Smith in 2012
Susan Leigh Vaughan
September 26, 1971
Union, South Carolina, U.S.
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood County, South Carolina|
(m. 1991; div. 1995)
|Children||Michael Daniel (1991–1994)|
Alexander Tyler (1993–1994)
|Parent(s)||Linda Sue Harrison and Harry Ray Vaughan|
|Conviction(s)||Two counts of murder|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment with a possibility of parole after 30 years|
Susan Leigh Vaughan Smith (born September 26, 1971) is an American convict who was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after serving 30 years for murdering her two children, three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alexander.
The case gained international attention because of Smith's false claim that a Black-American man had kidnapped her sons during a carjacking. Her defense attorneys, David Bruck and Judy Clarke, called expert witnesses to testify that she suffered from mental health issues that impaired her judgment when she committed the crimes.
According to the South Carolina Department of Corrections, Smith will be eligible for parole on November 4, 2024, after serving a minimum of 30 years. She is incarcerated at the Leath Correctional Institution near Greenwood, South Carolina.
Susan Smith rarely had a stable home life growing up. Her father committed suicide when she was six years old, and Smith herself attempted suicide at age 13. Her mother then married Beverly Russell, a member of the local chapter of the Christian Coalition, who later was revealed to have molested Smith when she was a teenager. One newspaper claimed that sexual relations between them had continued until six months before the murders.
After graduating from high school in 1989, Smith made a second attempt to end her own life after a married man ended the affair they had. She married David Smith, and they had two sons. The relationship was rocky due to mutual allegations of infidelity, and they separated several times.
On October 25, 1994, Smith reported to police that her vehicle had been carjacked by a black man who drove away with her sons still inside. For nine days, she made dramatic pleas on national television for their rescue and return. However, following an intensive investigation and a nationwide search, she confessed on November 3, 1994 to letting her car roll into nearby John D. Long Lake, drowning them inside. Her motivation was reportedly to be able to have a relationship with a local wealthy man, even though he had no intention of forming a family. She said that there was no motive nor did she plan the murders, stating that she was not in a right state of mind.
Later investigation revealed that detectives doubted Smith's story from the start and believed that she murdered her sons. By the second day of the investigation, the police suspected that she knew their location and hoped that they were still alive. Investigators started to search the nearby lakes and ponds, including John D. Long Lake, where their bodies eventually were found. Initial water searches did not locate the car because the police believed it would be within 30 feet of the shore, and did not search farther; it turned out to be 120 feet from the shore. After the boys had been missing for two days, Smith and her estranged husband David were subjected to a polygraph test. The biggest breakthrough of the case was her description of the carjacking location. She had claimed that a traffic light had turned red causing her to stop at an otherwise empty intersection. However, it was determined that the light would not have turned red for her unless a vehicle was present on the intersecting road. This conflicted with her statement that she did not see any other cars there when the carjacking took place.
During Smith's incarceration at the Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution, two correctional officers, Lieutenant Houston Cagle and Captain Alfred R. Rowe Jr., were charged after having sex with her. Consequently, she was moved to the Leath Correctional Institution in Greenwood.
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- Russell, Linda; Stephens, Shirley (April 2000). My Daughter Susan Smith. Authors Book Nook. ISBN 978-0-9701076-1-9.
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- South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED); SLED Latent Print and Crime Scene Worksheet: Flotation Characteristics of 1990 Mazda Protege; May 24, 1995