The defense on Friday presented its portrait of Susan Smith in the days and months leading up to the drowning of her two boys: a depressed woman slowly losing control of her life as she slipped into heavy drinking, reckless sexual encounters and near-daily contemplation of suicide.
At the time Smith rolled a car containing her children into a lake, she was, while not insane, suffering the deepest episode of depression in a life that long had been troubled by mental disorder, said Seymour Halleck, a University of North Carolina forensic psychiatry professor hired by the defense.
He testified that Smith eased a chronic, and worsening sense of loneliness by having sex with four men in the month of August alone: her boyfriend, Tom Findlay; his father, mill owner Cary Findlay; her own stepfather, Beverly Russell; and her husband, David Smith, from whom she was separated.
The emotional entanglements ultimately worsened her mental state, Halleck said.
He backed up defense claims that the 23-year-old mother had included her children in a suicide attempt and that, in a panicked last moment, she lost her nerve but did not save her children.
“If she had been adequately treated with (the anti-depressant) Prozac in the preceding weeks and months, the death of her children would never have happened,” Halleck said.
But he said she retained the mental ability “to make a choice to not kill her children.”
The defense case appears geared to evoking sympathy from a jury that, if it convicts Smith, must then decide whether to put her to death.