She could kill again.
She hasn’t changed.
Don’t let her out.
That’s what a former prison guard had to say about Susan Smith, the inmate who cost him his job two decades ago after the two had sex, when asked if she should be paroled during an interview on the daytime talk show Dr. Oz.
If you’ve watched much of the boob tube or logged onto that Faceboob, there’s a good chance you already know that. The words of fired prison Capt. Alfred Rowe, who hasn’t seen Smith since Bill Clinton was president, have definitely been making the rounds.
In some way, it’s understandable. We have a fascination with killers in the country, and Smith has earned her notoriety.
She drowned her two sons in a Union County lake in 1994, likely to pursue a relationship with a well-off man, then seemed to stoke racial fears by telling authorities that a black man took her children in a carjacking that could not have happened as described.
The 48-year-old was convicted of two counts of murder and is currently serving a life sentence in Greenwood’s Leath Correctional Institution.
However, it seems odd and likely inappropriate to focus so much on the parole advice of a man who lost his job and pension because of his sexual encounter with Smith, an event that also strained his marriage and tarnished his reputation. In other words, he has an ax to grind. And since he hasn’t seen her in decades, he really isn’t in a position to know how she acts today.
It should be noted, too, that Rowe said something that is inconsistent with reported fact.
He said Smith came forward to authorities and shared the damning — and substantially true — allegations about him and another corrections officer because she wanted to transfer from Columbia’s Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution to Leath, the only other women’s prison in the state, to be closer to family.
The problem is, it was widely reported why officials opened an investigation into officers’ interactions with Smith: While in custody, she was treated for a sexually transmitted infection.
That salacious detail — one that’s perhaps too personal — even appeared in the Associated Press dispatches that were published in our paper.
I won’t fault him for leaving that tidbit out, but that past reporting seems to undercut his speculation about her desire to transfer.
Instead of focusing on his words, we should let the seven members of the South Carolina Board of Paroles and Pardons determine if she’ll get parole when she becomes eligible in four years. They can look through the details of her case. They can listen to her ex-husband, who is the father to the children she killed. They can hear from current prison officials who observe her daily. They can ask her if she’s rehabilitated. Then, after weighing the evidence, they can determine whether she should be paroled.
With the seriousness of the case, it seems unlikely she’d get parole any time soon. And the parole board has grown less prone to parole inmates serving lengthy sentences, something mentioned by attorney Travis Dayhuff during oral arguments before the state Supreme Court.
If anything, systemic failures have guaranteed some inmates serve more time than they should. Some inmates, for instance, were denied parole despite getting the necessary approval from two-thirds of the board, while others simply had their sentences miscalculated by the state prison system.
The parole board can and should determine if appropriate justice has been meted out or if Smith needs to be confined longer. That is their job. It should not be left to some daytime talk show host or his guest.