,
Howard Wells had driven to the McClouds' home and was directing the
search for the Smith children.
knew Susan through his friendship with Susan's brother, Scotty and
Scotty's wife, Wendy. Wells and his wife Wanda considered themselves
close friends of Scotty and Wendy Vaughn. Wells asked Susan to repeat
her story, although he had heard it from the 911 dispatcher and from
Shirley McCloud. Wells took notes and asked Susan questions. Wells
noted that Susan was wearing a gray sweatshirt with orange lettering
spelling out Auburn University. Susan's face was red and puffy and her
hands rested in her lap. Susan described the clothes that her sons
were wearing. Michael was wearing a white jogging suit and Alex was
wearing a red and white-stripped outfit. After Susan finished, Wells
realized that the carjacking was not going to be solved quickly nor
would the Union County sheriff's office have all the resources
necessary to find the Smith children. Wells called Chief Robert
Stewart, the head of South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known by
the initials, SLED, for additional assistance.
Wells did not
question the information Susan had provided to him or her story. Wells
was concerned with collecting all the available information and
following whatever leads developed. As time passed and more scrutiny
could be applied to the information he had collected, Wells could
begin to sort out fact from fiction.
sheriff's deputies continued searching for the Smith brothers and
Susan's Mazda while Susan, David and the Vaughn-Russell families
gathered at the McClouds' home. Around midnight, Sheriff Wells
suggested that Susan and her family find another meeting place. Susan
volunteered her mother's home and Susan, David, Bev, Linda and
assorted friends and family left the McClouds for the Russell home.
Susan rode with David in his car to the Russells. On the way to the
Russells, Susan told David that Tom Findlay might come and see her and
that she didn't want David to become angry. David found Susan's
statement incredible in light of the fact that their sons were
missing. It seemed that Susan was more worried that David would become
upset if her boyfriend came to visit, rather than worrying about
finding their sons.
to his office and began to organize the investigation. He called SLED
to coordinate efforts to send divers to John D. Long Lake to search
the lake. A SLED helicopter with heat sensors flew over John D. Long
Lake and nearby Sumter National Forest. Divers who searched the lake
did not find anything on the bottom of John D. Long Lake in the area
they searched. Wells needed to obtain a better, more detailed
description of the kidnapper from Susan and made arrangements for a
police sketch artist to sketch a composite drawing. The police artist
met with Susan and using the description she provided composed a
sketch of a black man, around forty years of age, wearing a dark knit
cap, a dark shirt, jeans and a plaid jacket.
October 26, 1994, Union County sheriff deputies and SLED agents
searched the area surrounding John D. Long Lake. Agents conducted
interviews of the McCloud family. Another organization also became
involved in the search for Michael and Alex Smith, the Adam Walsh
Center, located in the state capitol, Columbia, about 70 miles south
of Union. The Adam Walsh Center was named in memory of six-year-old
Adam Walsh who disappeared during a shopping trip with his mother from
a Florida Sears store in 1981. Even though an intense search was
undertaken to find Adam, he remained missing for ten days until his
body was found 150 miles from where he had disappeared. Adam's killer
was never found. In 1981 law enforcement agencies did not have
standard operating procedures for locating missing children. There
were no computer databases of child molesters, no clearinghouses of
information on missing children, and no way for one law enforcement
agency to communicate with another. John and Reve Walsh, Adam's
parents, dedicated themselves to changing the system. As a result of
their efforts, the 1984 Missing Children's Act was passed. The act
organized a computerized system for sharing information and
established four regional missing children centers in the United
States, one of which was located in Columbia.
Later in the
afternoon of October 26th, Margaret Frierson, Executive Director of
the South Carolina Chapter of the Adam Walsh Center spoke to Susan's
sister-in-law, Wendy Vaughn and offered the center's assistance to
Susan and David Smith. Margaret told Wendy that she would need to
speak to Susan and David and asked that they call her back. They never
did. Instead, Bev Russell called Margaret later that same day and
provided directions to his home. Before driving to Union, Margaret and
her assistant, Charlotte Foster, worked with SLED to obtain pictures
of Michael and Alex and arranged for fliers to be printed describing
the missing boys.
David continued to stay with Bev and Linda Russell. David's father and
his wife Sue flew to Union from California and David's uncle Doug and
his wife drove from Michigan to be with him. The house quickly filled
with other relatives, friends, neighbors and ministers. Susan never
spent a moment alone. In her parents' home, her friends and family
comforted Susan and provided the affectionate nurturing Susan so badly
desired. This was in sharp contrast to the isolation and loneliness
she recently felt.
called Susan and expressed his sympathies about Michael and Alex.
Susan shifted the topic of conversation away from her missing children
and to her relationship with him. Tom told Susan not to worry about
their relationship and to concentrate on her children. This telephone
call would be the only one that Susan would receive from Tom. Tom
never visited Susan, not even when a group of Susan's co-workers from
Conso visited. When Sue Brown came to visit, Susan Smith asked her
when Tom was planning to visit her.
Frierson and Charlotte Foster arrived at the Russell home on the
afternoon of October 26th. Instead of talking to Susan and David
alone, as they preferred, the women met with Susan, David, Bev, Linda
and Scotty Vaughn. Margaret explained why the Adam Walsh Center was
founded and what services it could provide to the parents of missing
children. Margaret explained that she and Charlotte could act as the
family's liaison with the news media and could arrange and schedule
interviews and broadcast pictures of the missing boys and information
about the crime. After 40 minutes, Susan and David excused themselves
from the conversation and drove to the sheriff's office for
interviews. Margaret followed David and Susan in her car. Sheriff
Wells questioned Susan in his office. Margaret and SLED investigator
Eddie Harris spoke with David about making a plea for the safe return
of his sons to the news media. Margaret and Harris believed that a
nationally televised appeal for the children's return would be
instrumental in solving the boys' disappearance. David was nervous,
but agreed that it was important to do anything that would return his
The news media
descended in large numbers on Union. At first the carjacking was
covered by the local paper, the Union Daily Times and local radio
stations, but interest in the story quickly grew and the national
networks were soon covering the story.
Susan by his side, stood on the steps of the Union County Sheriff's
department and made the following statement: "To whoever has our boys,
we ask that you please don't hurt them and bring them back. We love
them very much...I plead to the guy please return our children to us
safe and unharmed. Everywhere I look, I see their play toys and
pictures. They are both wonderful children. I don't know how else to
put it. And I can't imagine life without them." After he finished
David, along with Susan, returned to the sheriff's office. Susan was
questioned by both investigators from the Union County sheriff's
office and agents from SLED for about six hours. Susan was asked on a
number of occasions to repeat the details of her story.
At the end of
the day, Sheriff Wells called David A. Caldwell, Director of the
Forensic Sciences Laboratory for the State Law Enforcement Division in
Columbia and asked him to drive to Union to interview Susan Smith.
Two days after
the carjacking, on Thursday, October 27, 1994, both David and Susan
submitted to polygraph tests administered by the FBI. Susan and David
each read and signed a form advising them of their Miranda rights,
their right to remain silent, their right to an attorney, and their
right to stop talking to investigators. David's test showed that he
knew nothing about the disappearance of his sons. Susan's test was
inconclusive. Susan's test showed that her greatest level of deception
was when she was asked the question; "Do you know where your children
are?" The investigators did not hide the results of her polygraph from
Susan. Susan told David that she thought she had not done well on the
test. She wasn't sure that she failed the test outright, but she told
David that she thought the police might begin to doubt her story. This
would be the first of many polygraph tests Susan was given. Each time
Susan was interviewed, she was given a polygraph test. This would be
the one and only polygraph test given to David.
several inconsistencies in Susan's story. Over the course of the day,
Agent Caldwell interviewed Susan on three separate occasions at the
Union County sheriff's office. Agent Caldwell asked Susan to relate
the details of October 25, beginning when she awoke in the morning
until she spoke with Sheriff Wells at the McClouds' house. Susan told
Caldwell she had called her mother after she came home from work to
ask if she could visit her later in the evening. Susan's mother told
her that she had other plans and would not be home. Susan made dinner
for her sons, but they were fussy and did not want to eat. David
called Susan during the time she was preparing dinner and later told
the police that he could hear his sons in the background and that they
seemed "fussy". Susan told Caldwell that at 7:30 p.m., Michael told
her he wanted to go to Wal-Mart. Caldwell questioned Susan about this
and Susan admitted that she suggested going to Wal-Mart. Susan told
Caldwell she drove to Foster Park and stayed until 8:40 p.m., but did
not get out of her car. Susan then claimed she returned to the
Wal-Mart parking lot because of the bright lights so that she could
search for Alex's bottle that he had dropped on the floor of the car.
