Cover Story: Mothers who kill

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - Mothers who kill.  A South Carolina woman is accused of murdering her two toddlers and leaving their bodies in a watery grave.  It happened this week near Orangeburg.

And 16 years ago it happened outside Union, South Carolina.  The infamous Susan Smith case.

Murder charges have been filed against a South Carolina woman whose kids were found in a car at the bottom of a river in Orangeburg county.  Investigators says Shaquan Duley told them she killed her kids so she could "be free."

Duley initially said her children drowned when her car went into a river after an accident.

Now, authorities say she's confessed to suffocating them and then faking the crash.  The bodies of those two young victims were found yesterday in the North Edisto River near Orangeburg.

100 miles away and 16 years in the past Susan Smith left her two sons strapped in their seats as she rolled her car into John D. Long Lake near Union, South Carolina.

You can't get past the similarities.  In fact as the Orangeburg case has made national headlines in nearly every story Susan Smith's name is brought up.

The man who has insight into what goes through a mother's mind and how a case like this might play out is the man who prosecuted the case - former solicitor in York county Tommy Pope.

"Particularly the car seat thing. That's what I always remember from Smith when the kids were pulled out of the lake."

The irony or a car seat, says former prosecutor Tommy Pope - something used to protect our kids - being used as an implement of death.

And used again allegedly in the Shaquan Duley case.  So similar to Susan Smith 16 years ago.

A mother about the same age.  Two boys - sons about the same ages.  And a drowning in a South Carolina body of water.

But that's where the similarities end.

Susan Smith led law enforcement and the public on a wild goose chase for nine days telling authorities her babies had been carjacked.

Duley's story cracked in less than a day.  Could the Smith case have played a role?  Pope wonders, "The fact that Smith occurred probably raised the potential for a mother to take a child's life on the public's radar.. in other words.. as a possibility."

Smith's was the first case of its kind to raise a nation's conscience - that a mother could take the lives of her children.

It's a case that made Tommy Pope famous and a subject of books.  Over the next several days he's scheduled to do a series of national TV interviews.

"It's a horrible circumstances that I've just had to numb myself to," he says, "much like doctors who do autopsies. You just have to detach yourself from it."

What would cause a mother to do something so unfathomable?  In Smith's case it came down to apparent lack of conscience.  The role of protector went out the window.

"When things occur that change that commonly held believe it makes us uncomfortable.  I really saw Susan ultimately as putting her needs above those children."

How will the Shaquan Duley case play out?

The aggravating factors that make it eligible as a death penalty case seem to be present.  The question will the prosecutor in Orangeburg county go for capital murder?

In the Susan Smith case, Tommy Pope did, but the jury in July 1995 decided life in prison instead.

He says, "It'll be a tough call.. but I think you've got to trust your officials to do the right thing. I've lived on the other end of it. The public's quick to clamor for something but we often times even with your due diligence we don't have all the information."

Pope couldn't give jurors all the information during the sentencing phase of Susan Smith's trial.  By law he couldn't tell them a life sentence doesn't mean life.

They assumed she would never get out  She becomes eligible for parole in 14 years.

That SC law since has been changed.  And a life sentence means life in prison.

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