PICKENS, S.C. — A South Carolina woman accused of killing her two sons, her ex-husband and her stepmother pleaded guilty but mentally ill to four counts of murder Friday.
A psychologist testified that Susan Hendricks, 49, was seized by a personality that didn’t know right from wrong when she killed them and tried to pin the killings on one of the sons she had just shot in the head.
Hendricks accepted a life sentence in a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Authorities said she stood to profit from about $700,000 worth of life insurance policies after the four relatives were killed in October 2011. The life insurance money was one of many motives, and authorities will likely never know why she killed her relatives because of her mental problems, prosecutor Walt Wilkins said.
The psychologist testifying for Hendricks’ defense team, David Price, said she suffered severe post-traumatic stress disorder from extensive childhood sexual abuse before she left home at 14. Hendricks was abused by both of her parents, who also let others abuse her, Price said.
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Price said.
Hendricks was admitted to psychiatric hospitals several times over three decades. Her personalities likely started as a coping mechanism, Price said.
Wilkins said Friday was the first time he heard about the abuse, but promised to investigate if Hendricks’ attorneys send him details. South Carolina has no statute of limitations on crimes.
Hendricks is competent to stand trial,
Price said. While Hendricks’ main personality could differentiate right from wrong, another personality was in action the night of the murders, Price said.
Hendricks will spend the rest of her life in prison, but the plea assures she will get help behind bars.
Stephanie Hopkins, a cousin to Hendricks’ sons, said that Hendricks never seems right but that she didn’t think she had serious psychological problems.
“I always knew she was crazy. But when I say crazy, I mean not mentally ill like this,” Hopkins said.
Hendricks said little in court. She was attentive to the judge’s questions, answering “Yes, ma’am.” But she did not turn to look as Hopkins and her stepmother’s brother stepped up to speak.
“I hope that Linda and Mark and Matthew and Marshall will sit in judgment on Susan when she passes away like she sat in judgment on them. I hope God has mercy on her soul,” Gordon Finley said.
The gun used in all four slayings was found beside 23-year-old Matthew Hendricks, and investigators said Susan Hendricks told deputies her son was suicidal. She also led them to a note in the kitchen. The note was written by Matthew Hendricks, but not the day he died, Wilkins said.
Family and friends of the victims sobbed as Wilkins recounted what happened the morning on Oct. 14, 2011, in two homes in Liberty in northwest South Carolina. At Hendricks’ home, deputies found the body of Matthew Hendricks shot in the head in his bed with a gun on a table beside him. Susan Hendricks’ stepmother, 64-year-old Linda Burns, was found in her bedroom, a trail of blood leading to her bed from the living room. She was shot several times in the chest, arm and stomach.
Next door, authorities found the bodies of her other son, 20-year-old Marshall Hendricks. He was shot several times in the house and tried to run outside. Investigators said she fired the final shot at her son on the concrete stoop outside the home and covered him with a blanket. Susan Hendricks’ 52-year-old ex-husband, Mark Hendricks, was found on a couch, shot in the chest.
Her story of a murder-suicide quickly fell apart. Deputies were puzzled why she didn’t call 911. Gunshot residue was found on her clothes, and Marshall Hendricks’ blood was found on her pants.
The murders weren’t the first deadly shooting in Susan Hendricks’ home.
In April 2006, authorities said Doyle “Brian” Teague, 36, was killed by Hendricks after entering her home uninvited. Hendricks claimed self-defense, and deputies said they never had enough evidence to file criminal charges.
Hendricks’ lawyer John Mauldin thanked Wilkins for accepting a plea deal. He said Hendricks was remorseful and didn’t want to drag people through a death penalty trial.
“Nobody was really going to win anything,” Mauldin said. “Here today, sanity prevails, if I can say it that way.”