Crime File

Susan Smith-IV The Sentence

Mother’s love is unquestioning and unquestionable, but when the same mother turns around to kill her own offspring in cold blood, it is shocking and intriguing at the same time. It, therefore, is extremely important to investigate the events leading to such an unusual crime in totality. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the twisted tale of a mother who killed her young sons.

David, like his father, eventually developed a dislike for her mother’s devotion to her religion and her insistence that they keep themselves isolated from the community they lived in. David and his father walked away from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the religious practices associated with the religion. The friction between the parents made the family life for the children awful. As per Christy Jennings, David’s girlfriend for long, David’s childhood was “difficult and deprived”. At the age of seventeen, David moved in with his great-grandmother, Forest “Moner” Malone, who lived next door, which was where his older brother, Danny, lived as well. So, David had a lot in common with Susan, for both had come from similarly troubled family backgrounds, and they thought their similarities made their bond strong enough to take on any trouble that life might throw at them. The relationship did not turn out to be quite that strong. There were several factors that weighed in to strain their marriage. The two came from very different backgrounds despite their families being similarly dysfunctional. David was a country boy while Susan was a city girl, and in Union, the city kids did not look kindly upon the country kids. So, it is possible that Susan looked down upon David and saw their marriage as more of a compromise forced by the circumstances.

David renovated a small house near his grandmother’s house and took Susan there before the marriage while the renovation was still in progress. He told her that he wanted to set up their matrimonial home there. Susan did not object and David took her silence for agreement. But when Susan’s parents, Bev and Linda, saw the house, she changed her mind. Where David saw a renovated house perfectly fit for his and Susan’s need, Susan saw a “tin-roofed country shack”. The couple struck a compromise and moved into the Moner’s house.

Susan gave birth to Michael Daniel Smith on October 10, 1991, and his middle name ‘Daniel’ was picked in the memory of David’s brother, Danny, who had died by then. Susan continued to work on part-time basis at Winn-Dixie, where she was supervised by David, and that was another problem. Furthermore, though Susan and David earned sufficiently well, Susan wanted more, and kept borrowing from her mother, which angered David. Her mother often tried to dictate how the two should live and raise their kids, which did not go down well with David. Susan almost always acted on the advice of her mother, which further displeased David. And to make matters worse for the couple, both Susan and David continued to have extramarital affairs. The couple had already separated several times by the time the duo completed three years of marriage. In fact, in March 1992, during their very first separation, Susan started a fling with her former boyfriend, which angered David. But eventually Susan and David got back together, and Susan got pregnant in November 1992, and in December 1992 they started living together under the same roof again. Susan thought that the only way their marriage could work was if they had a house of their own. So, the duo got a small house at 407 Toney Road in Union. Susan’s parents, Bev and Linda, gave the money for the down payment for the house.
The birth of the second baby was not a happy experience at any stage for either of the two. During the pregnancy, Susan constantly complained about getting “fat and ugly” and turned cold towards David. David felt lonely and abandoned, as a result of which he started talking to a cashier at Winn-Dixie, Tiffany Moss, and the two came close. The development was obviously not going to help his relationship with Susan. Their second son, Alexander Tyler, was born on August 5, 1993, and Susan and David put their marital discord on the backburner for a brief period of time to attend to the new baby together. However, the happy time did not last long and within three weeks of Alexander’s birth, Susan and David decided to call off their relationship. Their marriage was headed for a sure divorce. Despite their differences, the two continued to be loving and devoted parents to their children until Susan’s priorities changed.

After full recovery from the caesarean Susan had to undergo to give birth to Alexander, she decided to switch from Winn-Dixie to a new job at Conso Products, as she no longer wanted to work under the supervision of David, and also did not want to be at the same place where his new girlfriend, Tiffany Moss, worked. Susan soon got promoted from a bookkeeper at Conso Products to the position of executive secretary for J. Carey Findlay, the president and CEO of Conso. Findlay, an accountant from Charlotte, North Carolina, got together with a group of investors and bought Conso Products in 1986 with the intent to turn the company around and sell it for profit quickly, but by 1988 Findlay liked the business Conso Products was doing that he chose to buy it from his partners. He settled permanently in Union, and started running the company, and did an excellent job of it. Conso Products became the first publicly owned corporation in Union in November 1993, when the company offered its stock to public, and by the end of 1993, Conso Products has factories in Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Conso Products soared to new heights under the leadership of Findlay, and Susan loved working at Conso Products. Her responsibilities at Conso included making hotel arrangements for the visiting clients, taking care of their needs for the duration of their stay in addition to arranging for Findlay’s travel. Another reason why Susan liked working at Conso was Tom Findlay, one of the three sons of J. Carey Findlay. Tom was all of twenty seven and had graduated from Auburn University in 1990, and was the head of the graphic arts department at Conso. Young women at Conso liked Tom for the obvious reasons. A wealthy, young, single man. What more could one ask for?

