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Brother’s Tears, Protest Open Defense

July 26, 1995

UNION, S.C. (AP) _ Susan Smith’s brother took the witness stand Wednesday and protested sending ``2000 volts of electricity through her in the name of justice.″

The judge told the jury deciding Ms. Smith’s fate to ignore the comment by Scotty Vaughan as the defense began arguing why her life should be spared for drowning her two young sons by rolling her car into a lake.

The prosecution completed its portion of the sentencing hearing with grim photographs of the boys’ bloated bodies after the car was recovered. They were still strapped in car seats, a sodden teddy bear on the floorboard at their feet. The boys’ faces were not shown.

Ms. Smith’s 33-year-old brother, crying at times, was the first witness called by defense lawyers. He said the family searches for clues to why ``a good mother″ killed her sons.

``I get to a certain point and then I just give up,″ Vaughan said. ``I don’t think Susan knew what she was doing. ... The Susan I know was not at that lake that night.″

Ms. Smith, 23, was convicted of murder Saturday in the deaths of 3-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex. She lied for nine days about their disappearance, saying a black carjacker had driven away with them in her car.

After an intensive search and heavy media coverage, Ms. Smith confessed Nov. 3 to leaving the boys inside the car when she sent it into John D. Long Lake.

Prosecutors argued she should be executed because of the heinousness of the crime, which they say she committed to remove her children as obstacles to a love affair. Her lawyers say she is mentally ill and snapped under mounting emotional pressure.

Other relatives are expected as witnesses to detail a life of emotional trauma, beginning with her father’s suicide when she was 6.

Unless all 12 jurors vote for execution, Ms. Smith will receive a life sentence. If they decide on death, she could choose the electric chair or lethal injection up to 14 days before her execution date. If she didn’t choose, she would die by injection.

Under questioning by defense lawyer David Bruck about how Ms. Smith’s family would be affected by a death sentence, Vaughan said they had been ``devastated already″ and it could cause his mother, Linda Russell, to have a nervous breakdown.

Then Vaughan added, ``To strap Susan in a chair and send 2,000 volts of electricity through her in the name of justice _ ″ He was interrupted by prosecutor Tommy Pope’s objection and Circuit Judge William Howard instructed the jury to ignore the comment.

Emotion stopped Vaughan earlier, as he tearfully read a letter he wrote his sister in prison last January after she asked him about their father, Harry Vaughan, and his suicide.

The letter recalled their parents’ stormy marriage, their father’s violent behavior and finally the night he shot himself.

``I’ll never forget the hurt, the pain I felt when she (their mother) told me Daddy was dead. Then I thought about you and how hurt you would be,″ Vaughan read.

Also Wednesday, sociologist Arlene Andrews testified that Ms. Smith lived two lives.

On the surface, she appeared normal _ ``a quiet person with a sweet personality,″ said the University of South Carolina professor, who interviewed friends and relatives and reviewed her medical and employment records.

Underneath, Ms. Smith’s life was ``chaos and confusion.″

Andrews traced some problems to the fights of Ms. Smith’s parents, their separations, her father’s suicide and molestation by her stepfather, Beverly Russell.

Ms. Smith suffers from depression, which runs in her family, Andrews said, adding, ``These feelings ... have left her wanting to die many times over.″

Andrews said while many people ``live through hard times″ without being destroyed by them, ``Susan is not a resilient person.″

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