Susan Smith may face death penalty, lawyer says

January 16, 1995|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Susan Smith was expected to be in court today to hear a prosecutor announce that he intends to seek her execution if she is convicted of murder in the drowning deaths of her sons, Ms. Smith's lawyer says.

Ms. Smith confessed in November to drowning her two sons, Michael, 3 and Alex, 14 months, by rolling her car into a lake near Union on Oct. 25. She initially claimed that the boys and car had disappeared in a carjacking.

David Bruck, Ms. Smith's lawyer, said yesterday that solicitor Tommy Pope of Union telephoned Friday morning to tell Mr. Bruck of his decision to ask for the death penalty for Ms. Smith.

"Mr. Pope further advised me that he intended to have Susan Smith brought to court in Union . . . and that he intended to have her arraigned on the indictments pending against her, and to serve notice of the state's intent to seek death penalty against her in open court," Mr. Bruck said in a brief statement to reporters outside his Columbia office.

The arraignment is a formality at which Ms. Smith will be expected to enter a plea, Mr. Bruck said. He would not say how Ms. Smith would plead, and refused to answer any other questions.

Mr. Bruck said he had objected to Ms. Smith's being brought to Union today from the Columbia prison where she is being held because he considered it unnecessary. Usually, notice of intent to seek the death penalty is handled by certified mail, he said.

But, Mr. Bruck said, state Circuit Judge Costa Pleicones, who is presiding in Union this week, refused to intervene, saying that he felt he had no authority to forbid a prosecutor from ordering a defendant into court.

Mr. Pope, reached yesterday by the Associated Press, refused to comment.

His decision to try to put Ms. Smith, 23, in the electric chair is sure to be controversial in Ms. Smith's hometown of Union, where most residents believed her initial story that the children had been stolen by a car-jacker.

For nine days, until Ms. Smith confessed under police questioning, residents festooned the town of 30,000 with yellow ribbons as signs of hope. The nation watched along with them as Smith made several tearful televised pleas for their return.

In her confession to police, Ms. Smith said she was suicidal and "emotionally distraught" over a failed love affair. She had intended to drown herself along with her children, she said, but jumped out of the car at the last minute as it rolled down a boat ramp into John D. Long Lake, near Union, which is 60 miles northwest of Columbia.

The shore of the lake has since become a shrine of sorts, with local residents and visitors leaving flowers and other memorials to the dead children.

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