Susan Smith

Susan Smith

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Susan Smith

     In the blink of an eye, North America was informed of Susan Smith's
tragic loss of her two young boys. No one would have guessed that such a
violent crime could have occurred in a small town . Throughout the ordeal ,
police began to see the flaws in Susan Smith's story. This lead to suspicions,
causing the police to make Susan Smith their prime suspect. Days later, Susan
Smith confessed to the hideous crime she committed, leaving the nation in
disgust. The actions of Susan Smith, which were based on her background and the
events in question have left a profound social and legal impact on society's
views of violent crimes.

     Susan Smith lived what most would consider a normal life up to the time
before the event concerning the murder of her two children. The only
exceptional incident in her past was the suicide of her father when she was
eight years old. Susan met her future spouse David Smith, at the age of nine-
teen. The couple later went on to have two children, Michael and Alex. She
was described as "well-known and well-liked" by her friends, neighbours and
relatives. None of her friends or neighbours could have expected Susan Smith to
commit such a horrible crime.

     The event took place in a small town in Union, South Carolina. On
October 25th Susan Smith explained that she was "heading east on Highway 49 when
she stopped at a red light at Monarch Mills about 9:15 p.m., and a man jumped
into the passenger seat." She described the man "as a black male in his late
20s to early 30s, wearing a plaid shirt, jeans and a toboggan-type hat." She
said that the abductor held her at gun point and told her to drive. She drove
northeast of Union for about 4 miles. Then the man suddenly told her to stop the
car. Mrs. Smith said she asked if she should pull over, but the man said for her
to stop in the middle of the road. She claimed that she begged for the release
of her two children, who were still strapped in the back seat, but it was to no
avail. The town sent out thousands of volunteers to search through "over five
hundred square miles for the children." The story later went national but
there was still no sign of the children or the attacker. The town Sheriff, John
Wells, with the help of an FBI computer system went after every lead that came
in from psychics, crackpots and well-meaning citizens.

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Even helicopters with
heat seeking devices were used to try and locate the children's bodies. Both
Susan and her ex-husband also faced the cameras in an emotional cry for help.

     Police and prosecutors played a major role in uncovering holes in Susan
Smith's story of the abduction. As days passed Susan's story left too many
unanswered questions. "No crimes had been reported in the area that night so
why would a suspect be fleeing? Why would he take the children if he only
needed a car? If the stop light Susan stopped at uses sensors to detect other
cars so as to determine when to flash a green or red light, how could she have
stopped at a red light with no other cars around?" Also ,"Susan's description
of the abductor was so ordinary that it was useless." "Marc Klass and Jeanne
Boylen came to Union to help the police with the investigation yet Susan wanted
nothing to do with them. " The incident had so many holes in it that everyone
started to get suspicious of the story. The police began to wonder about
Susan's innocence even though nothing of the sort was said in public. The
police finally called Susan in for questioning and searched her home for
fingerprints. She failed a lie detector test and the neighbours began to get
suspicious telling the police about a man she was recently seeing. A letter
from Tom Fidley (the man she was seeing) was found telling Susan that he wanted
to be with her , yet he was not ready for a ready made family. "The pressures
were suddenly more than Susan could handle and she broke down under questioning
and confessed after nine days." On November 3rd, she told police the location
of the bodies. Divers went to John D Long Lake at 4:15pm on Thursday and they
pulled the car from the mud. At 6:45pm it was confirmed that two bodies were
found in the back seat. Mrs. Smith was arrested and charged with two counts of

     The prosecution in the trial, Prosecutor Thomas Pope, sought whole-
heartedly to convict Susan Smith to the full extent of the law in the murder of
her two children. "At one point during the trial he asked for the death
penalty." On July 22nd, 1995, a jury of nine men and three women swiftly
rejected the death penalty after only two and a half hours of deliberation.
They decided that the death penalty was not appropriate for a "really disturbed
person." When it came to the trial her lawyer tried to argue she had "suffered
enough for drowning her two young sons, and that the jury should be lenient."
The request fell on deaf ears. Susan's confession led to her sentencing to life
in prison. She will be eligible for parole in thirty years.

     The actions of Susan Smith will never be forgotten, especially by those
who live in Union, South Carolina. The unforgivable misdeeds of Smith have had
an enormous impact on this little town which citizen described as "…a God-
fearing, law-abiding place." The whole town of Union bonded together to help
support Susan and the police during this difficult time. The citizens hung
yellow ribbons on their doors as a sign of hope that the two little boys would
soon be found. Once Susan admitted to killing her sons the reaction was intense
and furious. People replaced their yellow ribbons with black ones for mourning,
blue ones for boys and white ones for innocence. Flowers were left near the
lake by mourners and many felt the need to hold their children for a while
during this time. Susan Smith fooled everyone, even her husband of three years
and her family. Once Susan admitted her guilt, anger and hatred rose in the
hearts of those who believed in her. Thousands everywhere had no idea how
someone could be filled with so much despair as to step so far over the line of
right and wrong and murder her own two sons. At Susan's bond hearing hundreds
of people showed up to voice their opinions yelling ‘murder!' and ‘baby killing
bitch' Out of anger also arose ugliness. Some people advocated "stringing her
up right in the middle of the courthouse." Many African Americans were also
very upset at the fact that Smith labeled the abductor as a black man. "The
actions of Susan Smith will never leave the hearts and minds of the citizens in
Union who once trusted her and sympathized with her."

     This particular case did not cause changes in the law or the legal
system. What it did do is awaken the people of the United States and Canada to
the reality that evil and deceit lives in our countries. Because of this
incident programs have now been opened throughout the United States and Canada
to provide support and assistance for troubled families.

     The three principles of law could be seen in the case against Susan
Smith. "Law as a legal concept" was illustrated in the case through the use of
the jury to come out with a just decision concerning Susan Smith. "Law as a
legal system" was also seen in the many agencies of our society used to uphold
rights. The police and the FBI got to the truth about what really happened, and
arrested the person responsible. Finally "law as a set of rules" was shown in
this case because the court decided that Susan Smith broke one of the various
rules set by society and she must be punished for it.

     Susan Smith's actions were based on countless actions throughout her
life. Traumatic experiences found in her background inevitably lead to the
appalling crime. One thing that is certain is that it left a scar on society,
and had an impact on their social and legal views. This research assignment has
enriched my understanding of law as a legal concept, law as a legal system and
law as a set of rules. It has shown me first hand the use of these three
concepts in our world today.


Adler, Jerry. "Sins of the Mother" Newsweek, 14 November 1994.

Brooke, Heathe.

Brurn, Alex. "Susan Smith Review" Law and Society Review, 28 November 1994.

Gibbs, Nancy. "Death and Deceit" Time, 14 November 1994.

Grenm, Roy. The Disgust of a Nation (New York: HEADLINE PUBLISHING 1995)

Henderson, Gary, The Susan Smith Trial: Nine Days in Union (South Carolina:
Herald Publishing 1996), p.193

Reuter, A.P. "Abducted kids, mom accused of murder" Toronto Star, 9 November
1994, news sec., p. C 26

Schultz, Steven.
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