- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2002

A woman is fighting for the right to visit her estranged grandchildren after a Loudoun County court vacated her son's 1998 conviction of abusing the children in a case that generated international attention.
Virginia McLaughlin, 79, of Frederick, Md., is seeking visitation rights for her son's four children, ages 10 to 15. Their mother, Robyn McLaughlin of Leesburg, has asked a Loudoun County judge to bar visitation, saying the children suffer emotional trauma when they are with their grandmother.
Bruce McLaughlin, Virginia McLaughlin's son, was convicted in 1998 of sexually abusing three of his children. The verdict was vacated in December, with a judge saying his attorneys failed to provide an adequate defense. McLaughlin, 49, is still in jail because of an escape attempt last year, and the state's attorney general is appealing the vacated conviction.
Virginia McLaughlin told Loudoun County Circuit Judge H. Dudley Payne on Monday that any emotional trauma suffered by the children is a result of her daughter-in-law's manipulation. She said the children need to have her, as well as her other son, Mark, in their lives to know they are loved.
"I come from a divorced family, [although] it was a long time ago," Virginia McLaughlin said. "And I think it's important to see that someone else cares."
The McLaughlin children have no contact with any other family members, and their mother is estranged from her sisters.
During divorce proceedings in 1999, Robyn McLaughlin took the children from the United States to her native New Zealand. The World Court at The Hague, ordered her to return the children to the United States in August.
Virginia McLaughlin began visiting the children six weeks after their return, but that arrangement turned sour.
The grandchildren and their grandmother did not acknowledge each other outside the courtroom Monday.
"I believe that my grandchildren believe they have been violated," Virginia McLaughlin told Judge Payne. "I believe they have been brainwashed.
Robyn McLaughlin said the older woman's disbelief has hurt the children. She added that Virginia and Mark McLaughlin recorded some conversations with the children, which made them feel uneasy.
The mother also questioned the grandmother's ability to care for four children and disapproved of Virginia McLaughlin allowing a 15-year-old neighborhood girl to be in the house when her children were there.
Robyn McLaughlin said she caught the girl making out with her son in Virginia McLaughlin's basement.
"My son is 15, and he does not date," Robyn McLaughlin said. "I don't approve of him kissing either and I have very strong reasons for that."
Virginia McLaughlin said the incident was normal behavior for teen-agers and told the judge she had told her grandson it was all right, despite his mother's objections.
"I wanted him to know it wasn't wrong for him to kiss a girl," she said, adding that the girl told her they were kissing goodbye.
Judge Payne is expected to issue a decision within the next two weeks.


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