Thursday, April 2, 2009

Clear and Present Danger

by Susan Murphy Milano

Like most of us I am deeply disturbed by the escalating number of parents murdering their own families. This past weekend was no exception as police discovered 9-year-old Duncan Connolly (left) and 7-year-old Jack Connolly (right) were found murdered in rural Putnam County, IL. Their father was found dead not far from where his car was left. According to police sources, the boys' father had a rope around his neck when he was found.

The discovery brought to a close a
national three-week search for the man and the boys, precipitated by Michael Connolly's abduction of his sons following a weekend visitation.

The last time Amy saw her two boys alive, something was not right. Connolly was acting strange when they met at the police station. Amy refused to hand over her boys on March 7th, an officer threatened her if she didn't give them to their father, she would be arrested according to her lawyer.


Amy Leichtenberg filed orders of protection against Michael Connolly more than once after his repeated physical and emotional abuse in the later years of their marriage. Amy filed for divorce that year and moved out of their home. In a 2006, a petition for a protective order against her husband was filed, saying that his "controlling and obsessive behavior" included threats to kill himself and others along with a series of bizarre demands he made of her. Within a 15-month period, Connolly violated the orders of protection 57 times.


In 2007, Amy was awarded full custody of the boys with Connolly given supervised visitation. According to court reports from the family visitation center, Connolly's behavior was dangerous enough to temporarily cease all visits with the boys. In my experience, when a family visitation center terminates interaction between parent and child, it sends a red flag of danger. Connolly, the ever witty and clever abuser, was able to resume visits when his psychiatrist sent a "sympathy letter" to the judge "if my client is able to spend more time with his sons, Mr. Connolly's depression and outbursts would lessen."

The judge responded by setting a series of "behavioral guidelines." This included obtaining employment, housing and continued therapy.

"(He) tells me if I ever take the boys away he will hunt me and my parents down and cut us open," Amy Leichtenberg, then known as
Amy Connolly, stated in the 2006 petition seeking an order of protection. Amy said during their marriage Connolly had tried to isolate her from her family. A common characteristic among abusers.

Despite the 57 violations of the protection orders, dangerous behavior and deadly threats, McLean County
Judge James Souk "rewarded" Connolly unsupervised visitation with his sons.

Connolly filed numerous motions with the court, basically wearing the judge down. Despite pleas from Amy and her lawyer, which were ignored. This
mother’s plea for supervised visitation was dismissed without regard to serious safety concerns.

There is an automatic presumption that it is in the best interest of a child “regardless of court orders”, prior violence or threats, to maintain visitation with both parents. Victims of domestic violence face a double edged sword. Either expose their children to imminent danger, or defy the court system refusing to allow visitation. Like so many others before her, Amy tried to deal with a violent relationship in a family court environment.

In family court the two parties are presumed to be on a level playing field--law abiding individuals who have a disagreement over a private family matter. A core assumption of family law is that family disputes are not criminal disputes. As such, there are few
safeguards built into the family court system to protect against the criminal dynamics that dominate family disputes in cases of family violence. In addition, the accusations the victim makes in family court, no matter how serious, carry no more authority than one person's say so. One of the most serious consequences is that when a family violence victim opens a case in family court against her abuser, the abuser is given equal opportunity to fight back against the victim's accusations, often because the abusers past is not an issue. Unless, of course, he is brought in from county or state prison sporting an orange jump suit and leg shackles.

There are lawyers and
men’s groups who argue using domestic violence with a broad brush is not a reason to deny fathers visitation with their children. Accusing mothers of lying or making up stories to keep fathers’ from their children.

Under the current laws, a parent without custody is entitled "reasonable visitation." There is a high burden of proof as evidenced in this case when a court refuses to take into account dangerous abusers pose to their children.

Until we place the issue of labeling these cases as a "private matter" or an isolated incident, expect the death toll among children to rise. Expect the courts to continue to ignore clear and present danger signs when a victim of violence seeks a divorce.

16 comments:

FleaStiff said...

I don't know if more cases are taking place or we are simply hearing about them more often.

