By Karen Brooks
(Reuters) - A South Carolina woman serving life in prison for drowning her two young sons in 1994 had planned to kill herself before the public discovered that she had fabricated her story that a black man had kidnapped the boys, according to a letter released by the State newspaper on Wednesday.
In her letter to the Columbia, South Carolina, newspaper, Susan Smith denied that a relationship with a man who did not want children led her to strap 14-month-old Alex and 3-year-old Michael into the backseat of her car and drive it into a lake. She said she had not intended to kill the boys but offered no firm motive for her actions.
"The thing that hurts me the most is that people think I hurt my children in order to be with a man," Smith said in the letter, dated Jan. 19. "That is so far from the truth.
"There was no motive as it was not even a planned event. I was not in my right mind."
Smith said she was a good mother who loved her children. "I am not the monster society thinks I am," she said.
Smith's letter to the newspaper was addressed to reporter Harrison Cahill in response to his letter to her last year.
The case drew national attention in October 1994 when Smith reported that a black man had carjacked her at a red light in her hometown of Union and stolen the car with her children inside.
Her tearful televised pleas for their safe return attracted worldwide attention and touched off a frantic hunt for the boys and their kidnapper until nine days later, when she confessed that her story was a lie.
"The only reason I lied is because I didn't know how to tell the people who loved Michael and Alex that they would never see them again," Smith wrote to the State.
"I had planned to kill myself first and leave a note behind telling what had happened," she said. "I didn't believe I could face my family when the truth was revealed."
Smith said it was frustrating to spend two decades listening to "lie after lie and not be able to defend myself."
Then-prosecutor Tommy Pope dismissed the letter as consistent with Smith's decades-long refusal to take responsibility for the deaths.
He said evidence showed she killed the boys to keep her man.
"I think the common thread has always been Susan focusing on Susan," Pope told Reuters.
During the trial, her defense team said Smith was sexually abused as a child and should not be executed. The jury agreed and gave her life in prison.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas; Editing by Bill Trott and Lisa Von Ahn)