Can a Woman who Murdered her Daughters be Trusted with her Stepsons?
The following story was not taken from a sensationalistic tabloid or lifted from a daytime soap. Here are the facts. Trisha Conlon of Oregon was married to Marine fighter pilot Lieutenant Colonel John Cushing for ten years. During their marriage, the couple bore two sons, Stephen and Sam, who are now 14, and 13 respectively. In 2004, Trisha and John divorced. Prior to his marriage to Trisha, Cushing had been married to and divorced from his first wife, Kristine. John and Kristine gave birth to two daughters. Twenty years ago, when those girls were eight and four years old, Kristine shot and killed them at point blank range while they slept.
The jury found Kristine Cushing not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Her lawyers blamed the heinous crime on a bad reaction to the antidepressant Prozac, combined with a debilitating heart condition and the fact that the Cushing’s marriage was on the verge of breakup.
Kristine Cushing spent four years in a mental institution, followed by ten years of psychiatric monitoring. In 2005 she received an unconditional release and the plot thickened. Kristine and John Cushing have remarried and for the past several years have been living on Vashon Island, Seattle. Since her divorce, Trisha Conlon has shared custody of Stephen and Sam with her ex-husband. Stephen, the 14 year old, lives with Trisha during the school year while Sam resides with his father. On vacations and holidays the boys stay together and split their time between Conlon’s home in Oregon and the Cushings’ residence on Vashon Island. It has only recently come to Conlon’s attention that Kristine has been living in the same house as the boys, and Conlon is none too happy about it. She has been battling for full custody since hearing the news of the Cushings’ living arrangement, claiming she fears for her boys’ safety.
“I am not willing to risk my kids’ lives on speculation,” she told The Today Show’s Matt Lauer. “When a person is capable, they’re capable.”
The court denied Conlon’s request for sole custody, stating that Kristine Cushing poses no threat to Stephen and Sam. So, last Sunday, Conlon delivered her sons into the hands of John and Kristine Cushing for the summer. It is a summer, I suspect, during which she will get little sleep.
“It was gut-wrenching,” she said. “I don’t even have the words to describe it.”
Conlon claims she has been grilling mental health professionals for answers as to why her ex-husband is willing, even happy to have their sons share a home with a woman who murdered her own daughters. She said, “The words ‘guilt’ and ‘denial’ always come up. To believe that she’s okay, to believe that it was the fault of Prozac and the fault of medical events coming together, I’m sure helps him deal with it.”
Conlon learned of the Cushings’ remarriage and cohabitation in 2007 from a Washington State Child Protective Services worker who had been informed by Kristine’s therapist that Kristine was living with children again. The fact that Kristine’s psychiatrist felt there was a need to report this situation fueled Conlon’s anger and anxiety. When confronted by Conlon, John Cushing claimed that he and Kristine were divorcing and Kristine was moving out. With that reassurance, Conlon changed her mind about suing for sole custody.
But the Cushings never finalized their divorce, Kristine never moved out, and for three years Conlon was kept in the dark. She claims Cushing deliberately concealed the fact of Kristine’s presence by telling the boys to refer to their stepmother as “Mrs. M.” So Conlon reopened her case.
In June, Commissioner Leonid Ponomarchuk ruled against her, saying that since the boys had been spending time with Cushing since 2008 with no problem, there was no evidence that would warrant a new parenting plan. He dismissed the case, saying it had no merit. There is another hearing set for August 25th.
As a compassionate and reasonably intelligent person, this is my response. Give the poor woman a break. Over the past twenty years researchers have learned a great deal about the possible horrific side effects of Prozac. We were blissfully unaware of these side effects during the drug’s infancy. No doubt Prozac did contribute, if not cause, Kristine’s snap from sanity. And what about rehabilitation? It wouldn’t exist if we didn’t believe it could work. Why pour billions of dollars into healing people if we don’t believe they can be healed? Kristine Cushing spent fourteen years under medical surveillance and has been deemed capable of living in civilized society with children. It is logical to give her the chance to reclaim her life and prove herself as a good citizen and nurturing stepmother.
As a mother of three children, this is my response. Since when does motherhood have anything to do with logic? If mothers thought logically, they would let their children walk to school because it really is safe and it’s good exercise. Instead more children ride the bus to school than ever before because today’s mothers are afraid of the rare pedophile lurking in the shadows. Logic dictates that most of the time children bounce back easily from playground injuries. I broke my arm falling off the monkey bars in second grade and recovered perfectly. Yet playgrounds are becoming excruciatingly boring because all the really fun equipment is being deemed too dangerous for children. And so it goes in the case of Kristine Cushing. Motherhood trumps common sense. I’m a little more liberal than some. Would I let my young child play on the monkey bars? Yes. But, would I want my children living with a woman who killed hers? I’m mad at myself for thinking this, but I think not.
What do you think?
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