Susan then told Caldwell that Michael had suggested visiting Mitchell
Sinclair, fiancé of her best friend Donna Garner, but then amended her
answer when Caldwell questioned her further about it. Susan told
Caldwell that Mitch lived less than a mile north of the Monarch
intersection and that she had stopped at a red light on Monarch, but
saw no other cars at the intersection while she had stopped.
told Susan that investigators had spoken to Mitchell and he told them
that he had not been expecting her and that he wasn't home around 9:00
p.m. Agent Caldwell also told Susan that investigators had visited the
Wal-Mart and had spoken to many people who were working or shopping in
the store that evening and that no one remembered seeing Susan or her
two children. Susan backpedaled away from her story and said that she
had actually been driving around for hours with her two children
strapped to their car seats. Susan had not said anything about this to
investigators because she was afraid that her behavior sounded
interviewing Susan on October 26, investigators became suspicious of
her story. The light at the Monarch intersection is permanently green
unless a car on the cross street triggers the signal to switch. If
there had been no other cars on the road that night, the light would
not have been red.
Caldwell was interviewing Susan, David met with other SLED
investigators and told them that Susan had been dating other men. The
investigators wanted names and dates. David told them about Tom
Findlay. David was frustrated that the investigators were focusing so
much attention on Susan rather than searching for his sons. Agent
Caldwell told Susan that investigators had obtained information that
Susan had a boyfriend, Tom Findlay, and that Tom had broken off his
relationship with Susan because of Susan's sons. Caldwell asked Susan,
"Did this fact play any role or have any bearing on the disappearance
of your children?" Susan replied that, "No man would make me hurt my
children." "They were my life." Susan's answer indicated that she
thought her sons were no longer alive.
Later in the
day, when Susan was interviewed again by Agent Caldwell, she was
confronted again by the inconsistencies in her story. Agent Caldwell
demanded to know why Susan had not told the truth about Wal-Mart.
Caldwell asked Susan about her children's fussiness and asked Susan,
"is that why you killed them?" Susan slammed her fist on the table and
said, "You son of a b-----!" "How can you think that!" Susan got up
from her chair and left the office where the interview was taking
place yelling, "I can't believe that you think I did it!"
noted that from time to time during his interview with Susan, she
would sob, but tears would not always accompany her apparent crying.
The FBI agent, who administered her polygraph test on October 27,
noted that Susan made "fake sounds of crying with no tears in her
who thought Susan was lying about the carjacking was the forensic
artist, Roy Paschal, who had drawn the sketch of the carjacker from
Susan's description. Paschal felt that Susan was vague in her
description of the kidnapper, but she was very specific about some of
the small details in the drawing.
and Agent Logan contacted the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit for
assistance. Wells and Logan asked the unit to provide a profile of the
characteristics of a homicidal mother. The profile the FBI provided
fit Susan Smith almost perfectly. The FBI's profile described a woman
in her twenties, who grew up or lived in poverty, was under-educated,
had a history of either physical or sexual abuse or both, remained
isolated from social supports, had depressive and suicidal tendencies
and was usually experiencing rejection by a male lover at the time she
murdered. The profile also described how the mother might also find
herself enmeshed with her children and show an inability to define her
boundaries as separate from her children. The profile also described
how depression in the mother was often correlated with a blurring of
boundaries. A mother's biological ties, her strong role expectations
to be a mother, her significantly greater care giving
responsibilities, her isolation in carrying out those responsibilities
and her greater tendency toward depression and self-destruction were
likely to result in her becoming trapped in enmeshment with her
homicidal act, a mother may view a child as a mere extension of
herself rather than as a separate being. A mother's suicidal
inclination may often be transformed into filial homicide.
investigation continued into its third day. Sheriff Wells appeared on
the Today show and on Larry King Live. He told Larry King that his
office had received more than 1,000 calls but that none had developed
into a strong lead to follow. Divers searched the bottom of John D.
Long Lake, but they found nothing in the murky water.
made a tremendous error when they told the divers to assume that
anyone trying to hide a car would drive it into the water at a high
rate of speed. None of the experts considered that a driver might
simply let a car roll from the edge of the banks into the water. It is
easy to envision that a car driven into a body of water at a high
speed would go further than a car driven slowly, in reality, the
opposite occurs. The faster that a car hits the water, the more waves
it creates which stops the forward momentum of the car. A car driven
at a high rate of speed into water simply drops and sinks at the edge
of the body of water. Because the Mazda had been rolled into the lake
at a slow speed, it had drifted out much further from the edge of the
water, nearly 100 feet. Drivers searched the edge of the water, while
the Mazda remained submerged.
morning, October 28, 50 volunteer fire fighters and dozens of SLED
agents and sheriff's deputies searched the north and south sides of
Highway 49 near John D. Long Lake. They came up empty handed. Sheriff
Wells held a press conference to announce that he had no solid clues
in the kidnapping of Michael and Alex and he had not ruled out any
suspects, including Susan and David Smith. Wells also stated that the
investigators had uncovered several discrepancies in Susan's
statements, but Wells would not elaborate about specific details.
Wells also said, "We do not have a car, we do not have the children,
we do not have the suspect."
October 29, 1994 edition of the Union Daily Times published a story
about the discrepancies in Susan's story. The story described how
Mitchell Sinclair had not been expecting Susan on the night of the
carjacking, that no one had seen her or her children at Wal-Mart, and
that Susan had told investigators that she had been driving around
aimlessly in the hours before the carjacking. In many ways, the
front-page story echoed the doubts many in the community were
harboring but hesitated to express. Susan seemed reluctant to speak
publicly in order to raise awareness of her missing children and this
caused additional speculation that Susan was somehow involved in the
disappearance of her children.
another issue surrounding the disappearance of Michael and Alex Smith
that caused a greater amount of speculation, the fact that Susan
claimed that the carjacker was a black man. Many in the black
community found that Susan's story lacked credibility. They found it
impossible that a black man would go unnoticed driving around with two
white children, especially given the intensity surrounding the search
for the Smith children.
The news media
continued to descend on Union. Among the media that was attracted to
the case was the television program American Journal. The producers of
American Journal asked Marc Klaas, the father of Polly Klaas, the
twelve year old girl from Petaluma, California who was kidnapped from
her bedroom and murdered in 1993, to report on the Smith brothers
disappearance. Klass had previously reported on three other cases of
missing children for the television program. After his daughter's
murder, Klaas became an advocate for children, giving up the ownership
of a Hertz Rent-A-Car franchise at the San Francisco airport in order
to devote his full attention to his new role. A year after becoming a
board member of the Polly Klaas Foundation, Klaas formed his own
organization, The Marc Klaas Foundation for Children which lobbied for
stronger laws to protect children and keep violent, repeat offenders
behind bars. Klaas also assists parents who are suffering through the
disappearance of a child. When his daughter was kidnapped, Marc Klass
met Jeanne Boyton, a cognitive graphic artist, who sketched the
drawing of Richard Allen Davis, the man ultimately caught, tried and
convicted for the murder of Polly Klaas. After Polly's murder had been
solved, Marc and Jeanne had stayed in touch with each other. When
Jeanne saw the drawing of the black man Susan had described to Roy
Paschal, she felt that if Susan Smith had really been carjacked, a far
more detailed drawing of the suspect would have been produced. Klaas
suggested that Jeanne join him in Union. Before Jeanne agreed to go to
Union, she called the FBI office in Columbia, South Carolina and
obtained their approval. Klaas and Boyton arrived in Union on Friday,
October 28, 1994. They had both traveled from the West Coast on red
eye flights. As Boyton and Klass approached the Russell home where
Susan was staying, Margaret Gregory met them on the driveway. Gregory
is the wife of Susan's cousin and was employed by the Richland County
Sheriff's public information office. Bev and Linda Russell had decided
that Margaret Gregory would be the official family spokesperson since
she was the only member of the extended Russell and Smith families
that regularly dealt with the media. Gregory told Klaas and Boyton
that Susan had no interest in meeting with them. Jeanne could not
understand why Susan wouldn't meet with them. Jeanne had worked on
over 7,000 criminal cases and she felt she understood what type of
behavior was typical and what wasn't and Susan's refusal to see them
with the media camped out in front of the Russell home while Boyton
went to the sheriff's office in Union. Boyton meet with FBI agents,
SLED investigators and Union County sheriff's deputies and explained
her criticism of the original drawing of the carjacker. Boyton
explained how the positioning in the drawing was incorrect, how the
suspect was devoid of emotion and how the drawing was of a person that
was very passive. Boyton learned from the SLED investigators, the FBI
agents and Sheriff Wells that they did not believe Susan Smith. Boyton
tried to meet with Susan on her own. She changed from her black
business suit into jeans and a casual shirt. She tucked her long blond
hair into a baseball cap, but when she approached the Russell home,
Margaret Gregory met her in the driveway and again told her that Susan
was not interested in meeting with her.
spoken briefly to Bev Russell and Margaret Frierson on Friday, his
first day in Union, but he was unsuccessful in setting up a meeting
with Susan or David Smith. Klaas eventually spoke to David's father
who was supportive of the idea of Klaas meeting with David and Susan.
