Up to the point when Susan Smith drowned her two sons, Michael and Alex, she was, by all accounts, a perfect mother.
“I never saw Susan even spank Michael or Alex,” her brother, Scotty Vaughan, testified Wednesday as the defense began its case in the sentencing phase of Smith’s murder trial. “I never saw Susan lose her temper with Michael and Alex.”
Over and over, he told the jury, he has wrestled with the question of “Why?” Why, on Oct. 25, 1994, did a woman who always kept her children clean, fed, safe and warm, let her car roll down into John D. Long Lake with the two boys strapped inside?
“I get to a certain point and then I give up,” he said, with tears running down his face. “The Susan I know was not at that lake.”
He begged the jurors to let his sister live.
“What happened to Michael and Alex is a tragedy,” said Vaughan, who works in a local textile mill. “To strap Susan in a chair and send 2,000 volts into her in the name of justice —”
He was interrupted before he could finish that sentence by an objection from the lead prosecutor, Tommy Pope.
If Smith is sentenced to death, she will have a choice between the electric chair and lethal injection, which the state Legislature approved this year, Pope said.
No matter how she dies, Vaughan said, her death would be a senseless hardship on a family that has already been torn apart emotionally by the murders of the boys and the arrest of Smith.
Saturday, Smith, 23, was convicted of murdering Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months, forcing her lawyers to have to argue for her life in this, the penalty phase of the trial.
In court, a sociologist who assessed Smith’s childhood and troubled, confusing adult life for the defense testified that the young mother actually led two lives.
On the surface, she was “a quiet person with a sweet personality,” said Arlene Bowers Andrews, an associate professor of social work at the University of South Carolina.
Underneath, her life was “chaos and confusion,” said Andrews, who got her information from Smith’s relatives and medical records.
Andrews said Smith’s stormy childhood, especially the suicide of her father when she was 6 and molestation by her stepfather when she was a teenager, damaged her, and left her with deep depression that she hid from most people.
Her lawyers have claimed that the murders of Michael and Alex were, instead, a failed suicide.