LITTLETON — A woman sentenced to life in prison in connection with the 1988 killing of a Hampton man will not receive a hearing on her pardon request.
The state’s Executive Council voted unanimously Wednesday to reject Susan McLaughlin Cook’s petition for a hearing. It was the fifth time the council has denied her request.
"It's a serious crime, and she was convicted by her peers," Executive Councilor Russell Prescott said. "Those peers knew all the facts at the time, and I don't believe there's any new facts."
Cook, 67, is serving life in prison with no chance of parole for her part in the murder of Robert Cushing, 63, of Hampton. Robert McLaughlin Sr., her then-husband and a Hampton police officer, was convicted of killing Cushing with a shotgun on June 1, 1988, following a long-standing feud between the two men. Cook was convicted on Oct. 21, 1989, of accessory to murder, conspiracy to murder, and witness tampering. She drove a get-away car and later asked individuals “not to talk” about the case against her husband.
Cushing was the father of state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who declined to discuss the pardon request.
Cook, in seeking the hearing, has maintained that she herself was terrorized by McLaughlin when they were married and that she acted out of fear that he would kill her.
In a 2003 interview with the Hampton Union, Cook tried to explain why she did not try to stop her husband on the night of the murder, saying she feared for her life.
“Have you ever been terrified? So afraid you couldn’t think straight? I was being terrorized by Bob, I didn’t have any way to escape. I didn’t think he’d actually kill Mr. Cushing, and I never called the police. In my mind the Hampton police surrounded him ... I never called the police because I thought they would tell him and he’d kill me.”
Jeffery A. Strelzin, the associate attorney general and director of the Division of Public Protection, recommended the council deny the request.
In a March 28 letter to the governor and council, Strelzin wrote “justice and the law demands that the terrible consequences suffered by Robert Cushing and his family be fully recognized by the criminal justice system. The petitioner’s (Cook’s) guilty verdicts and sentences do just that and should not be disturbed.”
Prescott said he trusted the attorney general's recommendation to reject Cook's hearing. He said the report pointed out that Cook has sought pardons before and has given different reasons for doing so each time.
"They contradict each other," said Prescott. "So it's difficult to get to a point where you think a person would be deserving of a pardon."
The motive for Cushing’s murder appeared to be a long-standing grudge held by McLaughlin after Cushing tried to get him fired for police brutality in 1976.
Court records show that McLaughlin implicated his wife as an accomplice in confessions he made to two people before turning himself in.
According to Cook’s unsuccessful appeal to the state Supreme Court, McLaughlin’s son recalled that “[Robert McLaughlin Sr.] was going to shoot [Cushing] and he didn’t care what happened to him, if he got caught for it or if he got killed. . . . And he went to [the defendant] and he told her about it, and she told him that he couldn’t do it like that, that he had to come up with a better idea, that he had to come up with a better plan. So she told him that they had to disguise themselves.
“And she got him to put on a disguise, and herself. And then . . . he went and got a shotgun; and [Cook]. . . walked out and got into the car . . . on the driver’s side. He got in on the passenger side. And [Cook] drove to this place where this man lived and parked the car, and my father got out and went out into the yard,” according to the appeal.
Information from In-Depth New Hampshire was used in this report.