Courts & Crime

S.C. child murder draws comparisons to 1994 Susan Smith case

The poet and the prosecutor see them the same way.

Ja'van and Devean, Michael and Alex — four little boys who were victims of the ultimate betrayal.

Killed by "the one person in the world, more than anyone else, more than the father, even — the one person these children are supposed to be able to trust," said Kevin Brackett, one of the four lawyers who prosecuted Susan Smith 15 years ago.

As South Carolinians heard this week about Shaquan Duley, the Orangeburg woman who police say rolled her car into the river, her two toddlers strapped in their car seats, they couldn't help but remember one of the most infamous crimes in state history.

"Can you honestly, as a compassionate human being, not picture the image?" asked Lexington poet Ray McManus. "So in a way, not only do you hear about this horrific thing, you are forced to see it" in your mind's eye.

McManus found himself thinking about his own mother — the encouragement she gave, the sacrifices she made — and the pact he made with God when his own children were born. He would protect them at all costs.

Historian Jack Bass said there's no doubt Susan Smith is part of South Carolina's "collective memory."

So it's natural to wonder if one woman might be recreating the other's story.

"If there hadn't been Susan Smith, would she have thought to do that?" asked Nicole Holland, communications director for Columbia's Bibleway Church of Atlas Road.

Said Bass: "Whether it had any effect on Ms. Duley, consciously or subconsciously, you know, is a question for people who are experts in psychology and psychiatry. Specialists in understanding human emotions."

Duley would have been 13 in October 1994, when Smith drowned her two boys by rolling her car into a lake in rural Union County. Michael was 3; Alex, 14 months.

To read the complete article, visit

Related stories from McClatchy DC