Klass and David's father tentatively set an appointment for Sunday
morning but when Klaas arrived at the Russell home to meet with Susan
and David, he was met again by Margaret Gregory who told him that
Susan and David were not up for meeting him.
days of trying to talk to Susan and David Smith, Boyton and Klaas gave
up and went home. Marc Klass left Union convinced that Susan Smith was
involved in the disappearance of her children. Klaas did not believe
that Susan harmed her children, instead he thought that the Smiths
were involved in a custody battle and that Susan had hidden the
children from David.
Six days after
the Smith children disappeared, the Union County sheriff's office
received a call from police in Seattle about a fourteen-month-old
white child. The child's description matched the physical description
of Alex Smith. The child had been abandoned by a man driving a car
with South Carolina license plates at a motel near Seattle. Sheriff
Wells called the Russell home and spoke to Bev and told him about the
boy in Seattle. For a short period of time, it looked like one of the
Smith children had been located. Unfortunately, the good news was
short lived. By 10:00 a.m., a call from the police in Seattle
confirmed that the boy was not Alex Smith. Sheriff Wells meet with
Bev, Linda, David, Susan, Margaret Gregory, her husband and Scotty and
Wendy Vaughn in his office. Wells told them about the disappointing
news. After their meeting with Wells, David and Susan held a short
press conference in front of the Union County sheriff's office.
Robert Stewart, the Chief of SLED, Agent David Caldwell, the
behavioral specialist and the FBI Agents working on the case had each
concluded on their own and together as a group that Susan Smith was
lying about her involvement in the disappearance of her children. The
investigators now faced the challenge of proving Susan's involvement
in the crime. Investigators continued to interview Susan on a daily
basis. Gradually they began to suggest to her that while they wanted
to believe her story, they could not.
had accused Susan of murdering her children during an interview on
October 26th. Susan's reaction shocked the investigators. The quiet,
passive, semi-hysterical woman who continually repeated, "God, look
after my babies," suddenly became angry and lashed out at the
investigators. From Susan's response, investigators learned that Susan
was not just a brokenhearted mother but a strong willed woman and that
they would have a difficult time getting her to confess. There was
nothing that the investigators could prove yet, but all the details of
Susan's story: the red light at the Monarch Mills intersection; the
absence of cars on the road; the conflicting stories about where Susan
was headed the night of October 25, and the fact that Susan's car had
vanished, made investigators doubt her. The issue that most nagged at
the investigators was Susan's car. Very early in the investigation,
investigators felt that Susan was culpable of the crime and that she
had acted alone, but where was Susan's car? Investigators felt that
the car and the children were within walking distance of the lake.
They returned time again to search for the car in the two-mile area
surrounding the McClouds' house.
From the start
of the case, investigators carried out meticulously planned
interrogations of Susan Smith that were designed to gradually break
down her defenses so that she would confess. The investigators
behavior and movements were carefully scripted and choreographed.
There were no ad libbed or casual questions to Susan. Sheriff Wells
and Agent Pete Logan acted as the "good cops." Logan has thirty-five
years of law enforcement experience; twenty-seven of those years were
spent in the FBI. Logan spoke gently to Susan and manipulated her into
trusting him. The investigators believed that if they could build
Susan's trust in them, they could coax her into confessing. Logan was
careful not to push Susan too hard. Investigators were familiar with
Susan's previous suicide attempts and they were concerned that if they
pushed her too hard she would shut down or commit suicide.
investigators all hoped that the Smith children would be found alive
and unharmed, but they knew as the days passed that this wish was less
and less likely to come true. The strongest weapon that investigators
were able to use against Susan's steadfast claim that she was the
victim of a carjacking was psychology. Investigators met several times
each day during the nine days that the Smith children were missing to
plot strategy and consider their next move in interrogating Susan.
met with Susan at two different locations away from the news media.
Agent Pete Logan met daily with Susan and after each conversation,
Logan would attach Susan to the polygraph machine and test her. Susan
routinely failed the question: " Do you know where your children are?"
Caldwell interviewed Susan and studied her behavior, he wrote a
psychological profile of her. Caldwell's profile described a cool,
cunning woman with a strong drive to succeed. Agent Caldwell had
obtained information from Tom Findlay, whom had met with investigators
at the beginning of the investigation. Findlay had provided the
investigators with a copy of the letter that he had sent to Susan
ending their relationship. Findlay told the investigators that Susan
had reacted vindictively to his rejection and Findlay had been
surprised by Susan's bitterness. The investigators used Findlay's
information and their own observations of Susan's angry outburst when
confronted with their early suspicions to develop a possible motive:
that greed and ambition had pushed Susan to rid herself of her
children by murdering them. Agent Caldwell designed a series of
questions and comments for Pete Logan to use in his length daily
conversations with Susan. Several of the scenarios would be used to
during the nine-day interrogations as part of Logan's efforts to
pressure Susan into confessing.
One of the
investigators' tactics was to build up the media frenzy directed at
David and Susan Smith. One example of the way the investigators shaped
the news was at the press conference held by Sheriff Wells on Tuesday,
November 1; exactly one week after Susan made her claims about being
carjacked. Wells met in the parking lot of the Union County courthouse
with a dozen reporters. Wells' words were carefully scripted and
impeccable planned. There was no question to whom Wells' statement was
directed to: Susan Smith. Wells said, "I don't know that we're any
closer to finding the car." "I have nothing encouraging." "We're
following old information that we've just not gotten to. "I don't
think it's developed into anything as of yet to be any more excited
about than yesterday."
investigators contacted the producers of America's Most Wanted and had
them tape a segment on the disappearance of the Smith brothers. The
investigators hoped that the additional media coverage would bring
pressure on Susan and would push her to confess. The investigators
contacted a group of Union's most influential ministers to arrange for
them to hold a press conference to appeal to the carjacker. Agent
Caldwell's most elaborate scheme involved the creation of an authentic
appearing newspaper on desktop publishing software that contained an
article about a young mother who had killed her children, then served
a short prison sentence and upon her release from prison, married a
wealthy physician. A photograph of a policewoman Susan did not know
would be used. Caldwell's intention was to convince Susan to confess
with the expectation that she might lead a different life with a
Most Wanted segment never aired, the newspaper was never created and
the ministers gathered in front of the cameras in front of the Union
County courthouse, not to appeal to the carjacker, but to ask for
November 3, 1995, the ninth day since the carjacking and disappearance
of the Michael and Alex Smith, their parents, Susan and David rose
early to prepare themselves for interviews on three television network
morning programs. Susan and David sat together holding hands on the
Russells' living room sofa during their interviews. On CBS This
Morning, Susan was asked if she had any involvement in her son's
disappearance. Susan answered the question by saying, "I did not have
anything to do with the abduction of my children." Susan added that,
"Whoever did this is a sick and emotionally unstable person." Although
David and Susan were legally separated, when David was asked whether
he believed his wife, he replied, "Yes, I believe my wife totally."
interviews, Susan and David had been scheduled to sit for an interview
with the Union Daily Times, but Margaret Gregory called and cancelled
the interview explaining that the couple were exhausted and had enough
media attention for the day.
At 12:30 p.m.,
Susan told her mother that she and David were going to run errands.
Susan did not tell her mother that Sheriff Wells had sent for her.
Susan was taken to another safe house for another interrogation.
dressed in jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and brought to her latest
interrogation a newly revised statement that said the same things as
her previous statement, the only change being that the name "Monarch
Mills" had been changed to "Carlisle". Agent Logan asked Susan if she
had anything else to add to her statement and she said no. At that
point, Sheriff Wells was summoned to speak with Susan.
beginning to be worn down by the intensive and lengthy interrogations.
Susan had also been facing increasingly skeptical news reporters who
had started to pressure her for an explanation of Sheriff Wells'
statement regarding the unspecified inconsistencies in her story.
At 1:40 p.m.,
Sheriff Wells and Susan met in a small room in the Family Center of
the First Baptist Church, located on the same street as the Union
County Courthouse. Sheriff Wells and Susan sat on folding chairs, knee
to knee, facing one another and talked.
confronted Susan about her story of the carjacking. Wells told Susan
that he knew that Susan's story of the black carjacker was a lie. He
told her that she could not stop at the red light at the Monarch
intersection if there were no other cars on the road. Wells told Susan
that she had revised her statement because of this inconsistency and
that even her back up story was a lie. Wells told Susan that he had
undercover officers at the Carlisle intersection working on a drug
investigation and that they did not see the alleged carjacker. Wells
told Susan that he would have to tell the news media that her story
about the alleged black carjacker was not true because Susan's
accusation had caused tension in Union's black community. After Wells
told Susan this, she asked him to pray with her. At the close of the
prayers Wells said, "Lord, we know that all things will be revealed to
us in time." Wells then looked at Susan and said, "Susan, it is time."
her head and wailed, "I am so ashamed, I am so ashamed." She asked
Sheriff Wells for his gun so that she could kill herself. Sheriff
Wells asked Susan why she wanted to do that and Susan replied, "You
don't understand, my children are not all right."
