A 30-year-old South Carolina mother will spend the next 35 years in prison for suffocating her two sons, then putting them in her car and staging a crash into a river after a fight with her mother over her parenting skills.
Shaquan Duley said nothing during the less than 10-minute hearing Friday except a quiet "yes sir" as Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson asked her questions about the day in August 2010 she killed 2-year-old Devean and 18-month-old Ja'van by putting her hand over their mouths in a rundown Orangeburg motel room.
The single parent was living with her mother, had no job and was depressed and upset about multiple issues at the time of the slayings.
She pleaded guilty to murder earlier this month and faced 30 years to life in prison without parole. Prosecutors made no recommendation, but offered no mercy either. Duley will have to serve every day of her sentence.
"You have left no one involved in the case with a good choice here today," Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson said. "Your family has the unenviable task of deciding between the grief of losing their grandchildren and supporting their child, the mother who killed them."
The case brought back heartrending reminders of Susan Smith, who rolled her car into a lake in Union County with her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons in the back seat in Union in 1994.
But the cases differed in big ways. Prosecutors said Smith's sons were alive when her car went into the lake, and she killed her boys because a man with whom she had an affair broke off their relationship.
Prosecutors said Duley strapped her sons' bodies into their car seats after killing them and drove to a river 10 miles away. She killed them because she was depressed over failing online classes and not having a job. She also was upset the father of the boys didn't have anything to do with them and she had just had a fight where her mother said she was a bad parent, investigators said.
Duley first told police she fell asleep before running off a bridge over the North Edisto River. But there were no skid marks or damage to the bridge. Instead, investigators think she drove to a boat ramp and got out of her car before letting it roll into the river.
Duley's attorney said she intended to stay in the car and kill herself. She also tried to commit suicide a couple of other times by taking an overdose of headache medicine and trying to cut her wrist with a box cutter after killing her sons, attorney Carl B. Grant said,
Grant said Duley cried with him after she was sentenced. Her family wouldn't talk to reporters after the hearing, but her pastor said she has found the Lord in prison and is ministering to women who find themselves in stressful situations.
Duley wishes she had someone she could have turned to that night, said Jerome Anderson, pastor at New Mount Zion Church in Orangeburg
"She's not a bad person. She didn't deserve life. She did a bad thing," Anderson said. "People who do bad things aren't bad people."
Solicitor David Pascoe said he thought long and hard about pursuing the death penalty against Duley. He decided that would be a waste of taxpayer money because the mother had no prior criminal record, and the people affected most by the deaths of the children would testify in her behalf if he asked jurors to send her to death row. Also, jurors tend to sympathize more with women. There are currently no women on South Carolina's death row.
Pascoe said he was satisfied with the sentence. Duley's lawyer briefly considered some type of insanity defense, but backed off after another psychologist found her mentally fit to stand trial.
"She definitely knows what she did that day. She knew what she did at the time," Pascoe said. "She may have snapped that day. People snap all the time. But it doesn't make a crime like that right."
Duley's chance to ask for mercy came on March 16 when she pleaded guilty. She cried as she apologized for what she did. She also said she was happy that God let her keep her memories of her sons.
"In spite of whatever I've gone through," Duley said, "I still have hope and joy in my heart that one day I will see them again."