July 26, 1995 in Nation/World

Father Of Boys Cries On Photos At Smith Trial Testimony Deemed Key In Push For Death Penalty

New York Times
 

David Smith’s hand trembled so badly Tuesday that the photograph of his two little boys seemed to vibrate, inches from the faces of the jurors. Three jurors wept with him as he told them about his 3-yearold’s terror of water.

“Michael didn’t like water on his face,” said Smith, who testified against his 23-year-old former wife, Susan Smith, in the penalty phase of her murder trial. “He would try to climb out of the bathtub” when water splashed onto his face. Smith would have to shield Michael’s face with his hand, he said, when he rinsed his hair.

Across the courtroom, the woman who drowned Michael and his 14-month-old brother, Alex, lowered her face to the defense table, hugged herself and sobbed.

“All my hopes, all my dreams, everything that I had planned for the rest of my life - it ended that day,” said Smith, whose sons died Oct. 25 when his estranged wife sent her car rolling into John D. Long Lake. His sons were buckled in their safety seats.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said, starting to cry. “Everything I had planned on, my life with my kids, was gone.”

Judge William Howard called a recess as Smith wept. As Susan Smith passed by him on her way out of the courtroom, she said softly, “I’m sorry, David.”

He did not look at her.

Susan Smith, found guilty of the double murder Saturday, is now in the sentencing phase of her capital-murder trial. The prosecution is trying to convince the same jury that she should not be allowed to live.

The verdict must be unanimous to put her to death. If one juror balks, she will receive a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 30 years.

The prosecution presented the heart of its case Tuesday, first with David Smith, then with a videotaped re-enactment of Smith’s red Mazda rolling down the boat ramp and into the water.

Smith, whose testimony was expected to be crucial in the state’s efforts to put Susan Smith to death, left more than the three jurors in tears. Throughout the courtroom people cried as his tears dripped onto photographs of his sons at play in the yard, on the sand at Myrtle Beach.

Lead prosecutor Tommy Pope confronted a potentially damaging cross-examination of David Smith by asking him about marital violence between the two and about a book deal in which he has pocketed some $20,000.

David Smith recounted his troubled marriage with Susan Smith - his jealousy over her romantic liaisons before the divorce, his frustration at her lack of desire for him, his shame at having twice treated her roughly during arguments, his flowers-and-champagne attempt at reconciliation.

He also acknowledged accepting $20,000 to write a book about his life with Susan Smith, but said all royalties - an expected $200,000-$300,000 - would go to children’s charities.

Apparently alluding to Susan Smith’s sexual molestation by her stepfather, her father’s suicide and her own teenage suicide attempts, he said he wanted to write the book “because so many people were portraying Susan to be the victim of what happened and that’s not true. Michael and Alex were victims.”


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