Wells about the crushing isolation she had felt while driving her
Mazda along Highway 49 on the night of October 25th and the consuming
desire she had to commit suicide. Susan had planned to drive her sons
to her mother's house, but emotionally she felt so bad that she felt
even her mother could not help her. Susan told Wells that her whole
life had felt wrong and that she felt she could not escape the
loneliness, isolation and failure that had ensnared her. Susan told
Wells about her abortion, her troubled marriage to David and her
affair with Tom Findlay.
collapsed and began to sob; other investigators entered the room to
obtain her written confession. In her confession, Susan filled two
pages with carefully written script, rounding off her letters and
drawing little hearts whenever she wanted to use the word heart. Susan
wrote that she had driven off Highway 49 and onto the road leading to
John D. Long Lake because she wanted to commit suicide. She believed
that her children would be better off with her and with God than if
they were left without a mother and alone. Her plan was that the three
of them: Susan, Michael and Alex would die together.
Susan told the
investigators that she had tried to end all of their lives by putting
the car in neutral and letting it roll down the boat ramp, but she
pulled on the parking brake and stopped the car. She did this three
times before she stood outside the car and overcome with grief,
loneliness and pain reached into the car and released the parking
brake sending the car into John D. Long Lake.
interesting to note that according to a National Center for Missing
and Exploited Children study of murdered children in the United
States, completed in the mid-1990s, mothers who murdered their
children disposed of their bodies in a distinctively womb-like manner.
The study found that some victims were submerged in water and others
were found carefully wrapped in plastic. Furthermore, the study also
described how all the victims' bodies were found within ten miles of
their family home.
confession, Susan told investigators how much she loved her sons and
that she never meant to harm them and that she was sorry. After the
car had rolled into the lake, Susan wanted to undo what she had done,
but she could not. As she ran towards the McClouds' house, Susan
planned her alibi.
investigators that keeping her secret during the nine days her sons
were assumed to be kidnapped was very difficult. She said that
watching her parents and David and his parents hurt her very deeply.
Susan said she was scared, but admitted that she thought she would be
found out and that her story would not withstand scrutiny.
days of theories, speculations and unanswered questions, Sheriff Wells
was left with the task of confirming the answers Susan provided to
Michael and Alex's disappearance in her confession. Sheriff Wells
wanted to confirm the contents of Susan's confession before breaking
the news to David, the Smith family and Susan's family. Sheriff Wells
sent for a team of divers from the South Carolina Department of
Natural Resources and SLED agents to secure and search John D. Long
Lake for Susan's car. Sheriff Wells wanted to tell the families about
Susan's confession in person as soon as confirmation that the Mazda
and Michael and Alex were resting on the bottom of John D. Long Lake
divers to arrive at John D. Long Lake were Curtis Jackson and Mike
Gault. They paddled out in a small boat onto the lake and Jackson dove
into the water. His first dive yielded no results. Gault told Jackson
some of the details that Susan Smith had revealed during her
interrogation that Gault had learned from Sheriff Wells. Six minutes
into his second dive, Jackson located the underside of the upside down
Mazda, however his diver's light failed and he was unable to see into
the car. The next divers to arrive, Steve Morrow and Francis Mitchum,
were equipped with more sophisticated diving lights. Morrow and
Mitchum located the Mazda in approximately eighteen feet of water. At
the place in the lake where the car was located, visibility was only
Mitchum made a slow search around the Mazda Protégé and observed that
all of the windows were rolled up and that all four doors were closed.
Morrow later testified at Susan's trial that he saw a "small hand
against the window glass." Morrow also testified that "we had to be
down on the bottom of the lake to see inside the car...they were in
car seats hanging upside down." Morrow added that, "I was able to
determine one occupant on either side of the vehicle." Morrow and
Mitchum reported their observations to Sheriff Wells. Sheriff Wells
flew from the lake, in a waiting SLED helicopter, to the Russell home
to inform David Smith and Susan's parents that Michael and Alex had
been found. Unfortunately, the family had already heard an unconfirmed
Associated Press report that Susan had confessed to murdering her
children. Sheriff Wells stayed at the Russell home for about 20
minutes. Wells told the family members and friends assembled at the
home portions of what Susan had told him during her confession and
confirmed Susan's account of rolling the Mazda with Michael and Alex
strapped inside the car into the lake. Wells also told them that Susan
had been arrested and charged with two counts of murder. A bail
hearing would be arranged the following day at the Union County
after her arrest, strong hatred was directed at Susan. Shouts of "baby
killer!" and "Murderer!" greeted Susan as she was led from the
sheriff's office to a waiting car to be driven to the York County
held a press conference at 5:00 p.m. to announce that Susan had
confessed and had been arrested and charged with two counts of murder
in connection with the deaths of her sons, Michael and Alex and that
divers had located her car with two bodies inside. Wells would not
answer questions about the motive, but the news media speculated on
the letter Tom Findlay wrote to Susan that stated he did not want a
ready made family.
conference attracted many residents of Union. Some in the crowd were
angered that until Susan Smith's story was confirmed, the made-up
story of a black carjacker was believed.
press conference, Sheriff Wells returned to John D. Long Lake to be on
the scene when the Mazda was pulled from the water. It took about
forty-five minutes to pull the car through the mud along the lake
bottom and into shallow water. Once the car was in shallow water, it
was flipped right side up. The windshield of the car had cracked from
the temperature changes and water pressure at the bottom of the lake.
The bodies of
Michael and Alex were placed in a waiting ambulance that was then
driven to the University of South Carolina Medical Center in
Charleston. Autopsies were performed on Friday, November 4th and
confirmed that the children had been alive when their mother sent them
in her car into the lake and that they had drown as the car submerged.
In the days
immediately after Susan Smith confessed there were many newspaper
editorials condemning those who were quick to believe blacks were
responsible for the carjacking as well as for many of society's
problems. In some of the editorials, the Smith case was compared to
the 1989 case of Charles Stuart. Stuart was a Boston man who shot and
killed his pregnant wife in a parked car and then called 911 to report
that he and his wife had been attacked by a black man. Stuart's 911
call was broadcast repeatedly in the days after the crime took place.
Stuart claimed that the black man robbed Stuart and his wife of their
wallets and jewelry and then shot Mrs. Stuart in the head and Stuart
in the stomach. During their investigation, the Boston police
aggressively questioned a large number of black men in the Roxbury
neighborhood of Boston. Roxbury has a large African American
population. Gradually, investigators became suspicious of Stuart and
his story. Stuart, fearing that the truth was about to emerge,
committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Boston's African American
community was outraged by the treatment that the young men in their
community had received during the Stuart investigation and leaders
staged rallies and demanded the resignation of several policemen and
an apology from city officials.
Union was different than Boston. The town's black ministers preached
messages of healing, rather than division. On Friday, November 4, the
night after Susan confessed, the people of Union held a town meeting
to pledge their desire for unity in the face of the Smith tragedy.
More than one hundred blacks and whites attended the meeting hoping to
find comfort as well as send a message to the nation that Union was
not bitterly divided along racial lines. One of the black ministers,
Reverend A.J. Brackett, the pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church, pointed
out that only a few black men had been stopped by investigators during
their search for the alleged carjacker and that only two black men had
been brought to the sheriff's office for questioning. Both men were
treated courteously and released after a short time.
November 4, the day after Susan Smith confessed, her brother Scotty
Vaughn, apologized to the black community of Union by reading a letter
to the news media. In his letter, Vaughn said, "We apologize to all of
the black citizens of Union and everywhere and hope you won't believe
any of the rumors that this was ever a racial issue."
The night that
Susan was arrested, she wrote David a letter. The letter was filled
with the phrase, "I'm sorry," and complaints that Susan's feelings
were getting lost in the midst of everyone else's sorrow. David was
upset by the contents of the letter and thought, "what kind of person
is Susan?" David had the same thoughts after he read Susan's
for Michael and Alex was held on Sunday, November 6th at Buffalo
Methodist Church. The funeral was preceded by a visitation on
Saturday, November 5th. The casket remained closed during the
visitation and funeral because of the water damage done to the bodies.
Michael and Alex were buried together in a white casket with gold trim
during a private ceremony in the cemetery behind the Bogansville
United Methodist Church, next to the grave of Danny Smith, David's
older brother and the children's uncle.
was arrested for the murders of Michael and Alex, she was held without
bail at the York County Jail. On the evening that Susan was arrested,
Bev and Linda Russell hired David Bruck, a Columbia, South Carolina
attorney specializing in death penalty cases, to represent Susan. The
Russells would eventually be forced to mortgage their home in order to
pay for Bruck's services.
