Not Guilty, Mother Says in Daughters’ Slayings : Court: Laguna Niguel homemaker’s use of anti-depressant drug Prozac being investigated — (Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles Times

November 06, 1991

DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA NIGUEL — A Laguna Niguel homemaker Tuesday pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the shooting of her two young daughters, and a few minutes later, her lawyers announced that they are investigating whether the woman’s use of the anti-depressant drug Prozac played a role in the killings.

Kristine Marie Cushing, 39, entered her plea as she stood in the prisoner’s holding dock, her head bowed, during a brief hearing before South Orange County Municipal Judge Arthur G. Koelle.

Cushing mumbled a barely audible “not guilty” when asked how she pleaded to first-degree murder charges in the deaths of her daughters, Amy Elizabeth, 8, and Stephanie Marie, 4, on Oct. 13.

Outside the courtroom, her lawyer, Michael J. Cassidy of Santa Ana, said his client was under psychiatric care and for three to five months before the killings had been taking Prozac–a drug blamed in other cases for causing violent behavior.

“What significance it will play in the case, we don’t exactly know, but we’re doing a lot of research on that issue,” Cassidy said, noting that he was consulting medical experts to determine if the drug could have affected his client’s behavior.

Cushing allegedly used a .38-caliber handgun to shoot her daughters in the head in the master bedroom of their Laguna Niguel home before turning the weapon on herself. She suffered a graze wound to the head and moments later called 911 to report what had happened, authorities said.

Court records in the divorce she filed for in September depict a woman under great stress because of a heart condition and the failure of her 17-year marriage to Marine Lt. Col. John P. Cushing Jr., a Gulf War veteran and commander of an El Toro-based fighter jet squadron. The couple were separated in August but continued to share the same house.

Lt. Col. Cushing was present in the courtroom Tuesday but left immediately after the hearing.

If Cassidy pursues a defense based on her use of Prozac, it would add to the list of cases in which it has been alleged that the anti-depressant drug can cause violent behavior. About 75 civil lawsuits filed across the nation have blamed Prozac for inducing violent thoughts that led to murders and suicides.

The drug’s manufacturer, Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis, has defended its safety, blaming negative publicity about the medication on an anti-psychiatry campaign by the Church of Scientology.

In August, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a request to ban the medication, which was made by Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a group affiliated with the church. The FDA said it found no evidence to support claims that the drug makes people suicidal and violent.

Court records allege that Cushing told authorities that she was depressed before the shootings. She told the first deputy to arrive at the house the night of the shooting, “I’m crazy. I shot my daughters,” according to police.

Also, as she was being treated for the head wound at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Cushing told a nurse: “I was depressed so I shot my daughters. I’ve been depressed for about three months.”

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Insanity Plea in Slaying of 2 Daughters Accepted — (Los Angeles Times)

February 08, 1992|MARK I. PINSKY | TIMES STAFF

SANTA ANA — In an unusual move, prosecutors agreed Friday to an insanity plea from a Laguna Niguel woman who admitted killing her two young daughters and trying to shoot herself.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Jeoffrey L. Robinson said the October, 1991, shooting of the two children by Kristine Marie Cushing was a “tragic” act, and that “it would be an injustice to find her sane” and send her to prison.

Instead, Robinson said, Cushing, 39, will be committed to a state mental facility for what he expects will be “a very long time,” and will not be freed without returning to Orange County Superior Court for a hearing to determine whether she is sane.

Superior Court Judge John J. Ryan accepted the plea, saying that the information regarding Cushing’s condition was corroborated by experts.

Cushing, a Brownie troop leader, room mother and Sunday school teacher, was in the midst of a divorce from her husband, Marine Lt. Col. John P. Cushing Jr., when the shootings took place shortly before midnight Oct. 13. The couple had separated several months earlier, but continued to share the house. John Cushing, a Gulf War veteran and commander of an El Toro-based jet fighter squadron, was on a fishing trip at the time.

Kristine Cushing called 911 to report the shootings and, according to court documents, told the first sheriff’s deputy to arrive at the scene: “I’m crazy, I shot my daughters. They’re upstairs.”

At Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, where she was treated that night for a minor self-inflicted wound to her head, Cushing told a nurse: “I was depressed so I shot my daughters. I’ve been depressed for about three months,” according to court records.

On Nov. 6, 1991, Cushing pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder. In order to plead not guilty by reason of insanity Friday, she had to change the earlier plea to guilty, acknowledging that she used a gun to kill her daughters, Amy Elizabeth, 8, and Stephanie Marie, 4, with a .38-caliber handgun. This meant that she faced the possibility of a 55-years-to-life sentence.

“She understands now and (has) for some time that she is the person who pulled the trigger and shot the children,” said her attorney, Michael J. Cassidy. “She did it because she had a mental illness.”