It was during her last separation from David and just before she finally filed for divorce that Susan and Tom Findlay started dating, which continued for several months having started in January 1994. They met for lunches and went to movies together and Susan also attended several parties thrown by Tom on his father’s estate. She was happy and thought that her life was finally turning around. However, during the summer of 1994, David and Susan did try to make their marriage work one final time. For this period Susan broke up with Tom, but by the end of July 1994, they knew it was not going to work out. They settled for a divorce. David had always wanted the marriage to work for the sake of his sons, but it was beyond his powers now to save it.

For Susan, however, this was a dream come true. She and David had decided to keep their relationship sweet and simple for the sake of their kids, and she was looking forward to a new life with Tom Findlay. But she had started dreaming big without any assurances from Tom, who had very different ideas about Susan. He terminated their relationship because he found Susan a little too possessive for his comfort. She received a letter from Tom that started by stating, “You will, without a doubt, make some lucky man a great wife. But unfortunately, it won’t be me.” The letter also said, “Susan, I could really fall for you. You have some endearing qualities about you, and I think that you are a terrific person. But like I have told you before, there are some things about you that aren’t suited for me, and yes, I am speaking about your children.” From his side, Tom Findlay had ended it with Susan. A few days later, on September 21, 1994, Susan’s attorney served the divorce papers on David and on the same day the papers were filed at the court. Susan was seeking divorce on grounds of adultery.

On October 23, 1994, Susan visited Tom at his cottage and tried to get her relationship with him back on track. In order to gain sympathy she told him of her molestation at the hands of Bev Russell, but that just shocked Tom and perhaps also strengthened his resolve to stay away from Susan.

On October 25, 1994, she left her children at the daycare after the breakfast as usual, and went to work. At around 2:30 p.m., Susan called Tom and asked him to step out of the building for a talk. When they met, Susan told Tom that David was threatening to disclose some very damaging information about her at their divorce hearings. Tom inquired as to what the information was. She told that David was planning to accuse her of playing a fraud on the IRS and “of having an affair with your father”. It was shocking for Tom to hear of an alleged affair between Susan and his father. But he kept his calm and told her that while their friendship would remain intact but the “intimate relationship will have to stop forever”.

Later, in the evening at around 4:30 p.m., Susan met Tom again at the Conso photography studio, and tried to return his Auburn University sweatshirt, which Tom refused to take back and told Susan to keep it.

Susan picked her sons from the daycare and went to Hickory Nuts, where she came across Sue Brown, the marketing manager at Conso. Susan persuaded her to accompany her back to Conso so that she could apologize to Tom for cooking up the story about sleeping with his father. Susan requested Sue to watch her kids while she went to Tom and talked. However, Tom was not pleased to see Susan, and escorted her out of his office quickly. Susan told Sue that Tom had upset her, and that she “may just end it”. What she meant by it was unclear to Sue, but she did not see it fit to fish for clarity. Susan dropped Sue Brown back at the Hickory Nuts at around 6:00 p.m., and went home.

Later that evening when Sue was dining at Hickory Nuts with friends, including Tom Findlay, a waiter handed over a cordless phone saying that the call was for her. It was Susan on the phone. She asked Sue if Tom had talked about her. He hadn’t, Sue told Susan truthfully.

At around 8:00 p.m., Susan got her sons dressed up and drove them around the town. Susan later said that Tom’s breaking up with her made her feel more lonely and sad than she had ever felt in her life before. By 9:00 p.m., she was at McClouds’ doorsteps after having drowned her sons.

On July 22, 1995 at 7:55 p.m., the jury found Susan Smith guilty of two counts of murder despite having the option of convicting her for a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, which the judge had allowed by ruling in favour of the defence on a motion filed by the defence in this respect. Thereafter arguments on the quantum of sentence commenced on July 24, 1995, and on the last day of hearing, on July 27, 1995, Beverly Russell testified to having molested Susan as a teenager and to having consensual intercourse with her as an adult. He testified that he and Susan had sex at his place primarily. Apart from that it was only once at Susan and David’s place and once at a motel Spartenburg that they got physically intimate. Russell pleaded with the jury to spare her life. “Susan was sick and even though she loved her children, what happened was from a sickness…It’s horrible,” he said. However, this meant that at one point of time Susan was physically involved with three men simultaneously – Beverly Russell, David Smith and Tom Findlay.

At 4:45 p.m. on July 27, 1995, Susan Smith was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison with eligibility to seek parole after serving 30 years in prison. The jury rejected prosecution’s appeal for death penalty. Reacting to the verdict, David Smith said that he respected the decision of jury, but did not agree with it. To his mind, Susan Smith deserved death penalty. He also said that he would appear at Susan’s parole hearings to make sure that the life imprisonment awarded to her extends to the whole of her life.

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