It’s one of the worst crimes imaginable: a mother killing her own flesh and blood. On the evening of October 26, 1997, Susan Dianne Eubanks committed the unthinkable when she shot and killed her four children execution style at her San Marcos, California home.
Brandon, Austin, Brigham and Matthew, were, 14, 7, 6, and 4 at the time of their deaths.
Prior to the murders
On the day of the shootings, Eubanks left her son Brandon at home to watch his siblings while she and her boyfriend Rene Dodson spent the day at a bar drinking and watching a football game.
Events quickly turned sour when the couple began to fight. Once they arrived home, Eubanks slashed Dodson’s tires, broke his windshield, and put sugar in his gas tank, according to court documents. Eubanks refused to let Dodson leave the house, but he eventually escaped and ran to a nearby gas station. Dodson called police who escorted him to the home to help him retrieve his belongings.
Court documents state as Dodson was putting his belongings in the patrol car, Eubanks came outside, yelling, “I’ve been screwed by men my whole life. I’ve been beaten. I’ve been raped.”
While Eubanks and Dodson were fighting, Brandon ran to a pay telephone and called Kathy Goohs, the mother of his best friend since grade school. He asked her to come get him and the other boys because his brothers were scared and he did not want them exposed to the fighting.
A short time later, Eubanks called Goohs, “pleading” for her to come take the boys, according to court documents. At trial, Goohs testified that she never went to pick up the boys because she did not have enough seat belts in her car. She feared this might be a problem if police were still at the Eubanks residence.
Back inside the house, Eubanks was allegedly livid and called Brandon’s father, John Armstrong, in Texas. She told him that the police had been at her home investigating the incident with Dodson, and she feared child protective services would come and take the children.
Eubanks also called Eric Eubanks, the father of Matthew and Brigham, leaving him a voicemail that said, “Say goodbye,” according to court documents. Concerned for the children, Eric Eubanks called 911 and requested a welfare check at the residence.
Discovery of the bodies
When deputies arrived at the home, they discovered Eubanks in the master bedroom, lying on her bed with a revolver next to her hand. Police removed a blood stained towel placed over her abdomen and saw what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to her stomach.
Authorities proceeded to check the rest of the house, and found three of the boys in a bedroom. Austin was on the top bunk bed, and Matthew and Brigham were found on the lower bed. All three suffered gunshot wounds to the head.
In the living room, deputies found Brandon’s body. He also suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Brandon had no pulse.
Matthew, however, was still breathing. He was flown to a children’s hospital where he died shortly thereafter from a massive head wound.
Also in the home was Eubanks’ 6-year-old nephew. Police found him unharmed, in bed, with blankets pulled up to his chin, according to court documents.
Eubanks was taken to Palomar Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery. She lost a large amount of blood and was in critical condition. She eventually recovered.
Details of the shootings
Eubanks was subsequently charged with four counts of first-degree murder. Her trial began in August of 1999.
According to court documents, each son had been killed with the same five-shot .38 caliber revolver.
Rod Englert, who testified as a crime scene reconstructionist, concluded that Brandon was shot first. Englert believed Brandon was sitting on the living room floor when he was shot in the left temple. He then slumped to the floor and was shot a second time in the neck, court documents state.
Englert believed Austin was seated on the top bunk of the bed in the boys’ bedroom. He believed Austin was shot in the left eye, with his knees raised, close to his face.
Two bullet holes in the wall near Matthew appeared to be apparent misses, Englert testified. All five shots had been fired from the revolver at this point, according to Englert.
After shooting Austin, Eubanks then opened the revolver’s cylinder, removed the five expended shell casings, put them in a trashcan, and reloaded the gun, according to court documents.
Brigham, sitting on the lower bunk, was shot next, Englert thought. A second shot glanced off the right side of Brigham’s head and exited through a pillow.
Matthew was shot last, Englert testified.
Suicide notes reveal possible motive?
According to court documents, prosecutors alleged Eubanks killed her four children in a fit of rage, which was a result of anger Eubanks allegedly felt towards her boyfriend and her children’s fathers, all of whom had decided to leave her.
Court documents describe five suicides notes discovered by deputies who entered the home on the day of the murders.
One note written to Eric Eubanks read: “You betrayed me…I’ve lost everyone I’ve ever loved. Now it’s time for you to do the same.”
In a letter to Rene Dodson, Eubanks wrote he was “the biggest liar to date…See ya. Ha, ha.”
A third letter written to John Armstrong read: “I know you’ll hate me forever, but I can’t let [Brandon] live without his brothers, so I did what I did.” She wrote that she had been “strong for 25 years, and I’m tired of all the fight and hurt.”
In letters written to her niece and sister, Eubanks apologized for her actions, and asked her sister to ensure that she and her youngest son Matthew were buried in the same casket.
Evidence of premeditation?
Additional evidence presented by prosecutors suggested that Eubanks began to abuse prescription medications and alcohol after experiencing a job related injury that required surgery.
Court documents state police found more than 50 bottles of prescription medications in the Eubanks residence after the murders.
Defense lawyers argued that, due to her intoxication from alcohol and prescription drugs at the time of the murders, Eubanks was incapable of forming the premeditation and deliberation necessary for finding of first-degree murder.
Dr. Clark Smith, who was board certified in addiction and psychiatry, testified that even though testing of Eubanks’ blood shortly after the shootings revealed she had a 0.09 percent blood-alcohol content, this failed to take in account that Eubanks had received infusions of saline and other fluids on the way to the hospital. Her actual blood-alcohol content would have been closer to 0.19 percent at the time of the murders, Smith testified. He believed this would have produced a “very significant effect” on her brain, emotions, perceptions, and judgment, court documents state.
Dr. Vina Spiehler, a toxicologist who estimated that Eubanks blood-alcohol content was 0.09 percent at the time of the murders, was called as a rebuttal witness and testified that in her opinion, infusions of saline and other fluids would not have affected Eubanks’ blood-alcohol content as claimed by Dr. Smith.
In August of 1999, after two hours of deliberation, the jury found Eubanks guilty on all four counts of first-degree murder.
During the penalty phase of her trial, relatives of Eubanks’ oldest son, Brandon, testified about the impact his death had on their lives. Brandon’s paternal grandmother mentioned two incidents in which she believed Eubanks had abused Brandon.
Linda Smith, Eubanks sister, recalled a telephone call she received from her sister in which Eubanks allegedly said she once rubbed her nephew’s face in a dirty diaper after she learned he had hidden the diaper behind his bed, according to court documents.
The defense presented evidence that Eubanks mother and stepfather were alcoholics who fought constantly and had affairs. Eubanks claimed her mother had abused her by slapping her and dragging her by the hair. When Eubanks was 8 years old, her mother died in a house fire. She then rotated among relatives, including an aunt who she claimed had abused her.
Relatives and coworkers testified Eubanks was a “very loving mother” who was proud of her children. Eubanks relatives said she was tortured during her childhood and asked the jury not to impose a death penalty sentence.
Eric Eubanks spoke about his marriage to Eubanks and said he still had some “loving feelings” for her, documents sate.
A correctional consultant said Eubanks would not be a “future danger” to society if sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Sentenced to death
After two days, the jury returned with a sentence of death.
Susan Dianne Eubanks remains on death row awaiting execution at the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
HLN was unable to reach Eubanks’ defense attorneys for a comment.