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Susan Smith Trial: 1995

Homble Choice

Was it murder or a botched suicide? Pope made his opinion very clear. In closing arguments he said, "On the night of October 25, Susan Smith made a choice—a horrible, horrible choice. She chose the love of a man over the love of those boys.… This case screams out for a verdict of murder." Letting go of the emergency brake was, he said, like pulling a trigger. "The intent was formed when she pulled the trigger to the car and let it drop down into the lake." Seeking to make the jury visualize the sheer terror of the victims and the wanton disregard shown by their mother he went on, "I submit those children … in the car… were screaming and yelling and they were calling for their father while she was running up the hill.… If she truly wanted to stop the deaths of those boys she could have pulled the brake up."

"Absurd," responded Judy Clarke, who closed for the defense. "Sadness is what brings us together—not evil.… The love of Susan Smith for those two boys was unbelievable. There is no evidence of anything but absolute unconditional love.…The only two people who loved her unconditionally are gone. She made that decision with a confused mind and a heart that has no hope." Clarke urged the jury to show compassion, repeating her belief that this tragedy had resulted from a failed suicide, in which case the verdict should be involuntary manslaughter.

On July 22, the jury took just two and a half hours to decide that Smith was guilty of murder.

During the penalty phase of the trial, the testimony that would decide whether Smith lived or died again concentrated on the circumstances of her troubled upbringing. The court heard how, following the suicide of her father, Smith had been lured into an intermittent sexual relationship with her stepfather. Now, for the first time, Russell appeared on the stand, to plead with the jury not to take Smith's life. Sobbing, he read aloud from a letter he had written her while she was in jail. "I want you to know you do not have all the guilt in this tragedy.… My heart breaks for what I have done to you."

The jury decided that her sad past had influenced her actions, and on July 28 Smith was sentenced to life in prison. She will not be eligible for parole until 2025.

Colin Evans

Suggestions for Further Reading

Eftimiades, Maria. Sins of the Mother. New York: St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1995.

Peyser, Andrea. Mother Love, Deadly Love: The Susan Smith Murders. New York: Harper, 1995.

Rekers, George. Susan Smith: Victim or Murderer. Lakewood, Colo.: Glenbridge Publishers, 1996.

Smith, David with Carol Calef. Beyond All Reason: My Life with Susan Smith. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1996.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentSusan Smith Trial: 1995 - Lover Takes Stand, Homble Choice