Susan Smith has been serving life in prison for killing her two sons.
The young mother was frantic in the fall of 1994, saying an unidentified man had hijacked her car and kidnapped her two young children.
“I can’t even describe what I’m going through.. My heart just aches so bad,” Smith said through tears on national TV.
But the tragic plot twist was revealed when Smith confessed nine days later that there was no kidnapper. She’d actually just let her car roll into a lake in Union, South Carolina, and watched as her boys–three-year-old Michael and 14-month-old Alex, both strapped into carseats–plummet to their deaths.
The prosecution fought for the death penalty but Smith was instead sentenced to life in prison.
Now, 20 years later, she’s trying to tell her side of the story, writing a letter to The State in which she said she was a good mother and that she only lied because she didn’t know how to break the truth to loved ones.
She also planned on killing herself.
“I had planned to kill myself first and leave a note behind telling what had happened,” Smith said in a letter to The State newspaper. “I didn’t believe I could face my family when the truth was revealed.”
“Mr. Cahill, I am not the monster society thinks I am. I am far from it,” she wrote to reporter Harrison Cahill.
She emphasized that she did not plan to kill her boys.
“Something went very wrong that night. I was not myself,” Smith said. “I was a good mother and I loved my boys. … There was no motive as it was not even a planned event. I was not in my right mind.”
It’s not known whether Smith was suffering from mental illness at the time of the deaths but statistics indicate that around 24 percent of state prisoners have a history of mental illness.
Symptoms include extreme mood changes, difficulty perceiving reality, and thinking about suicide.
If you or anyone you know are experiencing mental illness symptoms, call the NAMI hotline.