Originally created 03/09/06

Mother meets with Sanford



COLUMBIA - On Jan. 8, Karyn Grace's estranged husband, Terry Lee Young killed their sons - Gunner, 7, and Ryker, 4 - before shooting himself in their North Augusta home, authorities said.

Ms. Grace, 37, believes Mr. Young intended to kill her, too.

On Wednesday, just two months after their deaths, she met privately with Gov. Mark Sanford in the hope of helping other families.

Ms. Grace is trying to change South Carolina's law to allow mental cruelty as grounds for divorce - a change, she said, she believes might have saved her sons' lives.

"I feel like there's a reason why God left me here, and that, absolutely, this might be it. It could very well be to save another child," said Ms. Grace, who changed back to her maiden name after the tragedy.

"There will always be the part of me that is the mom with the broken heart," Ms. Grace said. "But there's also the part of me that is a mom living for her children."

Ms. Grace said she thinks South Carolina's court system failed her family. She filed for legal separation in January 2005, alleging that her husband was addicted to diet pills and that he had threatened to harm her and to disappear with their children.

In February 2005, however, Family Court Judge Peter Nuessle decided to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Youngs were still living in the same house.

For a divorce to be granted in South Carolina, a couple must live apart for one year, unless one of them can prove adultery, physical abuse, desertion or addiction. Ms. Grace was only seeking legal separation at the time.

But she said she believes that, had she been able to plead "mental cruelty" and speed up the divorce process, her husband would not have had another year to get angrier and more threatening.

And, she said, her sons would be alive today.

Ms. Grace and her sons' uncle, Steve Young, are working with Rep. Don Smith to change the law - but it may not be easy.

Perhaps the toughest part, Mr. Young said, will be convincing lawmakers that "mental cruelty" can be proven.

Mr. Smith, R-North Augusta, said the change would require a constitutional amendment, meaning two-thirds of the House and the Senate would have to approve a referendum and voters then would decide whether to alter the state constitution.

Mr. Sanford's spokesman, Joel Sawyer, said the governor will consider Mr. Smith's legislation, which may be introduced next week.

Ms. Grace and Mr. Young said the governor was sympathetic and easy to talk to.

Ms. Grace said she will fight for as long as it takes to get the law changed.

"I've got the rest of my life to live for my children," she said. Staff Writer Johnny Edwards contributed to this article.

Reach Kirsten Singleton at (803) 414-6611 or kirsten.singleton@morris.com.