SEATTLE (AP) — A Washington state judge ruled Monday that a teenage boy can keep living with his father and a woman who killed her own young daughters in 1991.
The decision came in an unusual child custody dispute that attracted national attention because of the woman's criminal history.
Kristine Cushing was found not guilty by reason of insanity after shooting her 4- and 8-year-old daughters in their sleep in California's Orange County. She served four years in a mental institution followed by a decade of psychiatric monitoring before California determined she posed no further risk and granted her an unconditional release.
She then reconciled with her former husband and the father of the dead children, Lt. Col. John P. Cushing Jr. He has two other children with another woman, who went to court to bar her kids from being in the same house as a child-killer.
Trisha Conlon, of Silverton, Ore., said she learned only last spring that when the boys are at Cushing's home, they live with Kristine Cushing. She said John Cushing instructed the boys to deceive her about Kristine's presence by telling them to refer to Kristine by a different name — an allegation John Cushing did not dispute.
A court commissioner determined that since Kristine Cushing had been in the picture since 2005 with no apparent detriment to the boys, there had been no significant change in circumstance that would allow him to alter the parenting plan.
Conlon appealed that decision to King County Superior Court Judge William Downing in Seattle. Downing allowed the boy to keep living in the house, but the judge also overturned the commissioner's earlier decision.
That means the Conlon can continue to seek arrangements that would keep the child from being around the woman.
The judge said Kristine Cushing's presence was an obvious change that should be considered in a review of the plan.
He said he planned to appoint a guardian to visit the home, speak with the children as well as their parents and teachers, and question Kristine and her current doctors to determine whether the living arrangement is detrimental to the boy's well-being.
John and Trisha's older son, 14-year-old Stephen, lives with her during the school year, while 13-year-old Sam lives with Cushing at his home on Vashon Island south of Seattle. The boys are together during holidays and vacations, which they split between their parents.
In the meantime, the judge said he would not give Conlon temporary full custody of both boys, as she had requested. He noted that no evidence she presented challenged the assertions that Kristine Cushing is doing well psychologically and that Sam is thriving academically and emotionally.
Conlon's lawyer, Todd DeVallance, said he welcomed the ruling but declined to comment further.
John Cushing and his attorney, Nancy Sorensen, have not previously responded to interview requests. Sorensen was on vacation Monday and did not immediately return a call seeking comment.