Bruck was 46
when agreed to represent Susan Smith. He had attended Harvard College
and graduated magna cum laude. After college, Bruck attended the
University of South Carolina Law School and graduated in 1975. Before
beginning his law practice, Bruck traveled throughout United States
and Canada, eventually returning to South Carolina to represent
clients facing the death penalty because he was convinced that these
defendants did not receive adequate legal representation. Bruck was
also disturbed by the fact that the death penalty population in South
Carolina was made up largely of poor black men. Prior to defending
Susan Smith, Bruck had represented 50 people charged with capital
murder before juries or at the appellate level. Of Bruck's 50 capital
clients, he has only lost three to death sentences. He has saved many
of his clients from death sentences by winning new trials that have
resulted in life sentences and in one case, an acquittal. Other
defense attorneys praise Bruck for being shrewd and for being able to
"localize his intelligence." One admirer said Bruck can be
"chameleon-like, he understands that arguing a case in Columbia, South
Carolina is different than arguing a case in Union."
hired Judith Clarke, an attorney who is an expert in death penalty
cases, to assist him with Susan's trial. Judy Clarke is a federal
public defender from Washington State who took a leave of absence from
her job to work on Susan Smith's defense. In 1997, Clarke would work
on the defense of the Unabomer, Theodore Kaczynski, helping to set up
a plea that would spare Kaczynski from being sentenced to death.
for Susan Smith's trial was Union County Solicitor Thomas Pope, 32,
who, at the time of the Smith trial, was the youngest prosecutor in
the state of South Carolina. Pope grew up in Union and attended the
University of South Carolina for college and law school. Before
joining the Solicitor's office, Pope worked as an undercover drug
agent for the State Law Enforcement Division. Pope is the son of a
South Carolina sheriff and had tried one other murder case before the
Smith case, the case of a father who confessed to smothering his son.
In that case, Pope accepted a plea bargain of an eight-year prison
sentence for the father. Pope was considered young, articulate and
November 5, a three-minute hearing was held before Judge Larry
Patterson. Susan was not present because she had waived her right to
be present at the hearing and her right to bail. David Bruck was
present at the hearing, after having met with Susan for the first time
at the York County Jail.
18, 1994, a hearing was held before Circuit Judge John Hayes at the
request of Solicitor Thomas Pope. Pope requested that Susan undergo a
psychological examination by an impartial physician to determine
whether she was criminally responsible for the crime she had confessed
to and if she was competent to stand trial. David Bruck objected to
the evaluation stating that the information contained in it could
later be used against Susan if Pope chose to seek the death penalty.
Judge Hayes put off ruling on the request and asked Pope to submit for
his review a list of cases where judges ordered psychiatric
evaluations of defendants. One week later, Pope filed a fifty-eight
page brief. In late November, Judge Hayes ruled against the State,
stating that the request for a neutral examination was premature,
given that David Bruck had not yet said whether Susan would be
offering an insanity defense at her trial.
From the time
after her bail hearing until her trial, Susan was jailed at the
Women's Correctional Facility in Columbia, 70 miles south of Union.
She was given both physical and psychological evaluations by the
prison staff and placed on a twenty-four-hour suicide watch. Susan was
checked every fifteen minutes by a prison guard. This suicide watch
continued for eight months until Susan's trial began. Susan was housed
in a six-by-fourteen-foot cell where a light was on twenty-four hours
a day so that a closed circuit television camera could monitor her.
Susan was allowed to keep a bible, a blanket, and her glasses in her
cell. She was also allowed short visits from her family. Because she
was on a suicide watch, Susan wore a paper gown.
weeks after Susan had confessed, she asked David to visit her at the
Women's Correctional Facility. David and Susan met for one hour. Susan
apologized again and again for killing their sons, but when David
asked her why she had committed the crime; Susan did not have an
answer. David left feeling sorry for Susan, although his feeling later
changed and he became angry with her.
learned some terrible details of the crime during the time leading up
to Susan's trial. One of those things David learned was that Susan
seemed to have known exactly where her car had sunk in John D. Long
Lake. Divers had searched the lake twice during their nine-day
investigation, once on Thursday, October 27th and again on Sunday,
October 30, but did not find the car. David learned that when Susan
confessed, she told investigators exactly where to find her car. David
was left to draw one conclusion: that Susan waited to see her sons
die. David also learned that when the car was dragged from the lake
and flipped over, the lights came on. David believed that Susan
intentionally left the lights on so that she could watch the car sink
out of sight. David came to believe that Susan was desperate to win
Tom Findlay back and terrified that her affair with J. Carey Findlay
would be revealed. David believed that Susan would do anything and he
believed that the murders were premeditated.
On January 16,
1995, Solicitor Thomas Pope filed a notice of intention to seek the
death penalty against Susan Smith. The notice stated that the State of
South Carolina would offer evidence at Susan's trial that two
aggravating circumstances existed in the murders of Michael and Alex
Smith. The two circumstances that made Susan Smith eligible for the
death penalty were the fact that she murdered two people during one
act and that the murders were committed against children under the age
On January 27,
1995, Judge William Howard issued a gag order prohibiting the
prosecutors, defense attorneys and investigators from releasing any
prejudicial information that had not been presented to the court.
Prior to the beginning of the trial, Judge Howard would rule in favor
of a defense motion to ban television cameras from the courtroom
during the trial. Judge Howard based his ruling on what he considered
to be the circus like atmosphere that television cameras had created
in the O.J. Simpson trial that was ongoing in Los Angeles as well as
the pre-trial publicly the case had received. Judge Howard also wanted
to keep a tight rein on the length of the trial as well as the conduct
of the trial participants.
the defense hired a team of psychiatrists led by Dr. Seymour Halleck
to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Susan at the Women's
Correctional Facility. Halleck interviewed Susan for 15 hours over
four sessions in February, March and June.
diagnosed Susan as having a "dependent personality disorder" and
described her as a person who "feels she can't do things on her own."
"She constantly needs affection and becomes terrified that she'll be
left alone." Halleck found that Susan was only depressed when she was
alone. She almost always was in a normal mood when she was around
people. In Halleck's opinion, Susan did not suffer from deep
depression. Halleck found that Susan became suicidal when she was
depressed. Halleck also studied Susan's family history and concluded
based on her family history and his psychiatric interviews with her
that Susan had a tendency toward depression that began in her
childhood. Halleck believed that Susan's family tree had a genetic
predisposition for depression because so many of her relatives had
symptoms of depression and alcoholism.
Bev and Linda
Russell separated in February and Bev moved in with his aunt, while
Linda lived in their Mount Vernon Estates home. Bev resigned from the
state Republican executive committee, explaining that for personal
reasons, he could no longer serve.
On March 23,
1995, Judge Howard ordered Susan to undergo an evaluation by Dr.
Donald Morgan, a psychiatrist from the University of South Carolina.
Dr. Morgan's evaluation was conducted on behalf of the prosecution.
David's divorce became final in May. At a brief hearing, that Susan
waived her right to attend, Tom Findlay testified about their
adultery. In the final divorce settlement, David and Susan divided
Michael and Alex's toys and clothing in half. David received the Mazda
that he later had destroyed after Susan's trial was completed.
In June, Susan
received a letter from Bev Russell. Russell wrote, "My heart breaks
for what I have done to you." Russell also wrote that, "I want you to
know that you do not have all the guilt for this tragedy." The letter
was dated June 18, 1995, Father's day.
trial began on July 10, 1995, there was speculation about the
arguments her attorneys would use in her defense during her trial.
Many expected Susan's attorneys to argue that she was the victim of
destructive relationships and influences since her birth. The
prosecution was expected to paint Susan as a scheming monster who lied
to her family, friends, hometown and the nation for nine days when she
blamed a phantom black carjacker for the disappearance of her two
sons, before confessing that she had drown her children.
Along with the
speculation of what type of defense Susan would argue at her trial,
there was speculation about Susan and Susan's personality. To many
people in Union, it appeared that during Susan's 23 years she had
developed a dual personality, she presented one side of her
personality to some and the other side of her personality to others.
One side of Susan's personality was described as manipulative and
deceitful and capable of ending her children's lives in order to
improve her own. Was it was possible that this side of Susan's
personality murdered her children in the hope of reclaiming her
boyfriend, Tom Findlay? Or was Susan suffering from a psychiatric
condition that explained why her behavior caused the death of her
children? Many people hoped that these questions would answer the
question of why Susan had murdered her children.
Prior to the
start of the trial, Bruck proposed that Susan plead guilty to the
murders of her children and be sentenced to 30 years to life in
prison, without the possibility of parole, but this plea bargain was
rejected by Thomas Pope. Pope said that he sought the death penalty
"after careful deliberation and consultation with family members of
the victims." Pope also said that he sought the death penalty based on
the facts of the case.
In a move that
some questioned at the time that it was made, David Bruck did not
request a change in venue from Union to another town. In retrospect,
this was a very shrewd maneuver. Bruck was convinced that if he could
gain the sympathy of Susan's hometown, her neighbors and residents of
the community where she grew up, he could spare her life. Bruck had
correctly noted that the mood of the black and white residents of
Union had softened and that Susan had become the object of prayer
vigils. Bruck found that more Union residents were willing to accept
that Susan was mentally ill, than thought she was evil. Bruck believed
that jurors from Susan's hometown would have a difficult time
sentencing her to death.
A few days
before the start of her trial and with the permission of David Bruck,
Susan's pastor, Mark Long, held a press conference to reveal that
Susan had undergone a jailhouse Christian conversion and baptism.
