By Steve Jusseaume
Hampton Union, Friday, January 10, 2003
[Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
HAMPTON - Two New Hampshire women who have befriended convicted murder accomplice Susan McLaughlin and are supporting her request for a pardon have located her son, and are working toward reuniting the two after nearly a quarter-century separation.
Cilla Clements of Raymond and Julie Normand of Goffstown this week located Raymond McDaniels II, McLaughlin's son by her first marriage, in Arizona this week, and delivered a message from him to McLaughlin in prison by phone Tuesday.
And while the two only want to reunite McLaughlin with her son, the possibility exists now that McDaniels could help in his mother's fight to win a pardon.
"We haven't even thought of that yet," said Normand. "All this has happened so quickly, we're still dealing with finding her son. But just the fact that Susan has a son and four grandchildren could bolster her case."
McLaughlin, formerly of Hampton, is serving a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole in connection with the brutal slaying of Robert Cushing Sr. 14 years ago. On June 1, 1988, her husband, Robert, killed Cushing with a shotgun at the front door of Cushing's Winnacunnet Road home.
The murder reportedly resulted from a longstanding feud between McLaughlin and Cushing, wherein Cushing repeatedly tried to have McLaughlin fired from the police force for alleged brutality while in uniform.
Robert McLaughlin, a former Hampton police officer, is serving a life sentence in a Florida prison. His wife was convicted as an accomplice to first-degree murder, and for conspiracy and witness tampering, and is serving her life sentence at the N.H. State Prison for Women in Goffstown.
Susan McLaughlin has exhausted her court appeals and has applied to the attorney general's office for a pardon. Pardon requests are considered by the attorney general, who makes a recommendation to the Executive Council. Ultimately, the governor decides on pardon requests. Incoming Gov. Craig Benson will eventually consider McLaughlin's request.
Normand and Clements met Susan McLaughlin last year in prison and are spearheading her pardon request. During one of several interviews with McLaughlin, Clements, who is writing a book on women in prison, discovered she had a son from her first marriage, to Raymond McDaniels.
Clements learned that after her divorce, Mrs. McLaughlin took custody of the child, but upon her marriage to Robert McLaughlin in 1979 she handed the then 5-year-old over the her first husband, at the request of Robert. Mother and son never spoke again, until this week.
"Susan mentioned one day that she had a son," Clements said this week, "and I promised her I'd find him."
Clements spent months tracking McDaniels down on the Internet, finally finding him in Phoenix, Ariz. She wrote to McDaniels and Tuesday his girlfriend called Clements at home.
"A woman named Jennifer called me. She grilled me pretty hard, then Raymond got on the phone," Clements recalled Thursday. "The first thing he said was, 'Is my mother dead?' We talked about a half an hour. He told me how his mother dropped him off with his father and hasn't seen him since. He said he remembered Bob (McLaughlin), that Bob used to hurt him. I asked if I could give Susan a message and he asked me to ask her to write to him. He was very open, he seemed very warm."
Clements immediately called Susan at the prison. "I said, 'Are you sitting down?' I told her I found her son and she just started to cry. We both started to cry. It was incredible."
McDaniels, now 27, lives in Phoenix with Jennifer Aquierre. The couple has four young children, aged 6 and under. Jennifer gave birth to the couple's fourth child, a girl, just three weeks ago.
Reached at his Phoenix home Wednesday, McDaniels said he is just beginning to process the fact that his mother is alive and in prison.
"Twenty-three years, that's a long time," McDaniels said. "I know nothing about my mother. I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do."
He has expressed his wish to get to know his mother, however, and Normand and Clements hope to reunite the two in person at some future date.
Meanwhile, the two women have requested that the state hold a hearing on McLaughlin's pardon. The state is not required to hold a hearing, but Normand and Clements say that if a hearing is granted, they "will pack the room with people willing to speak on Susan's behalf."
Part of the justification for the pardon request is that McLaughlin has a history of being abused. None of that information came out at the trial, because she did not testify, Clements said.
"The bottom line is that Susan has had a life of abuse since she was a child, severe abuse that has been documented," Normand said.
While in prison, McLaughlin was extensively examined by forensic psychologist Dr. Burt Hollenback Jr. of Keene. He concluded in a written report that McLaughlin "suffered from an extreme emotional disturbance during the commission of the murder of Robert Cushing."
Hollenback also concluded in the 1999 report that McLaughlin is no longer a threat to society, and said he supported her pardon request.
"(Susan) exhibits convincing signs that she is a caring, generous and insightful individual. ... This examiner can discern no continued benefit to either Ms. (McLaughlin) or to society for her to remain incarcerated," Hollenback wrote.
Rennie Cushing, the son of Robert Cushing, has repeatedly declined to comment on McLaughlin's pardon request. He could not be reached this week for comment, but in prior interviews has said that he prefers not to dwell on the murder.
"The whole thing stirs up a lot of bad memories," he said in an earlier interview.
Normand and Clements are hopeful that if they can persuade the state to hold a pardon hearing, they can convince state officials, and Gov. Benson, that McLaughlin deserves her freedom.
"The state must realize that the abuse made Susan a different person. They must realize the abuse. ... She was so sick she thought she was well," Clements said.
"There's no doubt that if the abuse came out she would never have received the sentence she received."