Trisha Conlon's teenage son will continue to live with a woman who shot and killed her own daughters 20 years ago, ruled King County Superior Court Judge William Downing in Seattle today. The judge issued the order pending an investigation of the welfare of both of Conlon's children.
For the past month the highly publicized custody battle between Conlon and her ex-husband, John Cushing, has made headlines in Seattle, where Conlon is fighting to make sure her children don't spend time with her husband's first ex-wife, Kristine Cushing, who currently lives with him on Vashon Island in Washington.
Judge Downing granted Conlon's motion for a custody modification today, overturning a commissioner's earlier ruling that her custody arrangement with her ex-husband didn't need to be changed. Even so, in his decision Downing asked that a court-appointed child advocate investigate on behalf of the children's interests and submit a report within 90 days.
Conlon's son Sam, 13, typically lives with his father, John Cushing, as a result of the couple's unusual split custody arrangement, set up in 2005. Conlon's other son, Stephen, 14, usually lives with her.
At the end of the investigation, the court will decide if the teenagers' residential schedules ought to change.
But in the meantime, there will be no change in either of the kids' primary homes. The judge also asked that John Cushing remove any firearms or weapons from his house, stop residing with Kristine Cushing if she isn't in compliance with the recommendations of her treatment providers, and comply with any "safety plan" imposed by Child Protective Services.
"Trisha's primary concern is protecting the best interest of her children and the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem [the court-appointed child advocate] is the first step in making sure her children are safe," Conlon's attorney, Todd DeVallance told ABCNews.com today.
Conlon has declined interview requests via her attorney.
"Judges in these child custody cases are often weighing very complex issues against each other. Here the commissioner was clearly impressed with the fact that the boys had a longstanding ongoing relationship with their father," said Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a professor of Psychiatry, Medicine, and Law at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. "The boy who lived with him appeared to be doing very well .... to upset that apple cart at a sensitive time in the life of two young teenagers carries risks of its own."
Cushing v. Conlon: A Brief History
Conlon, of Silverton, Ore., had two boys with her ex-husband, John Cushing, after they married in 1995. Nine years later they divorced, and arranged split custody of the boys, alternating holidays.
The arrangement was working out fine until Conlon says she discovered her teenage sons had been spending time with their father's first ex-wife, Kristine.
John Cushing, a retired Marine fighter pilot who works for Boeing, had been married to Kristine Cushing for 17 years.
The couple lived with their two young daughters in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where Cushing was a stay-at-home mom. She filed for divorce in 1991, and, in the same year, began taking Prozac and seeing a psychiatrist.
Then, at home one night in October, she killed their 4-year-old, Stephanie, and their 8-year-old, Amy, with a .38-caliber handgun.