There was some speculation regarding the timing of Susan's conversion.
Some people expressed the feeling that it seemed too convenient and
useful to Susan because of her upcoming trial.
On July 11,
1995, after a two-day hearing, Judge Howard ruled that Susan was
mentally competent to stand trial. This ruling was made even though
the state's psychiatrist, Dr. Donald Morgan, who had testified at the
competence hearing, stated that he believed that Susan might try to
sabotage her own defense, if she took the witness stand, because she
wanted to die. Morgan had examined Susan in April, May and June for
approximately ten hours and diagnosed Susan as manifesting an
"adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features, including some
depression." Although Susan appeared listless during the court session
and was dependent upon Prozac, an anti-depressant drug to help her
understand and follow the proceedings, Judge Howard ruled that the
trial could proceed.
The trial was
held at the Union County Courthouse, which was originally designed by
Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument. The
courthouse was rebuilt between 1911 and 1913 and renovated in 1974.
Judge William Howard's courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse
is one of the largest in South Carolina and contained thirteen rows of
benches for members of the press and the public. The first two rows of
benches on the left-hand side of the courtroom were reserved for
Susan's family and friends and the first two rows of benches on the
right hand side of the courtroom were reserved for David Smith's
family and friends. During the trial, all the seats were filled and
crowds of people were turned away from the proceedings. The courtroom
was old and the acoustics were terrible. If the attorneys or witnesses
moved from their microphones, it was difficult to hear what was being
said. The floor creaked which forced Judge Howard to enforce a strict
order prohibiting the public from moving from their seats when court
was in session.
The pace of
the trial would be fast. Judge Howard set a Monday through Saturday
schedule beginning on the trial's first day, July 10, 1995.
moved quickly and was completed on the sixth day of the trial, July
16, 1995. Lawyers interviewed 55 prospective jurors out of 250 people
called during the jury selection process. Many of those interviewed
said that they were strongly opposed to the death penalty. The jury
was composed of 12 jurors and two alternates and was a mix of
blue-collar workers, merchants and professionals. The 12 jurors were
composed of seven whites and five blacks. Almost all of the white
jurors, five men and two women, had friends or acquaintances on the
list of witnesses for the trial, but they said they could put aside
their feelings and friendships and decide the case based on the
evidence presented. The black jurors, four men and one woman, did not
seem to be acquainted with Susan, her friends, family or people listed
as witnesses for the trial.
Judge William Howard had wanted six alternates, but after meeting with
both the prosecution and defense attorneys, it was agreed that jury
selection would be complete with just two alternates.
At one point,
after the jury was selected, Bruck argued that the jury was biased
because of the 12 jurors, nine were men and only three were women.
Bruck argued that the jury was not representative of the community,
but his argument was overruled.
July 18, 1995, the day the trial was set to begin, the Union County
Courthouse received a bomb threat that required the evacuation of
everyone inside. The man who telephoned the threat was quickly found
statements began on Wednesday, July 19, 1995. Special Prosecutor Keith
Giese, assistant to Solicitor Thomas Pope, began his opening statement
by stating the facts of the prosecution's case. "For nine days in the
fall of 1994, Susan Smith looked this country in the eye and lied."
"She begged God to return her children to safety, and the whole time
she knew her children were lying dead at the bottom of John D. Long
Lake." Giese continued by telling jurors that Michael and Alex Smith
died because their mother thought she could reclaim Tom Findlay, a
lover who had discarded her. "The stumbling block to Mrs. Smith
getting Tom Findlay back was her children." Giese added that, "Mrs.
Smith removed that obstacle from her life." Toward the end of his
statement, Giese told the jurors that, "this is a case of selfishness,
of I, I, I, and me, me, me." Giese concluded his statement by asking
jurors to "hold on to their common sense in the weeks ahead, because
they would come to see Susan Smith as a selfish, manipulative killer
who sacrificed her children for love of the son of a rich
industrialist." The prosecution's case was based on the theory that
Susan wanted to escape her loneliness, unhappiness and the stresses in
her life by establishing an exciting, intimate relationship with her
wealthy boyfriend. In order to live this new life; Susan would need to
free herself of her children and the demands of motherhood.
opening statement was given by Judy Clarke who asked the jurors to
look "into their hearts, and through that softer focus, find a
disturbed, child-like figure who, after a lifetime of sadness, just
snapped." Clarke told jurors that Susan was deeply depressed and had a
sense of failure in her life. This sense of failure included acts of
molestation at the hands of her stepfather, the suicide of her father
and her own suicide attempts. All of these events contributed to
pushing her to the edge of the lake to kill herself and her children.
"At the last second, her body willed itself out of the car, and she
lived and her toddlers died," Clarke added. Clarke told the jury that
"When we talk about Susan Smith's life, we are not trying to gain your
sympathy, we're trying to gain your understanding." Clarke stated that
Susan's "lie is wrong." "It's a shame, but it is a child-like lie,
from a damaged person." The defense's strategy was to outline Susan's
emotional troubles that caused her to drown her two sons. The defense
attorneys believed that by portraying Susan as a person with emotional
problems, they could save her from the electric chair. Susan's defense
attorneys did not claim she was insane or that a mental illness caused
her to murder her sons.
trial, Susan sat at the defense table quietly reading mail or playing
with small objects she held in her hands. Susan had been jailed for
eight months and her inactivity during those months appeared in a
weight gain. Rather than appear child-like as her defense attorneys
were trying to suggest during her trial; Susan appeared older than her
23 years. Her appearance was dowdy. Susan wore plain, conservative
suits that aged her. Susan wore wire-rimmed glasses and her face
generally had a serene expression, except when there was discussion
about her sons, then she would cry, briefly and discreetly
witness to testify at the trial was Shirley McCloud. McCloud testified
about Susan's appearance at her front door. McCloud told the jury that
when Linda Russell came to be with her daughter, one of the first
things that she did was to scold Susan for not locking her car doors.
first witnesses called to testify were the law enforcement agents and
investigators who were involved in the case. Sheriff Howard Wells
testified how he had tricked Susan into confessing with a small lie of
his own. Wells described how on the afternoon of November 3, 1994, he
told Susan that he knew her claim that her children had been taken at
an intersection outside of Union was a lie because he had assigned
sheriff's deputies to conduct a surveillance at the crossroads. Wells
told her that "this could not happen as you said." Wells told the jury
that there had been no deputies at the intersection and that, "I told
her I would release it to the media because the lie about a black
carjacker was causing deep pain among blacks, and he owed it to the
town to end the racial divisiveness it had caused." According to
Wells, Susan then broke down and confessed to the murders. Wells also
testified that even though he was suspicious of Susan, he did not
arrest her because he was not certain until she confessed what had
happened to Michael and Alex.
first day of testimony, Judge Howard removed a juror from the panel
and had her jailed. Gayle Beam, the only black woman on the jury, was
held in contempt of court and jailed because she did not disclose on
her jury questionnaire that she had recently plead guilty to credit
card fraud. Beam was questioned by Judge Howard and admitted that she
had not looked at the questionnaire that the court required her to
complete and instead had her daughter complete it for her. Beam faced
a fine of $10,000 and a sentence up to six months in jail, if found
guilty of the charges. One of the two alternate jurors was selected
and replaced Beam.
On the second
day of the trial, Pete Logan, the State Law Enforcement Division agent
who spent 24 hours interrogating Susan testified. Logan described
Susan's troubled life and her sexual relationships. Logan told the
jury that Susan had sex with her estranged husband, David, on October
21, four days before murdering her sons. It was during this encounter
that Susan claimed that David told her that he tapped her home
telephone and knew about the affair she was having with Carey Findlay,
the owner of Conso Products. Logan testified about Susan prior suicide
attempts and the remorse that she showed during her confession.
investigators followed Logan and testified that from the beginning of
the case, they were suspicious of Susan. These witnesses described a
woman who cried without shedding any tears, who seemed more interested
in how she looked on television than in having her sons returned and
who spoke of going to the beach to get away from hounding reporters.
who drew the composite sketch of the phantom carjacker, testified that
Susan "started off extremely vague," when describing the alleged
carjacker's physical appearance.
the FBI agent who administered several polygraph tests to Susan,
testified that Susan "would make sobbing noises, but when I would
looked at her eyes, there was no water, there were no tears."
a diving expert with the South Carolina Department of National
Resources and one of the divers who searched for the missing car, also
testified on the second day of the trial. Morrow testified about
finding the car with the Smith children inside. Morrow described how
along with the bodies of Michael and Alex Smith, the letter from Tom
Findlay telling Susan that their relationship was over was also found
in Susan's car.
testified during the second day of the trial. Findlay testified that
he had written a letter to Susan telling her that he did not want to
be in a relationship that included children. By having Findlay testify
and introducing his letter into evidence, the prosecution sought to
portray Susan as so maliciously selfish that she would trade her sons
lives for a chance to reclaim Findlay.
