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Posts Tagged ‘Prozac’

Murder no bar to custody, says dispassionate judge

A mother in Oregon, Trisha Conlon, recently lost a custody battle with her ex-husband, John P. Cushing Jr. The reason this has been news is because Cushing is now re-married to Kristine Cushing, whom he divorced after she murdered their two children in 1991. Kristine Cushing was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and she attributed her actions to a bad reaction to Prozac. Conlon is understandably upset that she will now have an active role in raising Conlon’s two teenage sons.

This is a doozy of a case. What struck me, leaving aside the very pertinent issues of the safety of the children, is what the judge had to say after making his ruling:

Commissioner Leonid Ponomarchuk said that because the boys had been spending time with Kristine Cushing since 2008 with no problems — even if it was unknown to Conlon — there wasn’t evidence of a change in the situation that would warrant an alteration of the parenting plan.

“I have to look at this dispassionately,” Ponomarchuk said. “Would I ever want my children around her? I would say no. But that is an emotional reaction coming from a parent.”

Picture by Stephen StaceyAs emotional as the case is, I agree with the judge here. I cannot say for certain if I agree with the ruling itself, but he is right about his duty to be dispassionate. Kristine Cushing was ruled temporarily insane, was treated at a psychiatric hospital and released, and has by all accounts “paid her debt to society.” If her actions (which technically do not constitute a crime) really were caused by an adverse reaction to Prozac (which, while controversial, is not unheard of), then she should not be a danger to the children as long as her psychiatric condition is monitored and she stays away from drugs like Prozac. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make that kind of analysis if you view the situation emotionally. Emotionally, the notion that CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER overshadows all other considerations, even when the evidence suggests that the danger is unlikely. It is an uncomfortable situation, but I cannot say the judge was wrong in his decision. I know he was right in his duty.

This case also led me to wonder what might happen if, instead of a woman who had killed her children, it was a man on the sex offender registry at the center of the story. Obviously the public outcry would likely be the same or greater, but how a judge might rule is an interesting question. Something somewhat like this is going on in Florida. In the case of Miranda Wilkerson, Donald Coleman has been awarded custody of his 4 year-old daughter Miranda. Coleman is on the sex offender registry for impregnating the child’s mother, whom he later married despite a 24-year age difference. The child’s mother died shortly after she was born, and the child went to live with her maternal grandmother, Rita Manning. Manning is now fighting to regain custody. An interesting tidbit here is that Coleman is the legal father of the child, since he was married to the mother when she was born, but he is not the biological father.

In many circumstances, it might seem noble for a man to fight for the right, and obligation, to care for a child who is not biologically related to him, as opposed to rejecting any responsibility. This is not one of those cases, unless it is. It appears that everyone in this case has some baggage: Coleman has a history of domestic violence (according to local news) and is on the sex offender registry, while Manning has received probation for child neglect. If the only things you hear are SEX OFFENDER and CHILD IN DANGER then it is easy to conclude that the judge made a colossal error. Court documents show, however, that this is indeed a complicated case:

Court documents released Friday afternoon detail how, after First Coast News started asking questions about why Coleman was fighting to get custody of another man’s child, his attorney filed a motion to get Miranda.

The motion said the woman who has been caring for Miranda since birth, her grandmother Rita Manning, was keeping him from the child and that Miranda was in danger.

The motion said Manning has a history of arrests: In 1995, she was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a child, but the case was later dropped.

In 1997, Manning was charged with child neglect. Around the same time, Manning’s then 14-year-old daughter, who is Miranda’s mother, got pregnant by Coleman who was 38-years-old. Manning got probation.

Coleman was sentenced to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Perhaps Coleman was the best of some bad options. His status as a sex offender creates some automatic negative associations that must have weighed against him in court. He broke the law and did something many find both abhorrent and creepy, but it is a fair question whether his status as a sex offender by itself proves that he poses any ongoing danger. The same can be said for Manning and her history. It takes quite a bit of dispassion to slog through this mess of facts, arguments and innuendos.

We may not always like the way judges rule. We may suspect the impartiality of judges at times, and we are right to always demand adherence to the rules of judicial conduct. What we should never do is demand that judges use emotion to determine their rulings.

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