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Couple Denied Custody After Troubled Flight

An Arizona couple used excessive force in disciplining their two newly adopted Russian children on the flight home from Moscow, a judge ruled Wednesday, temporarily denying them custody.

Family Court Judge Joseph Lauria said the actions of Richard and Karen Thorne against the two 4-year-old girls are “indicative of a pattern of behavior that places the children in imminent risk.”

The Thornes were accused of abusing the girls during a 10-hour plane flight to New York on May 28. Based on passenger complaints, the Thornes were arrested on charges of assault, harassment and endangering the welfare of the children.

“In quieting these 4-year-old non-English-speaking children, the instinctive response by both parents was to shout at them in English, to slap their faces and bodies and further manhandle them,” Lauria said.

The judge placed the girls in the custody of their adopted mother’s brother pending a Nov. 7 hearing. In the meantime, the Thornes must undergo a psychological evaluation.

During testimony, fellow passengers took the stand to both deny and support the Thornes’ account of the troubled flight. Some passengers and attendants said they saw the couple slap the girls, but the Thornes have said the slapping sound actually was the clapping of hands in time with music on the girls’ headphones.

Cheryl Solomon, a lawyer for Richard Thorne, said the Thornes operated under extreme duress during the flight and did their best to control the disruptive children.

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