2 minute read

Susan Smith Trial: 1995

Lover Takes Stand, Homble Choice

Defendant: Susan Smith
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: David Bruck and Judy Clarke
Chief Prosecutor: Tommy Pope
Judge: William Howard
Place: Union, South Carolina
Dates of Trial: July 18-28, 1995
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The notion of a mother deliberately killing her own children is particularly abhorrent, but as this trial revealed, all too often mere facts sometimes only hint at the full complexities of a tragedy.

At around 9:15 P.M. on October 25, 1994, a young mother, Susan Smith, was driving her two children home in Union, South Carolina, when she stopped at a red light. Suddenly a young black man with a gun allegedly forced his way into the car and ordered Smith to drive off. A few miles later she was thrown from the car, which then sped away, still carrying her two screaming sons, three-year-old Michael and his 14-month-old brother, Alex. Dazed and distraught, Smith ran for help.

A massive search by the authorities failed to uncover any trace of the two boys; nor did numerous television appeals by the grieving mother and her estranged husband, David, result in any answers. Then, nine days after the alleged carjacking, detectives reinterviewed Smith, at which time she recanted her original story and made a confession that she had drowned her two boys. Following her admission to the police, divers searched a nearby lake, and there, submerged just off a boat ramp, they found Smith's missing Mazda. Horrifyingly, the bodies of her two sons were strapped inside. That same day Smith was charged with first-degree murder.

On July 18, 1995, when Judge William Howard banged his gavel to call to order South Carolina's most closely watched trial in decades, solicitor Tommy Pope described the carjacking story as a fabrication, concocted by Smith to hide the fact that she had murdered her children simply because they were obstacles to an affair she was conducting.

The defense, led by David Bruck, took the position that this tragedy had really been a botched suicide attempt by an unstable woman rejected by the man she loved.

A diver for the South Carolina Wildlife Department, Steve Morrow, on the stand as a prosecution witness, described the harrowing scene of how he had found the boys' bodies. He shined his flashlight through the murky water, into the submerged vehicle and, "I was able to see a small hand against the glass." In a voice cracking with emotion, he described the car as having nose-dived into the mud, and he saw the boys' heads hanging downward in their car seats.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to Present