Susan Smith on Tuesday was ruled mentally fit to stand trial for the murder of her two small sons, despite a death wish so ardent that court psychiatrists fear she might sabotage her own defense if put on the stand.
Finding that Smith “has a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings,” and noting that anti-depressants have in fact given her “a better understanding” of her circumstances, Circuit Court Judge William Howard ruled that the trial go on, clearing the way for jury selection to begin.
Dressed in a lace-trimmed blue dress and standing before the bench with her hands clasped in front of her, Smith was barely audible as she answered the judge’s questions about her ability to comprehend the case.
When Howard asked the 23-year-old defendant if she understood what the two charges against her are, Smith replied softly with a single word: “Murder.”
“And do you know what the state is seeking?” Howard prodded.
“Yes, sir,” answered Smith, “the death penalty.”
“Has there been any time when you have not been able to understand your attorneys and they have not been able to understand you because of your mental condition?” Howard asked.
“No, your honor,” Smith said.
Smith has confessed to drowning her toddler sons Oct. 25 by sending her burgundy Mazda rolling down a boat ramp into a dark lake with 3-1/2-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex strapped in their carseats. Her claim that the boys had been abducted by a carjacker and her nationally televised appeal for their return kept this town of 10,000 on edge for nine days, until Smith confessed to their murders.
Prosecutor Tommy Pope is seeking the death penalty against the former supermarket checker, hoping to convince a jury that Smith wanted her children out of the way to pursue a romance with a young millionaire.
Smith so far has refused to enter her own plea. The court entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf at arraignment in January. She has offered to plead guilty in exchange for 30 years in prison without parole, but the prosecution has refused to deal, a position that has stirred angry debate in a poor county where property taxes already have been hiked to help pay for the trial.