July 22, 1995 in Nation/World

Smith Was Depressed Before Children’s Deaths, Professor Says

Chicago Tribune
 

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.


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