Woman Who Shot Daughters Leaving Hospital : Release: Kristine Cushing of Laguna Niguel, who was declared insane during 1991 killings, will be moved from state facility to a local halfway house, officials say.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Laguna Niguel woman who was declared insane when she shot and killed her two daughters in 1991 is making the transition from a state mental hospital to a halfway house in Orange County, officials said Wednesday.

But state authorities still were searching for a suitable home for Kristine Marie Cushing after a Costa Mesa facility this week refused to accept the former Sunday school teacher because of the nature of her crimes.

"The neighborhood became alarmed and it was a matter of NIMBY--not in my back yard," said Thomas G. Najdowski, coordinator of the Conditional Release Program in Orange County. "But she is very stable and is not considered a threat, or we wouldn't be doing this."

Prosecutors opposed the move to a halfway house as a premature step for Cushing, who previously was released to an outpatient program in Ventura County, but was sent back to a state mental hospital after she began suffering delusions.

But Orange County Superior Court Judge James A. Jackman on Friday agreed to let Cushing try once again to take a closer step toward freedom.

On Wednesday, Cushing, 42, was at the Orange County Central Women's Jail awaiting placement. Najdowski said there is a possibility Cushing may be sent back to Patton State Hospital unless a new facility can be quickly located.

Defense attorney Michael J. Cassidy stressed that Cushing should begin working toward becoming a productive citizen instead of spending her life in a state mental hospital, where an extended stay in such a restrictive environment may strip her of any ability to be self-reliant.

A halfway house environment will be less restrictive, but Cushing will remain on medication and under watch and must continue to participate in therapy programs, Najdowski and Cassidy said. They also said Cushing's prompt return to the state mental hospital after her lapse proves the system is working.

"As soon as they realized she was having some difficulties, she was sent back, and that's because she was under such close watch," Cassidy said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Tom Glazier declined to discuss the case, but noted that a psychiatrist who evaluated Cushing for the prosecution felt the move was "premature." But Najdowski and another therapist disagreed, saying Cushing was ready for the move.

Officials say it is rare for someone who killed two people to be moved back into the community. But they say the move underscores the belief that the killings were an isolated incident and note that Cushing has made progress toward a full recovery.

Cushing was a Brownie troop leader, a Sunday school teacher and a seemingly devoted mother when she "snapped" in October, 1991, under the stress of a severe heart condition, depression and a pending divorce from her husband of 17 years.

In a rare concurrence, prosecuting and defense attorneys agreed that Cushing was not guilty by reason of insanity when she killed her daughters, ages 8 and 4. She was sent to Patton State Hospital in February, 1992.

She was released to an outpatient program in Ventura County in July, 1993, and was doing well until she began suffering delusions around Christmastime.

"There are thousands of mentally ill people around and they are not hurting anyone else," Najdowski said. "I think Kristine will do really well."

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