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Susan Smithgasped as the Union, S.C., jury returned after just 2 1/2 hours of deliberation and announced that they had voted to sentence her to life in prison, instead of choosing the death penalty. "There was a sharp, collective intake of breath," TIME's Lisa Towle reports. "David Smith, the boys' father, stared straight ahead, not even blinking. Beverly Russell, her stepfather, pulled a handerchief and patted his brow, and Linda Russell, her mother, bowed her head and cried silently into a tissue." The jury of nine men and three women had taken the same amount of time last Saturday to convict the 23-year-old Smith ofmurdering her two young sons,Michael, 3, and Alex, 14 months. All of the jurors are members of the same community that she had angered and betrayed last November when her nationally-televised pleas to find the missing boys' kidnapper turned out to be stagecraft. In his closing argument, defense lawyer David Bruck quoted the Gospel of John: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Says Towle: "This is also a religious community with an anti-death penalty feeling. You cannot deny, when you sit here, the emotional ties people had with her, or with some member of her extended family. Bruck knew exactly what he was doing when he did not ask for a change of venue and went for a jury trial, and this is why. There is a feeling that she is 'one of our own.'" Smith will be eligible for parole in 30 years.