By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Convicted murder accomplice Susan McLaughlin Cook is asking the Executive Council for a pardon hearing again.
Cook, 67, is serving life in prison with no chance for parole in connection with the murder of Robert Cushing, 63, of Hampton, a prominent real estate broker, former teacher, World War II Marine Corps veteran and outspoken community advocate.
He was killed on June 1, 1988.
Cushing was the father of state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, who declined to discuss the pardon request on Tuesday.
His mother and father were watching the Boston Celtics at about 10 p.m. that evening when there was a knock at the door. A shotgun blast to the chest instantly killed the senior Cushing when he opened the door.
There were no arrests for three months until a Hampton police officer of 18 years, Robert McLaughlin Sr., turned himself into police for the crime.
Cook, McLaughlin’s wife at the time, was convicted of accomplice to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and two counts of witness tampering.
In prison for life, she is now seeking her fourth attempt at the Executive Council table Wednesday in hopes that they will allow her to plead her case that she was terrorized by McLaughlin and acted as look-out and driver out of fear.
Cook 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.
On Wednesday, the council will be asked to take up the pardon request.
Jeffery A. Strelzin, the associate attorney general and director of the Division of Public Protection, recommends to the council that the request be denied.
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.”
The Executive Council is meeting at 10 a.m. at the Littleton Opera House in Littleton on Wednesday and are expected to take up Cook’s request for a hearing.
In May, the council denied murder accomplice Pam Smart’s request for a hearing to consider reducing her life sentence in the murder of her husband Gregg Smart in Derry in 1990. William Flynn, Smart’s former teen lover, and three other teenagers pleaded guilty to charges related to the crime and all four have since been paroled.
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.
According to a 1989 New Hampshire Business Review story by Rod Paul, Cushing intervened on behalf of a neighbor who believed McLaughlin was abusive in his behavior toward her as a sworn officer of the town.
A 1975 traffic incident in front of the Cushing house involved some sort of altercation between McLaughlin and Cushing, as well, according to the story.
McLaughlin had a troubled childhood after accidentally killing a friend at age 15 with a gun, according to published reports at the time.
McLaughlin remains incarcerated for life in an out-of-state prison.
McLaughlin was not a suspect when he turned himself in to police.
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.