Findlay's cross-examination by David Bruck, Findlay assisted Susan's
defense by telling the jury that he thought Susan was a "sweet, loving
person" rather than the monster the prosecution was trying to
construct. Bruck also scored points with the jury when he asked
Findlay about his sexual relationship with Susan. Findlay testified
that the "pleasure she got from sex was not physical pleasure." "It
was just in being close, being loved." Another area that Findlay may
have assisted Susan was when he testified about David Smith's
behavior. Findlay testified about an incident that occurred one year
before the murders when he had telephoned Susan Smith one day at her
home. Apparently David Smith had hidden in a closet and in an apparent
fit of jealously, emerged from the closet, snatched the telephone from
Susan and told Findlay that he would harm him if he continued to see
Susan's co-workers from Conso testified that Susan had on separate
occasions told them that she wondered how her life would be different
if she had not gotten married and had children at a young age.
After two days
of testimony, the state rested its case against Susan Smith. The last
witness to testify for the prosecution was Dr. Sandra Conradi, the
pathologist who performed the autopsies on Michael and Alex Smith.
Conradi testified for 15 minutes because David Bruck stipulated to the
identity of the Smith brothers and the fact that drowning was the
cause of death. Judge Howard refused to allow prosecutors to show the
jury horrific pictures of Michael and Alex after they had been under
John D. Long Lake for nine days. Judge Howard also refused to allow
prosecutors to question Conradi about the decayed nature of the bodies
because he felt that the descriptions were so terrible that they would
be prejudicial. Conradi testified that she received the bodies of
Michael and Alex Smith still strapped to their car seats and that
neither child was wearing shoes.
case was expected to last at least two weeks, however, it moved more
quickly than expected because Judge Howard prevented the state from
presenting its full case against Susan. Judge Howard limited the
evidence presented to the jury and David Bruck often stipulated to
points in the case rather than forcing Solicitor Pope to prove them.
had confessed to the murders of her sons, her attorneys were left with
two choices in defending her. The first choice was to have Susan plead
not guilty by reason of insanity. This required that Susan's attorneys
prove that she was insane at the time of the murders by demonstrating
that she could not distinguish between right and wrong, either morally
or legally. The second choice was to have Susan plead guilty, but
mentally ill. This would require that Susan's attorneys prove that she
was mentally incapable of complying with the law at the time of the
murders, even if she knew that her actions were wrong. The problem
with the first choice was that Susan was not mentally ill. She was
depressed and suicidal, but not insane.
A diagnosis of
insanity means that an individual is delusional, schizophrenic or
psychotic and Susan was none of these. David Bruck rejected the second
choice because it was determined through examinations conducted by Dr.
Halleck that Susan was not mentally ill. The only option open was for
the defense to plead that Susan was suffering from severe mental
depression and that the murders were a failed suicide in which Susan
planned to drown herself as well as her sons.
July 20, 1995, the defense began its case. David Bruck recalled Pete
Logan, the SLED Agent, and Carol Allison, the FBI agent who had been
originally called by the prosecution, because both were so sympathetic
to Susan's case when they testified. Bruck questioned both Logan and
Allison about Susan's remorse. Thomas Pope tried to counter the
agents' testimony by pointing out to the jury that Smith was an
accomplished liar who had misled investigators for nine days.
Andrews, a social worker at the University of South Carolina,
testified about a family tree she had constructed of Susan's family
that showed a strong history of deep depression among the Vaughn
family. Andrews described several attempted and successful suicides by
members of Susan's family.
On Friday July
21, 1995, the defense's most important witness, Dr. Seymour Halleck,
testified. Dr. Seymour Halleck is a University of North Carolina
psychiatrist and law professor who led the team that examined Susan to
determine whether she was competent to stand trial.
testified that Susan suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts in
the months leading up to the October 25th murders and that these
thoughts allowed her to fall into a destructive cycle of sexual
relationships in order to ease her loneliness. Halleck testified that
Susan had sex with four different men during the six-week period
leading up to the murders. Susan had also begun to drink heavily
during this period of time.
testified that Susan had sex with her stepfather, Beverly Russell; Tom
Findlay, her boyfriend at the time; with J. Carey Findlay, the owner
of the mill where she worked; and with her estranged husband, David
Smith. Halleck said that Susan's sexual relationships temporarily
eased her depression, but that her guilt ultimately deepened her
depression. Halleck told the jury that "Much of her sexual activity
was not for her own satisfaction." Halleck added that, "Susan was more
concerned with pleasing others and making sure that they liked her."
testimony was an attempt by the defense to poke holes in the
prosecution's theory that Susan murdered her children so that she
could rekindle her relationship with Tom Findlay. Halleck dismissed
the prosecution's theory that Susan murdered her children to reclaim
Findlay saying that it was an "absurd idea." He labeled Susan's affair
with Findlay as "passing" and added that Susan had, "strong feelings
for a lot of different men and that it was very unlikely that Tom
Findlay was number one on her list."
testified that he thought Susan had sex with J. Carey Findlay because
she was molested by her stepfather and had a need for love and
approval of an older man. Halleck also testified that Susan had told
him that when she slept with Beverly Russell, "it made her skin
crawl," and that Halleck thought the reasons that Susan did these
things was because she sought love and approval. Solicitor Pope had
Halleck admit that most of his information came from Susan and that
her constant need for affection was a symptom of "brief, intermittent
depressive disorder," in which Susan was able much of the time to make
her co-workers and friends believe that she was fine.
described Susan's behavior on the night of the murders and said that
he believed that she intended to kill herself, but that a "survival
instinct" took over and that she blocked out the presence of her two
sons at the instant she released the parking brake. Halleck also
described how as Susan ran from the edge of the lake to the McClouds'
home she began to make up her story of being carjacked by a black man
because she was afraid of what others would think of her. Halleck told
the jury that if Susan had been treated for depression with Prozac,
the murders would never have occurred.
asked Halleck the question that everyone wanted to ask, "Why didn't
Susan go into the water?" Halleck answered that he could only assume
that "when she ran out of her car, that her self-preservation
instincts took over, and although up to that moment she fully intended
to kill herself, she got frightened."
defense witnesses testified that Susan had been depressed as a child
and that she had been suicidal since the age of ten. After four days
of testimony, the defense rested its case. David Bruck told the jury
that Susan accepted responsibility for what she did, but that her
actions were attributable to her depression.
arguments were given on Saturday, July 22, 1995. Solicitor Pope was
impassioned when he described the circumstances of Michael and Alex's
deaths. "I submit to you that they were in that car, screaming,
crying, calling for their father, while the woman who placed them in
that car was running up the hill with her hands covering her ears."
Pope went back to his theme that the murders were committed so that
Susan could reclaim Tom Findlay and have a life with him. "She used
the emergency brake handle like a gun, and eliminated her toddlers so
that she could have a chance at a life with Tom Findlay, the man she
said she loved."
was less dramatic and used her closing argument to continue to appeal
to the jury's sympathy, saying that Susan had never shown anything
"except unconditional love for her children." Clarke continued by
telling the jury that, "there was no malice in what she did, so it was
not murder." Clarke told the jury that "this is not a case about evil,
but a case of sadness and despair." Clarke added that, "Susan had
choices in her life, but her choices were irrational and her choices
In a ruling
that surprised and upset the prosecution and the Smith family, Judge
Howard ruled in favor of a defense motion to allow the jury to
consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. If the jury had
chosen to convict Susan of involuntary manslaughter, she would have
faced a sentence of three to ten years in prison.
jury began deliberations, Judge Howard dismissed one juror saying that
he had a family tie to the case. The last alternate juror replaced the
At 7:55 p.m.
after deliberating for two and one half-hours, the jury returned a
verdict of guilty of two counts of murder.
As the verdict
was read, Susan Smith bowed her head in tears and trembled. The jury
appeared to have agreed with the prosecutors who argued that Susan
knew what she was doing when she released the emergency brake on her
car, allowing it to roll into the lake with her sons inside strapped
to their car seats. Prosecutors had argued that Susan killed her sons
to rekindle her romance with Tom Findlay, a wealthy boyfriend who told
her that he did not want children and the jury agreed with that
came after five days of testimony and was the first stage in the
three-stage process of trial, penalty phase and sentencing. The
penalty phase would begin on July 24, 1995.
The same jury
who convicted Susan Smith of murdering her two sons would decide
whether she would die in the electric chair or receive a life in
prison sentence in the penalty phase. The penalty phase would be
similar to the trial, except that the prosecution had more latitude in
building its theory that Susan Smith was a cold-blooded murderer who
killed her children in the hope of reclaiming her lover.
opening statement for the prosecution during the penalty phase was
similar to his opening statement during the trial. Giese reminded the
jury of Susan's "nine days of deceit and nine days of trickery."
In his opening
statement, David Bruck told the jury that "the greatest punishment for
Susan Smith would be life in prison, not death." This argument is what
Dr. Morgan, the state's psychiatric expert witness, and other
witnesses said she desired during her trial. Bruck reiterated to the
jury that Smith was a deeply depressed and fragile person who made
serious mistakes in her life to win love.
