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Children suffer when parents commit crimes

By Janice Gregorson

The Post-Bulletin

The 5-year-old girl heard two shots, then saw two men run from the house.

They had guns. One was bleeding.

That’s what she told police nearly a year ago about the shooting that woke her up and changed her life forever.

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That morning — May 6, 2006 — her stepfather, Cory Richardson, was killed.

Two months later, her mother, Audumn, was arrested and charged with murder.

Today, her mother was to be sentenced to 15 years in prison. The two men running from the house also were charged and to be sentenced today.

Also in the house were the girl’s siblings — a 3-year-old sister and a 10-month-old brother.

While police investigated the shooting, others have been quietly involved in caring for the children.

Every day, officials see children as victims, left behind for others to care for when a parent is killed or one or more parents sent to prison.

Rochester Police Lt. Dan Muyres said officers are trained to immediately call for help from social workers in incidents in which children are at risk, from drug busts to domestic disputes to cases where children are simply left alone in the home.

In 2005, Olmsted County social workers were called 177 times by law enforcement.

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In 2005, a total of 2,419 calls about children were made by neighbors, family members and police, with 31 percent of those calls related to child protection concerns, said Heather Johnson, child protection supervisor for Olmsted County. There are eight child protection social workers — with five assigned to work rotating after-hour shifts.

"Our role is child safety, first and foremost," Johnson said.

Social workers always try first to find family and friends willing and able to provide care for children in need.

"We always look at family first," she said of finding people to care for children during a parent’s absence.

In emergencies, she said, social workers and their team do a "rapid response," which means pulling all the family members together to figure out the care and safety network that can be placed around a child.

In the Cory Richardson homicide, the three children initially stayed with their mother, who was not arrested for several weeks.

Then, a grandmother stepped in to become guardian for the 10-month-old boy, the child of Cory and Audumn Richardson.

The biological father of the two girls was given temporary custody of his daughters. He has also petitioned for permanent custody, and that decision has not been made by Judge Jodi Williamson.

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She recently ordered custody of the boy, now 18 months old, transferred to a maternal great aunt and uncle while his mother is in prison.

Williamson appointed a volunteer guardian ad litem last May for the two girls to represent their best interests in the civil court proceedings and make recommendations about custody and visitation. In late February, that guardian ad litem, Vicki Duncan, submitted a letter to the court recommending the father be awarded custody.

She said that at the beginning of this case, the 5-year-old girl was displaying a "significant trauma because of the murder."

She wrote about the first visit the girl had with her mother in the Olmsted County jail.

"She was very angry with Audumn and asked about all the blood and Daddy Cory," the guardian wrote. "Then she began standing on tables yelling."

For months, the 5-year-old couldn’t sleep without an adult in the room, the guardian wrote. But the biological father and the girls began working with a therapist.

Duncan said the therapists say the father has done an excellent job with the girls and with dealing with the emotions of becoming a single parent. She said he has strong family support, and that he and the girls live with his brother and their family in a large home.

"The (extended) family is there for them as long as needed," Duncan wrote, adding that she sees the bond the girls have with their father. "He is committed to giving them a safe and nurturing environment."

Duncan said she encourages continued involvement of the maternal grandparents, who have played a significant role in the girls’ lives since their birth. She notes, too, that the father supports the girls’ having some relationship with Audumn during her incarceration.

Audumn Richardson, in an affidavit filed in May 2006 in that civil custody case, said that being with Mustafa Bush the night her husband was killed "was a last-minute choice that I will forever regret."

She wrote that she asked Bush to help her get her husband out of the house "due to our deteriorating marriage."

She said she didn’t ask him to harm or kill her husband, just to talk to him about leaving.

She said she is the one who should have been killed that night because her decision to spend time with Bush led to an "unimaginable tragedy."

"I cannot express the sadness I feel for the death of my husband and how this is impacting my children," she said in the affidavit.

Jim Martinson, head of the criminal division of the Olmsted County attorney’s office, has led the prosecution in the local murder case. He said the fact that three small children would be without a mother for a long time was not a determining factor in the plea offer he extended to Richardson.

"It may be a factor we consider on lesser cases involving local jail sentences," he said. "But when it comes down to the taking of a life, that is their choice, and I won’t give them slack because they have children."

It’s not uncommon to see parents charged and convicted of crimes. Three suspects arraigned on drug charges recently had 11 children between them, he said.

Statistics are hard to find.

The U.S. Bureau of Justice did a special report in August 2000. It said that in 1999, parents held in U.S. prisons had an estimated 1.5 million minor children — an increase of over 500,000 since 1991.

The report said that of the nation’s 72 million minor children, 2.1 percent had a parent in state or federal prison in 1999.

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