>"There are lawyers and men’s groups who argue using domestic violence with a broad brush is not a reason to deny fathers visitation with their children."
Womens groups and lawyers say pretty much the same thing, often encouraging a woman to delay reporting a violation of a no-contact order until a three-day weekend so as to extend incarceration time and encouraging women to be aware that false reports of child sexual abuse are a potent weapon. Courts are a weapon used vindictively by spouses whether they be male or female!

>"Accusing mothers of lying or making up stories to keep fathers from their children." Which often is indeed the truth. Its difficult to know when an accusation is vindictive or valid. Courts are ill-equiped to deal with this, particularly family courts.

>"Under the current laws, a parent without custody is entitled reasonable visitation."
A reasonable rule in most cases. A woman is not permitted to use bad behavior or even convictions for bad behavior as an excuse for denying visitation while she consorts with some other man of equally bad or even worse character. The state does not often step in and impose angelic behavior standards, although some courts do impose punishment on spouses who obtain a court order but then settle differences amicably but in violation of a no-contact order.

>"There is a high burden of proof"
Yes. Due to baseless accusations by emotionally-charged vindictive spouses, I would think a high burden of proof would be necessary, irrespective of some headline making situations that will take place.

The crux of the matter is that the law attempts to impose massive burdens on parents by elevating a child as the primary concern which often makes the court an even greater instrument of financial and emotional abuse than it otherwise would be.

FleaStiff said...

I think you need only look to recent headlines concerning dna testing and the release of wrongfully convicted felons. If the error rate in major cases in criminal courts is so high, how do you expect to avoid a high error rate in family courts wherein the standard is well below "beyond a reasonable doubt" and the goal is mediation and compromise?

katfish said...

Hopefully Judge James Souk and Connolly's psychiatrist will feel the burden of guilt for their contribution to this tragic event in their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day it is the Duncan and Jack Connolly who have paid the price and their mother, Amy Leichtenberg, who received the life sentence without her boys.

I don't know the answers to this problem, it's true there are plenty of false accusations made in these type of cases, but it does seem there were plenty of red flags in this case that were documented. Too sad.

Prayers for these boys and the people who love them.

Leah said...

These days psychopaths are too smart and they are careful not to display their hatred and abuse to anyone but their victims. It is one thing to know that somebody is dangerous and abusive, but proving it is another matter altogether. There is that gray area between what is acceptable and misdemeanor & felony. Most abusers know how to stay in that area. Frankly, I think that anyone who threatens abuse & death ought to be taken seriously and restrained from his victims. A sane person doesn't do that, even if they are highly irate.

Anonymous said...

FleaStiff-I agree courts are ubale to handle these cases. What does DNA and prison release have to do this the subject matter?

It is obvious this father had issues and raised concerns that were ignored.

A victim in an abusive relationship faces additional hurdles when filing for divorce with children. Yes, bith men and women are abusive. But 95% of the persons murdered are women.

The family courts is in need of serious repair.

Jan C, said...

The safety of our children should come first. Even if it means restricting visitation to parents who have been "wrongfully" accused until the truth can be determined. Monitored visitation is better than none at all.

I can understand why a parent would choose to go underground, taking their kids with them. Better alive and on the run than dead.

cheryl said...

Flea Stiff seems to be a very "by the book" and unemotional type of person, so I wouldn't read too much into what he/she says. He/she makes good points at times, but seems to be fascinated with the "fine print" of law.One of those "letter of the law, not the spirit" type persons.

Aside from that, I was a victim of domestic violence. I immediately got a restraining order, I had my sister tape my phone conversations with my ex,he admitted on tape that he was trying to "gaslight" me. Just the weirdest stuff you could imagine. It puts you into a whole other universe that you could never have thought that you would ever have to deal with. Which is why so many women, including myself, just can't believe that the man they have loved (and thought loved them) would actually try to
kill them.

I don't give myself any credit for being ultra-paranoid about my ex. Being a true crime fan probably helped me. And my faith in God.

I became extremely concerned when my ex threatened to take my youngest two children out of state. He made a false report to police that I had beat him up. (I was a little 105 lb weakling who had just come home from work)I was making supper, and he came up behind me and kicked me in the behind for no reason. I turned around, with the spatula in my hand, and grease from the spatula hit him in the face. He started claiming that I was abusing him.