Thomas Pope began the state's case by showing videotapes of Susan
Smith lying about the disappearance of her sons. The first videotape
was her tearful plea to the phantom carjacker outside the Union County
Courthouse on November 2, 1994. The second videotape was composed of
segments of three interviews Susan had given to network morning
programs on November 3, 1994, the day she confessed to the crimes.
witnesses testified during the first day of the penalty phase for the
prosecution. Margaret Frierson, the executive director of the South
Carolina Adam Walsh Center, testified that Susan seemed unusually calm
for a parent dealing with the disappearance of her children. Margaret
Gregory, Susan's cousin, testified about the number of times that
Susan had appeared on television and perpetuated her lie that a black
man had carjacked her and kidnapped her children. The last witness was
Eddie Harris, a SLED agent, who testified that when he transported
Susan during her interrogations and he was surprised by her calmness
and disinterest in finding her children. Harris testified that at one
point Susan had asked him how she appeared on television.
July 25, 1995, the prosecution presented the heart of its case. David
Smith testified that "all his hopes, all my dreams, everything that I
had planned for the rest of my life, ended," on October 25, 1994.
Smith was dressed in a white shirt and plaid Mickey Mouse tie and at
times cried uncontrollably when talking about the nine days he spent
believing his sons had been abducted by a carjacker. Smith began to
cry, along with at least three of the jurors, when he said, "I didn't
know what to do." "Everything I had planned on, my life with my kids
was gone." Judge Howard called a recess as Smith tried to collect
himself. As Susan Smith was escorted away to a holding cell, she
called out softly, "I'm sorry David." David Smith did not look at her.
hearing resumed, Thomas Pope raised several potentially damaging
cross-examination topics, including the amount of money Smith was paid
for co-writing a book about his life with Susan Smith. Smith testified
that he was paid $110,000 and that he kept $20,000 of the $110,000 to
help him through the trial, since he had taken a leave of absence from
his job as the night manager of the Winn Dixie in Union.
hours of difficult testimony, Judge Howard called a lunch recess.
David Smith appeared to be drained and collapsed into his father's
arms after court was recessed.
surprising move, David Bruck did not question David Smith. Bruck had
little to gain with a tough cross-examination of David Smith after
Smith had won the jurors' hearts. Bruck later said that his client had
asked him not to cross-examine David Smith.
prosecution showed the jury two-videotape re-enactments of Susan
Smith's burgundy Mazda rolling down the boat ramp and into the water.
During the showing of the videotape of the car filling with water,
Prosecutor Keith Giese commented that the rear of the car was rising
while the front of the car was filling with water and that Michael and
Alex would have faced the lake's water before the water engulfed them.
The videotape re-enactment of Susan's Mazda submerging into the lake
showed that it took a full six minutes for the car to fill with water
before it became completely submerged, because the car's doors and
windows were closed.
July 27, 1995 the prosecution showed the jury pictures taken of
Michael and Alex after they had been removed from the Mazda. Judge
Howard only allowed photographs showing the brothers' discolored and
decomposing legs and arms. The judge would not allow several photos
showing the full effects of the nine-day submersion to be shown to the
jury. After the presentation of the photos, the prosecution rested its
case and the defense began its case by calling two witnesses.
Andrews, the University of South Carolina social work professor who
had testified during Susan's trial, testified that David and Susan
Smith's relationship was extremely strained and that Susan was thrown
into a "downward spiral" that ended in the murders of her children.
Andrews testified that Susan's mental health began to deteriorate in
August 1994 after the Smith's final attempt at reconciling their
marriage failed. Andrews told the jury that when Susan told David that
she would seek a divorce in July 1994, the couple agreed to seek an
amiable divorce with neither party blaming the other. However, Susan
reneged on this agreement and decided to seek a divorce on the grounds
of adultery. David retaliated against Susan and on October 20th,
searched Susan's purse and found the letter Tom Findlay had written
her dated October 17, 1994. When David confronted Susan, she confessed
to having an affair with Findlay's father, J. Carey Findlay, the owner
of Conso Products. David threatened Susan by telling her that he would
reveal the relationship to Findlay's wife. Susan became distraught and
thought she had done something unforgivable. Andrews testified that
"Susan's suicidal despair set in and she began to think everything
about her was bad." Five days after the argument with David, she
murdered their sons.
Susan's brother made a tearful plea for mercy on behalf of his sister.
"We've been devastated already with the loss of Michael and Alex, it
seems sad and ironic that the tragedy of their loss is going to be
used to sentence Susan to death." Vaughn further testified that
"Susan's pain is in living, not in the fear of dying." He added, "I
don't think the state could punish her anymore that she's been
On the last
day of the penalty phase, July 27, 1995, Beverly Russell testified and
accepted part of the blame for the deaths of Michael and Alex Smith.
Russell admitted that he molested Susan when she was a teenager and
had consensual sex with her as an adult. During his testimony, Russell
also told the jury that his sexual relationship with Susan occurred
mostly at his home, only once at Susan and David's home and once at a
motel in Spartenburg. Russell read from his Father's day letter to
Susan. Russell pleaded for Susan's life, telling the jury that "Susan
was sick and even though she loved her children, what happened was
from a sickness...It's horrible."
gave the prosecution's closing argument. Pope urged the jury to vote
for a death sentence. He told the jury that there was one theme in the
case and it was the choice that Susan made. Pope reminded the jury
that "Susan Smith chose to drive to the lake." Pope continued, "she
chose to send Michael and Alex down that ramp." Pope added, "then as
heinous as that act was, she carried it even further by choosing to
lie." Pope tried to show the jury that Susan was fooling them with her
claims of remorse, the way she fooled everyone during the nine-day
investigation. Pope reiterated the prosecution's theory that Susan was
selfish and manipulative and killed her children so that she could
reclaim her boyfriend, Tom Findlay.
In his closing
statement, David Bruck took the jury through Susan's family history
and life experiences. He explained how the choices Susan made were
tragic and how the jury was left with a choice, but that the jury's
judgment was more sound than Susan's and that the choice the jury
should make was to sentence Susan to life in prison. Toward the end of
his closing argument, David Bruck held a bible and read from the
Gospel of John about the woman who committed adultery and was to be
stoned. "He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first
stone," Bruck read. Bruck told the jury that Susan's choice to go to
the lake will "haunt her for the rest of her life."
closing arguments were completed, Judge Howard gave Susan one last
chance to address the jury, but she declined.
At 4:38 p.m.
the jury returned with a unanimous decision after deliberating for two
and one half-hours. The jury rejected the prosecution's request for a
sentence of death for Susan and decided instead that Susan should
spend the rest of her natural life in prison. The jury had taken the
same amount of time to convict Susan as it did to reject the death
At 4:45 p.m.,
Judge Howard sentenced Susan Smith to thirty years to life in prison.
Susan will be eligible for parole in 2025, after she has served 30
years in prison. At that time, Susan will be 53 years old.
jurors were asked about their decision, they acknowledged that they
knew of Sheriff Wells' comments after Susan's arrest. Wells had said
that if Susan Smith had not confessed, investigators would probably
not have been able to amass enough evidence to charge her with the
crimes she committed. Jurors saw that Susan had an opportunity to
escape punishment, yet she chose not to do so. The jury recognized
this fact and considered it a reason to spare her life. Jurors also
said that they felt that Susan needed help and did not deserve to be
sentenced to death. Jurors believed Susan's attorneys' claims that
Susan murdered her children while trying to end her own life. Jurors
also felt sorry for Susan because of her mental state during the
commission of the crimes. Jurors admitted that the closeness of the
Union community weighed into their decision to spare Susan's life.
felt that justice was not served because Susan was not sentenced to
death. He said that he respected the jury's decision and the verdict,
but did not agree with it. David also said that he would appear at
Susan's parole hearings each time she might be considered for release
to make sure that her life sentence means life.
The sad facts
of the Susan Smith case are these: a young woman, with an extensive
social support network and prior contact with the mental health
profession, was failed in a moment that she most needed help. On
October 25, 1994, Susan Smith did not know how to deal with the
emotional pain of her past or her immediate present. Why Susan Smith
committed her crimes was only partially answered at her trial. Susan
Smith had many more resources available to her than most young, single
mothers, yet she choose to make a decision that remains
incomprehensible. Susan Smith had no prior history of violence or
abuse toward her children or any signs of psychosis or biological
disorder. Susan's act was a culmination of a disturbed and emotionally
disordered life that resulted in the tragic murder of two innocent
several books about Susan Smith and the crimes she committed:
Maria. Sins of the Mother. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1995.
George. Susan Smith: Victim of Murderer. Lakewood, CO: Glenbridge
Publishing, Ltd., 1996.
with Carol Calef. Beyond All Reason: My Life with Susan Smith. New
York: Kensington Books, 1995. David Smith was married to Susan and
describes his life with her and their sons.
about the investigation into the disappearance of the Smith children,
Susan Smith's confession and her trial can be found in the Spartanburg
Herald-Journal and the New York Times.