UNION, S.C. -- No sooner had the prosecutor announced that he would go for the death penalty against Susan Vaughan Smith than her relatives assembled on the courthouse steps to plead for her life.
Letting Ms. Smith live in a prison cell with the memory of the chilling deaths of her two little boys would be more cruel than executing her, they said yesterday.
"It's been a hard day for all of us," said Linda Russell, Ms. Smith's mother, visibly shaken. "Me and all of my family loved Michael and Alex. Susan loves them. She misses 'em."
"She wishes her life would end so she could be with them," said her brother, Scotty Vaughan, standing close to his wife, Wendy. "I don't feel justice will be served by putting Susan to death."
Attorney David Bruck said his client writes letter after letter to her dead sons, Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months. She talks to their photographs, has nightmares and takes a low dosage of anti-psychotic medicine to stay calm.
Ms. Smith, 23, was charged Nov. 3 with her sons' deaths after confessing to rolling her car -- with the boys strapped in the back seat -- into John D. Long Lake. She claimed for nine days that a carjacker took them.
Solicitor Tommy Pope told a somber Ms. Smith that he would seek the death penalty if she is convicted of murdering her two children. The court also entered a plea of not guilty for Ms. Smith. Mr. Pope hopes for a trial beginning April 24.
Mr. Pope said he might be second-guessed for going for the death penalty, but it was a decision he was elected to make.
Mr. Pope, speaking on the courthouse steps, said he took into account the feelings of the family, including David Smith, the boys' father. David Smith didn't attend the hearing and couldn't be reached for comment, but his uncle, Doug Smith, said the father approved of Mr. Pope's decision.
"He's lost his entire family. He's lost everything he had," Doug Smith said. "It is not easy for him to come up with a position on this, but I think he is comfortable with what the solicitor has decided."
Mr. Pope reiterated his call yesterday for Ms. Smith to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, which he hopes will take place by Friday.
"We've heard about Susan Smith's mental condition. Unfortunately, we've been told all that by the defense," Mr. Pope said. "My hope is that we can finally have someone who is neutral make that determination."
About 100 people, included Ms. Smith's family and curious townspeople, attended the hearing, which lasted about five minutes.
Wearing a blue button-down shirt, blue pants and white tennis shoes, Ms. Smith was escorted into a silent courtroom by deputies.
In order to seek the death penalty against a person in South Carolina, a prosecutor must be able to prove aggravating circumstances surrounding the murder. Mr. Pope said the aggravating circumstances in Ms. Smith's case include the death of a child younger than 11 and the killing of more than one person in an act.
Ms. Smith also was asked to enter a plea to the court. Standing before Judge Costa Pleicones, with Mr. Bruck at her side, Ms. Smith quivered and closed her eyes when Mr. Pope read the names of her sons.
She then declined to enter a plea, on Mr. Bruck's advice, prompting the judge to enter one for her.
Mr. Pope said he has never been involved in a case where the defense didn't enter a plea. Mr. Bruck declined to comment about the plea.