Last Tuesday, two toddlers were found dead in a car that had sunk to the bottom of a river. The scenario had an eerie parallel to the Susan Smith episode of 1994: both incidents occurred in South Carolina, and in both cases the mother was charged with murder.
The details have emerged over the last few days. Shaquan Duley, an unemployed single mother, allegedly suffocated each of her two sons-aged two years and 18 months-and rolled their bodies into the Edisto River in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The car, with the kids buckled up in their seats, was found Tuesday, and Duley is going before a judge for an arraignment hearing today.
The comparison to the Smith story is hard to miss. Tommy Pope, the prosecutor in that case, told CNN that upon hearing about the car, his first words were, "Here we go again."
Susan Smith has been serving a life sentence since she rolled her car, with her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons inside, into a river in South Carolina's Union County. The story made headlines the world over, and became a talking point for politicians and pundits. (Smith initially claimed that the car was stolen by an African-American man; she later confessed that she had killed the children in hopes that it would improve her relationship with her current boyfriend.)
In perhaps the most famous reaction, House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich pointed to the tragedy as the reason why the country needed a return to conservative values. It was November 1994, and the election that would make Gingrich Speaker of the House was three days away.
"I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things," Gingrich told the Associated Press in a story that ran November 7, 1994. "How a mother can kill her two children, 14 months and 3 years, in hopes that her boyfriend would like her, is just a sign of how sick the system is and I think people want to change. The only way you get change is to vote Republican. That's the message for the last three days."
Those comments came under fire from Vice President Al Gore-who called them "outrageous" in the same AP story-as well as people involved with the Susan Smith case.
So now that we have an almost analogous scenario that happened in the same state, is this South Carolina toddler murder case also indicative of "how sick the system is," and therefore a reason to vote Republican in the fast-approaching elections?
I reached Joseph DeSantis-who has the title of "Communications Director for Gingrich Communications"-on the phone Tuesday afternoon, in hopes of getting Gringrich on the line.
"Mr. Gingrich is overseas and will not be back for a few weeks," DeSantis said.
"Rome," he said.
Still, even if he's currently ensconced in the Eternal City with his family, does he have lesson to impart from the Shaquan Duley incident?
"I haven't heard him comment on that," DeSantis said. "I don't think he would. He has no comment."
So for the time being Newt Gingrich does not, in fact, equate all submerged-car murders with the urgent need to vote Republican.