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Smith Trial in S.C. Aims at Less Sensation

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SUSAN SMITH, the woman who put Union, S.C., in the world's spotlight last October, is again bringing attention to the textile town of 10,000.

Reporters and television camera crews from as far away as Japan are descending to cover Ms. Smith's double murder trial, for which jury selection begins today.

The media invasion has led some to dub the trial "O.J. East." But, while observers acknowledge the Smith trial has reached some celebrity status, they say all similarities with the O.J. Simpson case end there.

Instead of the "carnival" atmosphere that exists in the Los Angeles courtroom, the Smith case "will have the dignity that a murder case has, the serious aspects, and the professionalism that we expect of our system," says Jack Swerling, a criminal defense attorney in Columbia, S.C. "It will be handled completely differently."

Smith's story captivated the country last October when she tearfully told how an armed carjacker had kidnapped her children and drove away with them into the night. She later confessed to strapping her two sons in her car and letting it roll into a lake.

Smith's lawyers, David Bruck and Judy Clarke, have tried to avoid a trial by asking prosecutor Tommy Pope to accept a plea bargain. They have asked that Smith be spared the death penalty in exchange for a life sentence of 30 years without parole.

But Mr. Pope has refused their offer. He has said he decided to seek the death penalty after considering the facts of the case and consulting with the family of David Smith, Smith's ex-husband. Both David Smith and his father have said publicly that they favor the death penalty for her.

During the trial, Pope will "paint Smith as a cold, calculating, selfish person who killed to gratify her own desires," says Eldon Wedlock, a law professor specializing in criminal and constitutional law at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Pope will try to show her motivation for killing was to get rid of her sons so she could marry Tom Findlay, the son of a wealthy textile mill executive, who ended his affair with Smith because he wasn't ready to be a father.

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