Susan Eubanks sits next to her public defender at trial in 1999. (Scott Varley / Associated…)
Reporting from San Francisco — A San Diego County woman who shot and killed her four children failed Monday to win a reprieve from the California Supreme Court, which voted unanimously to uphold her death sentence.
In a ruling written by Justice Ming W. Chin, the state's highest court rejected an automatic appeal by Susan Dianne Eubanks, who was convicted of murdering her sons, Brandon, 14; Austin, 7; Brigham, 6; and Matthew, 4, in October 1997.
After drinking and taking tranquilizers, Eubanks put a revolver to the temple of Brandon and shot him, according to the court's opinion. She fired another shot into his neck from a few inches away. She shot her younger three boys in their bedroom.
Before shooting herself in the abdomen, Eubanks left several notes, including instructions that she be buried in the same casket as her youngest son. Detectives found the notes in the San Marcos home shortly after the killings.
Evidence presented at her trial showed that Eubanks had become addicted to prescription drugs after suffering a workplace injury. She had lost her job, and she and her husband were having marital problems.
The court said her oldest son had telephoned the mother of his best friend for help before he was killed. The woman told him to reassess the situation and call back if necessary.
Eubanks challenged her death sentence on several grounds, including the fact that the trial court admitted evidence during the penalty phase that she had once smeared her nephew's face with feces. The court said the evidence was proper because it was intended to rebut claims that she had been a good mother.
Legal errors made at the trial were minor, and the jury would have voted for death even without them, the court concluded.