Shaquan Duley pleaded guilty without making a deal with prosecutors. She faces between 30 years and life in prison when she is sentenced later this month.
Duley, 30, has been held without bond since her August 2010 arrest in the deaths of her boys, 2-year-old Devean and 18-month-old Ja’van.
Divers pulled the boys’ bodies from the North Edisto River on August 16, 2010. Duley initially told police she fell asleep at the wheel before the car went into the river about 40 miles south of Columbia, but authorities questioned her story after finding no skid marks or signs of a crash.
Later, police said Duley told them that, after being badgered by her sister and mother about her failings as a parent, Duley fled with her sons to a motel, where she held her hands over the boys’ mouths.
Investigators said she strapped the boys’ bodies into their car seats, drove 10 miles to a boat ramp, and watched as the car rolled down a boat ramp into the water. Duley flagged down a passing motorist to call the Highway Patrol.
The tragic scene of a car found submerged with children’s bodies inside was reminiscent of the 1994 case of Susan Smith, who is serving life in prison for killing her young sons by rolling her car into a lake in the northwest part of the state. Smith, who is white, initially claimed a black man carjacked her and drove off with the children.
Duley’s relatives and attorney have said the young mother was depressed, out of a job and failing online classes. A month after her arrest, Duley’s family was on television, telling Oprah Winfrey the woman was in a manic state and irate after the family fight.
“She was highly upset, raging, acting like a crazy person, nothing like I’ve ever seen her before,” Helen Duley said of her daughter. “She was depressed about not having a means to take care of the children.”
Her attorney, Carl B. Grant, told Winfrey that Duley was distraught, in part owing to a lack of contact with her children’s father. She tried to kill herself the night of her sons’ deaths by consuming a dozen packages of a common headache remedy and trying to slit her wrists with a box cutter, Grant said.
When those attempts failed, Duley intended to die inside her car in the river before changing her mind and climbing out, Grant has said. While in jail, Duley lost custody of a third child, who is now with Duley’s mother.