A South Carolina mother pleaded guilty Friday to killing her two young sons by suffocating them and putting their bodies into a car, letting it roll into a river. The crime was remarkably similar to what Susan Smith did to her two boys decades ago in this state.
Shaquan Duley has been in jail since her arrest in the deaths of 2-year-old Devean and 18-month-old Ja'van. Divers pulled the boys' bodies from the North Edisto River on August 16, 2010.
Duley initially told police she fell asleep at the wheel before the car went into the river about 40 miles south of Columbia, but authorities questioned her story after finding no skid marks or signs of a crash.
Wearing a white linen shirt and pants, her wrists shackled at her waist, Duley spoke in a soft, wavering voice after pleading guilty to two counts of murder. Prosecutors did not make a deal with her, and she faces between 30 years and life in prison when she is sentenced later this month.
"I'd like to ask for forgiveness and to apologize to my family for all the hurt ... embarrassment and shame that I've brought to them because of this," she said. "I'm not a bad person at all. I've never been."
Police said Duley told them that, after being badgered by her sister and mother about her failings as a parent, Duley fled with her sons to a motel, where she held her hands over the boys' mouths. Her attorney, Carl B. Grant, said she tried to kill herself with an overdose of headache medication and slashed her wrists with a box cutter at the hotel. She wanted to die inside the car with her sons before changing her mind and climbing out, he said.
Investigators said she strapped the boys' bodies into their car seats, drove 10 miles to a boat ramp, and watched as the car rolled down a boat ramp into the water. Duley flagged down a passing motorist to call the Highway Patrol.
The scene of a car found submerged with children's bodies inside was reminiscent what happened in 1994. Smith is serving life in prison for killing her young sons by rolling her car into a lake in South Carolina's northwestern corner. Smith, who is white, initially claimed a black man carjacked her and drove off with the children.
Duley's relatives and attorney have said the young mother was depressed, out of a job and failing online classes. A month after her arrest, Duley's family was on television, telling Oprah Winfrey the woman was in a manic state and irate after a family fight.
"She was highly upset, raging, acting like a crazy person, nothing like I've ever seen her before," Helen Duley said of her daughter. "She was depressed about not having a means to take care of the children."
On Friday, Helen Duley tearfully begged Judge Edgar Dickson to show mercy on her daughter, whom she described as loving and gentle.
"She loved her children. She did, and I know she does," Helen Duley said. "She had to snap."
While in jail, Duley lost custody of a third child, who is now with Duley's mother. On Friday, both Duley's pastor and her attorney asked the judge to consider the 7-year-old girl's future relationship with her mother.
Solicitor David Pascoe did not ask the judge for a specific sentence, nor did he opt to seek the death penalty against Duley. On Friday, the prosecutor also noted that he turned down repeated requests from Duley's attorney to allow her to plead guilty to a lesser charge.
"I just can't, in good conscience, do that," Pascoe said. "Here, we had an intentional killing."
Before leaving the courtroom to return to jail to await that decision, Duley expressed her love for her children.
"I ask God every day just to allow me to keep the memory ... that I have of them," Duley said. "In spite of whatever I've gone through, I still have hope and joy in my heart that one day I will see them again."
Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.