This episode of "American Justice," shown recently on the Biography channel, does a good job of explicating the multiplicity of factors underlying a notorious crime.
Many probably would like to believe that 23-year-old Susan Smith, of Union, S.C., was simply a diabolical child killer. However, she had a long history of mental-health problems that seemingly never were resolved. Her hugely wrong-headed "solution" to a painful breakup was appalling -- but so too, it appears, was the near-total lack of helpful guidance she received throughout her troubled life.
Susan was probably clinically depressed. Her father killed himself when she was six -- setting a dysfunctional example for a child in her formative years. The man who took his place, her stepfather, admitted to having abused her in a sexual relationship last acted-upon only three months before she strapped her sons into a car that she rolled into the John D. Long Lake.
Although Susan had once been psychiatrically hospitalized for suicidality, she would have benefited from ongoing therapeutic oversight. Didn't anyone in her world take notice of her extreme vulnerability?
With Bill Kurtis's intelligent narration, and the sensitive commentary of defense attorney David Bruck, a Death Row expert, this show does an excellent job of clarifying the many troubling facets of a tragic case.
I hope that shows like this can be a wake-up call for those in a position to help. As it has been said, "If it is to be, it is up to me."
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