Sick sick minds. My ex husband was ultimately convicted of felony spousal abuse. He or I should say she...has had an operation to change his sex.(I swear to God) and to this day my ex calls me and reminds me of how much I mean to him/her.

cherry6905 said...

I am very upset about the death of the Connolly boys. The laws need to reflect reality. The reality is women and children are dead and dying. The court’s are doing nothing about it.

The Illinois Cindy Bischof Law is a good start. Allowing rdering GPS on 2nd time OP offenders. Make it mandatory and retroactive. STOP the killing of innocent children.

57 times he violated the order of protection. He was severely depressed and they took the biased word of his psychiatrist to give him unsupervised visits. The children aren't toys; give him a puppy to make him feel better not the kids.

They should have asked for an unbiased lethality assessment before making any decision and he should have been either in jail, on parole or at least with a GPS and supervised visits. None of this was done.

The supervised visits stopped because the facility shut down. It's not about saving money, it's about saving lives.

I am sick to death of women and children being second-class citizens. We need a distinctive human rights guarantees, stopping death or physical, sexual or psychological harm and suffering, whether in home or in public. Not enforcing equality in the law of the family is an official means of keeping women and children as second-class citizens. Behind all law is someone's story - and someone's blood.

Our government systematically tolerates violence against women and children. It's time to ask the justice system, "What are you doing? Because "HE" wore a suit to court - the court was hesitant to intervene and the children were killed, their rights violated and the violence condoned.

Those boys could have been my grandsons. My daughter is Regan Martin; her story was on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. The GPS saved her and my grandsons lives.

My heart bleeds for this poor woman and so should the court’s!

Funeral Arrangements can be found at:
www.helpfindduncanandjack.com

Anonymous said...

Lethality assessments need to be done in the courts by professionals. Not by the defense's personal biased psychiatrist. This is a hot topic among many crime victim organizations.

Please Read:
http://new.vawnet.org/category/Main_Doc.php?docid=387

Rj said...

Whoever spoke about FleaStiff is correct.

Second, I would like to know why the author of this piece chose this opening, gender non-specific statement:

Like most of us I am deeply disturbed by the escalating number of parents murdering their own families.

And then goes on to talk about the REALITY of battered women and children in the court system.

Was that to be P.C.?

mamaliberty said...

The REALITY of the system is that if your abuser wants custody of the children he's most likely to get it. The court system is set up for fathers. The counties get grants by way of Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives. Our government has a fatherhood.gov but there is NO motherhood.gov. The patriarchal society we live in forces children to be their abusive father and allows our abusers to stalk us in Family Court. Women worldwide are standing up for justice and the days of corruption, collusion and cronyism is drawing near.

Susan Murphy Milano's Journal said...

RJ if you are familar with my work
I was banned from the politically correct club years ago.

Working on any legislation needs to be directed at "parents" even though we are all aware that 97% of men murder their children and wives.

The lethality assessment is likely the most effective tool I have seen used to access the dangers of these murdering scumbags. It was used in Regan Martin's case (Cherry's daughter) to keep a dangerous felon behind bars.

Mamaliberty the movement for the rights of children in family court is non-existant. With bozo's in the mental field who can write letters to a judge on behalf of unstable and dangerous men without any concern for the childrens safety or lives.

Rj said...

Susan, actually I don't know much about you. But somehow, the more I keep reading on the internet, your name is referenced...LOL...so, you must be pretty damn good (or popular). What got you banned?

Orlando has just instituted a lethality assessment tools? Can you speak as to why it is not currently a standard practice?

Mental health field=dangerous. We've actually seen them toss ideas back and forth among themselves on how to create theories and justifications for criminals, ESPECIALLY sex offenders.

Rj said...

Okay, well, I "know" who you are now. Wow. Can you contact me?

Sara Huizenga Lubbers said...

Hi RJ,

You seem to be more active in these issues, I apologize for being surprised, I guess I thought you were more so soley loyal to the Father's Rights groups.

Well, it's great to have you aboard, so many battered women and their children can use all the help they can get...

Welcome

Rj said...

Hey Sara, you're kidding me, right?

I thought you were more so soley loyal to the Father's Rights groups.