When Susan Smith’s ex-boyfriend Tom Findlay climbed onto the witness stand Wednesday afternoon, he glanced quickly at her and smiled kindly.
She reddened slightly and stared back at him.
In a long day of testimony, the relationship between Smith and Findlay took center stage.
Findlay painted a picture of Susan Smith as a good friend and caring mother who was also suicidal and unstable. He said they had sex. But more than the physical pleasure, he said, she loved feeling close, being held.
“That was more important to her than the actual act,” Findlay told defense attorney David Bruck during cross-examination.
Findlay, 28, short and balding with a pleasant face, has been the shadowy figure at the center of the Susan Smith mystery. He is the elusive ex-lover who told Smith he couldn’t continue their relationship because of her children, the man whose Auburn University sweatshirt Smith was wearing the night her children were killed, the man the prosecution says is the motive for Susan Smith’s crime.
On Wednesday, for the first time, Findlay gave his view of Smith. “The Susan Smith I know is very caring, very loving, a good friend to everyone, not just me,” he said. “She’s very pleasant, very nonconfrontational, very upbeat, always trying to look on the bright side of things. … The Susan I knew was not a vindictive person.”
Findlay testified as a prosecution witness, but his sympathetic testimony may have helped the defense. While he was on the stand, jurors heard two intimate letters, one Smith wrote to Findlay and one he wrote in return.
Findlay’s testimony also provided another view of Susan Smith’s ex-husband, David Smith.
Findlay told of an encounter with David Smith in March 1994, when David and Susan were separated and she and Findlay were just starting to date. As Susan Smith and Findlay talked on the phone, David Smith jumped out of the closet. He got on the phone and screamed at Findlay: “Don’t you talk with my wife, you son of a bitch. I’m gonna get you.”
Findlay said he felt so threatened, he slept with a handgun under his pillow.
He also testified that Susan Smith was intimidated by her husband. She thought he tapped her phones and followed her. And David Smith threatened to reveal her sexual “relationship” with her stepfather, Beverly Russell, she told Findlay two days before the children were killed.
“She told me David knew about a relationship she had had and was going to make it public,” Findlay said. “She was very frightened.”
Findlay was one of nine witnesses Wednesday, the second day of testimony in a trial to decide whether Susan Smith lives or dies.
Smith, 23, is charged with two counts of murder in the Oct. 25 killings of Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months.