Clarke didn't argue insanity but brought her client's abusive childhood and adult depression alive for the jury. She portrayed Smith as a woman so tormented by her failures in life that she even failed at her own suicide and jumped out of the car.
"She snapped, and Michael and Alex are gone," Clarke told jurors. "Susan broke where many of us might bend."
She let jurors feel Smith's confusion and pain, and they took 2½ hours to convict Smith of murdering her sons. But they spared her life.
Afterward, the judge was so impressed with Clarke¹s work, he increased her pay to $83,000. She paid the taxes and donated the money to a nonprofit agency that defends the poor in capital cases.
State officials were not so impressed. They passed a law that prohibited out-of-state lawyers from working on South Carolina¹s death penalty cases. That law is still on the books, Bruck said.
Clarke went on to join the defense teams in other high-profile capital cases in the federal courts. All were settled through plea bargains that took the death penalty off the table. Among them:
Ted Kaczynski: The mathematician known as the Unabomber pleaded guilty in January 1998 to making and transporting bomb materials that killed three people. Federal prosecutors in Sacramento, California, backed away from the death penalty after their own expert diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic.
Buford O. Furrow: The Aryan Nations member pleaded guilty in 2001 and was sentenced to five life terms for a racially motivated shooting spree at a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center and the fatal shooting of a Filipino-American postal worker in 1999. Prosecutors dropped the death penalty when the defense documented and charted Furrow's long history of psychiatric treatment for bipolar disorder. The decision later was criticized by the victims' families.
Eric Rudolph: The man known as the Olympic Park bomber pleaded guilty in 2005 to bombing a women's clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, and other bombings, including at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He was a survivalist and spent years on the FBI's most wanted list. Prosecutors dropped the death penalty after Rudolph led them to several dynamite caches in the North Carolina woods.
Zacarias Moussaoui: The 9/11 conspirator is sometimes referred to as the 20th hijacker. Clarke worked only briefly on this case. He repeatedly fired his lawyers and insisted on defending himself, abruptly pleading guilty to terror conspiracy charges in July 2002. His life was spared in 2006 when a lone juror held out against a death sentence after a trial punctuated by the defendant's outbursts.
Jared Lee Loughner: The suspended community college student pleaded guilty to 19 murder and attempted murder counts in the Arizona shooting rampage that killed a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl and seriously wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Two mental health experts diagnosed him as paranoid schizophrenic, and he was sentenced to life in prison under a plea bargain.