Susan Hendricks, a Liberty mother charged with murdering her two sons, former husband and stepmother in an outburst of violence in October 2011, will spend the rest of her life in prison after she pleaded guilty but mentally ill Friday to four murder charges.
But the story that unfolded in a courtroom during an afternoon of stunning testimony and raw emotions also was one of a family torn apart by the tragedy, a woman who was sexually abused when she was younger and the difficulty of diagnosing psychiatric disorders.
In return for her plea, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty and to dismiss four counts of possession of a weapon during a violent crime.
After her plea, Circuit Judge Letitia Verdin sentenced Hendricks to four life terms. Thirteenth Circuit Solicitor Walt Wilkins said Hendricks won’t be eligible for parole, and she will receive mental health services that state officials deem necessary in prison.
Hendricks, 49, was indicted last year by a Pickens County grand jury on four counts of murder and four counts of possession of a weapon in the shooting deaths of her sons Matthew Hendricks and Marshall Hendricks, her ex-husband Mark Hendricks, and her stepmother Linda Burns, according to indictments.
Evidence from the scene revealed the victims were shot by a handgun owned by Hendricks that she kept in her nightstand, according to arrest warrants. She had multiple life insurance policies on the victims and was the beneficiary, according to the warrants.
Wilkins said after the sentencing that financial gain was one of many motives examined by investigators but authorities likely will never know why she killed her family members.
David Price, a clinical psychologist testifying for Hendricks’ defense team, said that while she was competent to stand trial, Hendricks suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple personalities and other mental health issues.
Price testified that Hendricks suffered “very severe” sexual and physical abuse by her family and others before she left home at 14.
“This is the worst I’ve seen,” Price, who has testified nationally in civil and criminal cases since 1984, told the judge of the abuse.
He testified Hendricks has a “long-standing mental disorder,” was treated at different psychiatric facilities and had been under psychiatric treatment since the 1990s.
A week before the homicides, she was diagnosed as being bipolar and obsessive-compulsive, Price testified. She also was found to be suffering from general anxiety, post-traumatic stress and a borderline personality disorder, he testified.
“All of which are very significant mental illnesses,” Price said.
For psychiatric reasons, Hendricks was disabled from her job at a Greenville industrial company in 2002, Price testified. The company’s disability insurer cited bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders, he testified.
At the time, Hendricks also was thought to suffer from another mental disorder but officials weren’t sure exactly what it was, Price testified.
“She has had diagnoses throughout her life,” including major depression, Price said.
Those reflected major mood disorders “and it just depended on what doctor saw her at what time,” he testified.
“She would have a diagnosis of either major depressive disorder - recurrent type, severe or psychotic features - or bipolar disorder,” Price said.
“One consistent diagnosis that she’s always had is the post-traumatic stress disorder,” he testified.
Price testified he met with Hendricks 14 times for more than 40 hours, and he reviewed health records.
In court, Hendricks was attentive to the judge’s questions, saying she had a college degree and worked as a machinist in Greenville. She didn’t turn to look as family members addressed the court.
“I hope that Linda and Mark, Matthew and Marshall will sit in judgment on Susan when she passes away like she sat in judgment on them, and I hope God has mercy on her soul,” said Gordon Finley, Linda Burns’ brother.
“It is very difficult to put into words the effect their deaths have had and will continue to have on our family,” Stephanie Hopkins, a cousin of Matthew and Marshall Hendricks, told the judge.
Matthew was a top welder who planned to start his own business, and Marshall was an artist who planned to marry, Hopkins said.
Family and friends of the victims wept as Wilkins recounted what happened early in the morning on Oct. 14, 2011, in two homes in Liberty.
Matthew Hendricks, 23, and Burns, 64, were found in their beds in a trailer at 236 Pinedale Road where they and Susan Hendricks lived.
The body of Marshall Hendricks, 20, was found wrapped in a blanket on the porch of a trailer next door at 304 Pinedale, where he lived with his father. Mark Hendricks, 52, was found dead on a sofa inside.
Prosecutors in a previous hearing said Hendricks staged the scene and blamed the killings on her older son, saying he killed the others and then shot himself.
Prosecutors said she had life insurance policies on the four and systematically shot them in an effort to cash in the policies for $700,000.
Wilkins told reporters after Hendricks was sentenced that the state was “very satisfied” with the outcome.
He praised the work of the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, the State Law Enforcement Division and forensics investigators for “putting all the pieces together that we needed to get to this point.”
It wasn’t the first deadly shooting at Susan Hendricks’ home.
In 2006, Hendricks wasn’t charged in the shooting death of 39-year-old Brian Teague, Pickens County Assistant Sheriff Tim Morgan said. Authorities said she claimed self-defense after Teague barged into her home.
Hendricks said in a deposition that the 2006 shooting was but one of a series of events that put her under “extreme stress.”