Friday, March 11, 2011

Amy Leichtenberg:The Silent War: Mothers Without Custody

The last time Amy Leichtenberg saw her two boys alive, that motherly instinct took over and she knew something was not right. The father of the boys was acting strange when they met at the police station for the exchange of Jack and Duncan. Amy refused to hand over her boys on March 7, 2009, an officer threatened her if she didn't give them to their father, she would be arrested for not complying with a judge's according to her lawyer.

This week is the anniversary of the boys murders.

I am deeply disturbed by the escalating number of parents murdering their own families. as police discovered 9-year-old Duncan (left) and 7-year-old Jack(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.

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, who is still on the bench, 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. T
his 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.

Remarkably, Amy Leichtenberg, under the circumstances is doing fairly well for a mother whom lost her entire world.

When she and I talk she says " I will not let that monster who destroyed my life, win. That's what he wanted you know, (she says with great conviction) , he thought without my kids I would wither and die. Well I hope he is rotting in hell someplace for what he did and I am going to make each day on earth count, for my kids. For other parents so they won’'t have to endure what I have. I am going to get laws past so that a person who is not mentally stable like their father was, has no access to children. The same way a predator is dealt within the justice system and denied contact with children." And, today, two years later, Amy Leichtenberg is changing the dysfunctional legal system that, in my opinion, allowed her children to lose their lives.

Amy Leichtenberg will never again hear the laughter of her boys Jack and Duncan. Amy will never wait in the kitchen as the boys run in after school only to run out again to play before it gets dark. Amy will never prepare another favorite meal of macaroni and cheese. Those day's are gone. The lights that once burned brightly from within her life, are now but a memory.

On Amy Leichtenberg's Facebook page she writes:
"I wish I could turn back the hands of time...I am so sorry Duncan and Jack...I love you both to the heavens and back"

It would be nice if people reading this could take a moment and send an inspiring email or words of comfort to this remarkable mother, who needs for all of us to keep her in our daily prayers. Emails to Amy can be sent to our address here: and we will forward them on to her.

Susan Murphy Milano is with the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education. She is an expert on intimate partner violence and homicide crimes. For more information visit She is also in partnership with Pamela Chapman and iAscend Programs.

Susan is the author of "Time's Up A Guide on How to Leave and SurviveAbusive and Stalking Relationships," available for purchase at the Institute, and wherever books are sold. Susan is the host of The Susan Murphy Milano Show, "Time's Up!" on Here Women Talk is a regular contributor to the nationally syndicated The Roth Show with Dr Laurie Roth. Susan is a survivor- the daughter of a police officer family intimate partner homicide by her Chicago detective father who murdered her mother before committing suicide.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a mother without custody in IL and amazingly when you do report abuse and want what is best for your child, you lose here in IL and are treated like a criminal. There is nothing you can do when you have a judge who with due influence (large campaign contributions from law firms) is swayed by ridiculous arguments and smoke and mirrors. Interestingly in this case... psychiatrist outside of court appointed was weighted. one would wonder if this would occur if this was a woman. Men usually are held to a lessor standard when it comes custody... even at day cares etc. My ex smiles and flirts with the teachers ... therefore he is great and meantime- my children are suffering!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...