Family, Friends Call Susan Smith Loving Mother, Ask for Mercy
UNION, S.C. (AP) _ A parade of Susan Smith’s friends and family members testified today that she was a caring mother before drowning her two sons, and they pleaded for mercy from jurors deciding whether she gets a death sentence.
Her aunt and uncle recalled Ms. Smith’s hurt after her father killed himself when she was 6. A high school teacher described Ms. Smith’s anxiety when confiding that her stepfather, Beverly Russell, had molested her.
And at least one juror wept during testimony about the boys by Walter Garner, who with his wife often cared for the boys. He said he had known Ms. Smith since she was his daughter Donna’s classmate in first grade.
Garner talked of Michael Smith, 3, and Alex, 14 months, as a grandfather would, describing how he let them tag along on projects in the garage, pick apples in the yard and choose stories he would read them.
Last Oct. 25, when Ms. Smith reported them missing, he said he searched backroads for two days straight without sleeping, angry at the carjacker she falsely claimed had abducted them. When she confessed nine days later to rolling her car into a lake with the boys inside, Garner felt ``disbelief.″
``We loved those kids like they were our own,″ Garner said through tears. ``And yet we love Susan, too. ... And we know in her right mind she would never have hurt those kids.″
He said putting Ms. Smith to death would cause indescribable anguish for her family and friends.
Ms. Smith’s aunt, Tomi Vaughan, echoed him, as did others who testified. After the family’s heavy losses, she said, ``We cannot bear ... the thought of Susan leaving us also.″
The testimony came as the defense moved toward resting its case in the trial’s penalty phase. Ms. Smith was convicted on two counts of murder Saturday. If all 12 jurors do not unanimously agree on execution, she will be sentenced to life in prison.
The prosecution completed its case in the trial’s penalty phase Wednesday by showing the jury grim photos of the decomposed bodies of Michael and Alex.
After spending nine days at the bottom of a lake in their mother’s car, the boys were still strapped in their car seats, a sodden teddy bear on the floorboard at their feet. Their faces were not shown.
As the defense began arguing why Ms. Smith shouldn’t be executed, her brother Scotty Vaughan identified family portraits during happier times. One showed Ms. Smith as a baby in her father’s arms. Her father, Harry Vaughan, committed suicide when Ms. Smith was six.
Vaughan cried as he read a letter he wrote his sister in prison in January after she asked him about their father 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.
Defense lawyer David Bruck also showed a videotape of Ms. Smith playing with her sons. She makes baby noises to Michael and keeps saying, ``I love you. Who loves you?″
Prosecutors argue that Ms. Smith 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. They portray the drownings as a failed suicide.
Vaughan 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.″
At one point, Vaughan said: ``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 Judge William Howard instructed the jury to ignore the comment.