20/20 - Did Grief Turn Loving Mom Into Sex Offender?
I feel sorry for everyone involved here, but what I find sickening, is if the roles were reversed, and this was a male mayor who touched a female child, he'd be in prison for a very long time.
By Kristin M. Kraemer
PROSSER - The mother of a teen boy molested in April 2010 asked Linda Lusk on Thursday why she didn't take her punishment from the beginning, instead of dragging the case and both families through a year of public scrutiny.
Lusk's decision to "ride it out for over a year" resulted in a media frenzy, said the mother. She also said her son's attendance at school and interest in sports dwindled.
"High school will never be the same for him. There will always be constant reminders for him as your husband is the high school principal and your daughter attends the same school," she said.
Lusk, 50, briefly apologized before she was sentenced to three months in jail for third-degree child molestation, a felony.
The former Prosser mayor already has been serving time on work release since pleading guilty May 20 in Benton County Superior Court. Jail logs show she had done 48 days as of Thursday morning.
It is not clear if she will get any time off her sentence for good behavior, since it is being done on a program that allows her to leave jail for a set time each day to operate her Prosser handbag boutique.
Lusk told Judge Carrie Runge it is "difficult for me to even speak. I'm just ready for all parties to heal ... and I couldn't be more sorry that this happened for everybody."
One of her lawyers, Jim Egan, told the court before she spoke that they'd discussed things Lusk could say to the judge, and "she decided not to say anything at all."
Lusk's husband, Kevin, the Prosser High School principal, attended the hearing, along with a half-dozen friends.
Lusk inappropriately touched the 14-year-old boy in April 2010 when he stopped by her home "to have her sign a community service form" during his lunch hour, court documents said.
"Mrs. Lusk said this was not a planned event, and she said the instant (she touched him), she knew what she was doing was wrong, and became upset with herself, and left the room."
Documents also said she led the boy to a bedroom and undressed him.
Lusk will have to register as a sex offender for 10 years. The plea deal also called for charges of third-degree rape of a child and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes to be dismissed at sentencing.
The boy and his mother are not named under a Herald policy not to identify people who report a sexual assault.
Lusk and the teen's mother both met separately with Department of Corrections officials completing a pre-sentence investigation. Daniel Manning, a community corrections officer in West Richland, in his report recommended a standard-range sentence of six to 12 months in jail.
The mother told Manning that she believed Lusk took advantage of her son when he was vulnerable because of his parents' divorce. She also said she believed "Lusk was attracted to her son and did not care it was wrong and illegal."
Prosecutor Andy Miller said ever since Lusk's guilty plea, the victim has been a different boy knowing this will soon be behind him. He didn't attend the hearing fearing television cameras would put his picture on the evening news, Miller said.
"While this has been a very difficult case, one silver lining is getting to know him," Miller said. "I told (sheriff's Detective Lee) Cantu this afternoon, I'd be proud to have him as a son."
The boy's mother questioned why Lusk got a deal that allows her to leave jail "to run your own business in which you're the boss. This really isn't much punishment if you ask me but, in order to prevent my son from having to testify in court with cameras in court, my family had to accept the plea deal."
In the presentencing report, she said Lusk should have to stay in a regular cell, "and should have to deal with other inmates who do not like child molesters."
Lusk was given an agreed-on sentence below the standard range because a Spokane psychologist found she has a mental disorder caused by depression that could be traced to the long-term care of her disabled son and his death in March 2009 at age 15.
Lusk told Manning she was "detached and depressed" after her son's death and in a state of deep grief. She said she welcomed the noise and distraction of her daughter's friends hanging out at her house which had "become so sad, quiet and depressing."
The boy visited often and often complained about his family life, she said.
"I felt sorry for him and over time took him under my wing offering any help if needed ...," Lusk said.
The boy apparently began texting her frequently, saying he was bored, and late at night when he couldn't sleep. She said she scolded him when some texts became inappropriate, but he would say he was joking.
When the boy came over during lunch and pulled down his pants, Lusk said she was "shocked" and "more concerned about him and his feeling ... than thinking about what the situation meant to me ...."
She said she told him to leave and he went back to school to brag to his friends while embellishing what happened.
"I didn't realize at the time that I had such a deep need to fill the void left by my son's death," she Lusk said, according to the report. "The child appeared to need my help and attention, and I was depressed and unaware that I was being used and manipulated until it was too late."
Manning wrote that Lusk did admit to committing the crime but denied full culpability due to her "somewhat diminished capacity."
He also noted that she regretted it happened and is seeking counseling.
"Ms. Lusk made many comments about how (the boy) took advantage of her and her fragile emotional state and (she) appeared to be blaming a significant amount of what happened on the victim...," Manning wrote.
However, Lusk also did say that she was the adult and should have taken responsibility to stop it, the report said.
Larry Stephenson, Lusk's other attorney, said his client is not a risk to reoffend.
"Linda ... had to do an awful lot to keep that child alive. What she didn't know is what happens to people when they lose a child. To some degree, she is built like a man in that sense. Men have a sense of surrounding themselves with armor," said Stephenson, who choked back tears at the memory of his own son's sudden death in 2009 at age 27.
"... You shut yourself down. Finally this case opened up some of that stuff. She's seeing a good counselor. The reason she ended up in this situation, to some degree, was from putting armor around all of the depression and stuff."
Also filed with the presentencing report were multiple letters and a list of more than 200 names of people who had called or stopped by to see Lusk to offer support.
A lifelong friend, Shelly Hendrickson, said Lusk is an upstanding citizen with amazing qualities, talents and a passion to improve life.
"Many untruths and exaggerations have flooded the press and I believe Linda's character and true human qualities will conquer all this ugliness," Hendrickson wrote.
Jackie Bell, who's known Lusk since 1999, wrote about her dedication to others, including special needs children, her family and the Prosser community.
"The general public is happy to believe the worst with no consideration of who Linda Lusk really is ... She is the epitome of honesty and moral character," Bell wrote.
Another friend, Mary Hanlon, of Prosser, said Lusk's behavior is "completely and utterly out of character" and an indication that something went "horribly wrong."