SC mom expected to plead guilty in sons' deaths

Friday, March 16, 2012
Action News

A South Carolina mother was expected to plead guilty Friday to charges she suffocated her two young sons before driving her car into a river in an attempt to cover up their deaths. The case has eerie similarities to that of another mother from the state now serving life in prison.

Shaquan Duley (shah-KWAHN' DOO'-lee) has been held without bond since her August 2010 arrest in the deaths of her boys, 2-year-old Devean and 18-month-old Ja'van. The 30-year-old mother has been charged with murder, but the charges to which she would plead guilty were not immediately clear.

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.

Later, 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.

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 tragic scene of a car found submerged with children's bodies inside was eerily reminiscent of the 1994 case of another South Carolina mother, Susan Smith, who is now serving life in prison for killing her young sons by rolling her car into a lake in the northwest part of the state.

In Orangeburg, 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 the 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."

Her attorney, Carl B. Grant, told Winfrey that Duley was depressed, in part owing to a lack of contact with her children's father. She tried to kill herself the night of her sons' deaths by consuming a dozen packages of a common headache remedy and trying to slit her wrists with a box cutter, Grant said.

When those attempts failed, Duley intended to die inside her car in the river before changing her mind and climbing out, Grant has said, adding that he intended to pursue an insanity defense. A judge ordered that Duley be mentally evaluated to see if she was fit to stand trial. While in jail, Duley lost custody of a third child, when a judge granted custody of a young daughter to Duley's mother.

In the 1994 case, Smith left her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons strapped in their car seats as she rolled her car into a lake in Union County. Smith, who is white, initially claimed a black man carjacked her and drove off with the children.

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