CO Mother Charged in Deaths of Two Children During Custody Dispute

This looks like the Theresa Riggi case all over again.  Riggi is currently sitting in a Scottish prison for stabbing her three children to death.  Mental health professionals said she lacked the mental capacity for murder, so she pleaded guilty to what in this country would be called manslaughter.  Riggi clearly feared losing custody of the three children to their father so she stabbed them to death and jumped out of their third-floor apartment in an apparent suicide try.

This case comes to us from Castle Rock, Colorado (Denver Post, 5/24/11).  Here’s another article on it (Huffington Post, 5/24/11).   

What we know now is that Kelli Murphy and her husband Robert were going through divorce proceedings.  For the first time in their marriage, she claimed that he was abusive to her and the children.  She requested an order of protection which was granted.  She later asked that it be withdrawn and it was.  She then asked that the divorce proceedings stop, but they continued and a hearing was scheduled to decide on a parenting plan.

On April 26, Kelli Murphy withdrew her request to dissolve the marriage, saying: “I do not want to divorce my husband.”

Her bid to end the proceedings — which was denied — said she had filed for divorce “wrongly, out of anger.”

“I do not want a divorce, and my husband has told me that as well. This needs to stop. We need counseling, not a divorce.”

All that came to a halt on Monday when Kelli Murphy apparently killed their two children, Liam 9 and Madigan 6.  Kelli called 911 and said she was about to commit suicide.  When asked if there were children in the home, she said “they’re in heaven.”  She then slit her wrists.  Police arrived at the home to find the two children dead but with no visible signs of injury.  So far no cause of death has been established.

Kelli Murphy was taken to the hospital, treated and released.  She’s now in jail charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

The day before the killings, Robert Murphy asked police to visit the home in which Kelli and the children were living.  The reason for his request is not yet public knowledge, but a police spokesman said it was related to the deaths.  Apparently police had been called to the home several times over the past few weeks.

In addition to the divorce, Robert and Kelli Murphy had recently filed for bankruptcy protection.  For several years, Robert worked for Qwest Communications and earned a good salary, but  more recently his earnings had dropped to less than half of their previous level.

Obviously, it’s far too early to know exactly who did what and why.  We can’t even be certain that Kelli Murphy killed the two children, but I’d be surprised if she didn’t.  Still, if she is the killer and if the past is any guide, we can safely predict certain things. 

The first is that every possible effort will be  made by Kelli, her attorney and the news media to exculpate her.  The stress of divorce and financial problems will play a part in that as will the protective order against Robert.  We’ll be told how emotionally distraught that made her with the none-too-subtle suggestion that she should be excused for her wrongdoing (if any).  Mental health professionals, most of whom will have never set eyes on her, will explain how the stress in her life made her delusional and how she thought she was doing the children a favor by killing them and sending them “to heaven.”

All of that may be entirely true of course.  At this point, we don’t know what was going on in Kelli Murphy’s mind.  Or it may be the type of reflexive desire to forgive child injury by mothers that’s so routinely a part of public discourse.

That has seldom been so apparent as in the LaShandra Armstrong case that took place last month in New York State.  She’s the mother of four who drove herself and the children into the Hudson River killing all but the oldest boy who managed to get free of the automobile and swim to safety.  Despite there being no evidence of mental instability on her part prior to the killings, numerous opiners took to the airwaves and the print media to find her delusional.

And of course the children’s father was pilloried by all and sundry.  The fact that he had once allowed a toddler to roam around unsupervised late at night and that he was heard shouting at Armstrong’s door trying to be let in, morphed into an across-the-board indictment of the dad.  Soon enough it was hard to tell from media reports just who had done the awful deed. It got so bad that the Associated Press actually had to say that the children’s father wasn’t “entirely to blame” for their deaths.

So on one hand he may have been negligent in caring for a child on occasion and on the other she intentionally takes her own life and those of three little children and tries to kill a fourth and the press all but convicts him of the crime.  Amazing.

That’s by way of letting Robert Murphy know what he may be in for.  Whatever the actual facts of the case, it’ll be in Kelli’s interest to tar him with the blackest brush she can find.  Do I see a plea of battered wife syndrome on the horizon?  I can’t be sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

The great thing about battered wife syndrome is that, if a jury is gullible enough to buy it, it’s a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card.  That’s because the woman claiming the defense need show no objective manifestations of abuse.  Indeed, she may even deny it, because, in a perfect diagnostic Catch-22, denial of abuse is one of the indicators of the syndrome.

So the fact that the only claim of abuse in Kelli Murphy’s case has been one allegation made during the course of a divorce and custody case that was withdrawn by her matters not at all to mental health professionals who have drunk the Kool-Aid of battered wife syndrome.

But I’ve gone too far afield.  The coming days will allow us to sketch in the details of what happened and what Kelli Murphy’s defense will be.  I hope those days will prove me wrong.  I won’t be surprised if they don’t.

Thanks to Ned for the heads-up.

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