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Couple Slapped Adopted Russian Girls on Flight, Other Parents Testify


Couple Slapped Adopted Russian Girls on Flight, Other Parents Testify


Three airline passengers testified yesterday that they saw an Arizona couple repeatedly slap their newly adopted Russian girls on a flight last May from Moscow to New York.

The testimony by the passengers, who were also adopting children from Russia, came as the case against Richard and Karen Thorne of Phoenix dragged into its fifth month while their two 4-year-old adopted girls continued to live in foster care. The trial, in Family Court in Queens, has been delayed because of a crowded court calendar and lawyers' summer vacations.

Two of the passengers testifying yesterday said that when the plane landed in New York on May 28, they were so upset by the beatings they saw that they deliberately missed connecting flights in order to give statements to the police.

Their statements were similar to those of two flight attendants who testified against the Thornes in July. But yesterday's testimony was striking nonetheless because the witnesses were themselves parents returning from Russia with their newly adopted children.

Joseph Penshorn, 37, chief financial officer for a food company, testified that Mrs. Thorne had grabbed one girl ''forcefully by her waist,'' pulled her down into a seat, yelled at her to ''shut up'' and slapped her on the cheek. He said the girls were crying and screaming for more than half of the 10-hour flight.

The case has attracted international attention and is being watched closely by Russian officials, who are contemplating changes in the rules governing international adoptions because of publicity from the Thorne case and a Colorado case in which a mother was convicted of causing the death of her adopted Russian son.

The Thornes' lawyers have contended that newly adopted children, especially those who have been institutionalized all their lives, as these girls have been, often become out of control and cry on the flight to the United States.

New parents, they say, typically try all sorts of tactics to calm the children, who often have difficulties bonding with the parents -- though this is the first time officials are aware of in which the parents' actions have led to their arrest. The Thornes' lawyers, Harvey Jacobs and Cheryl Solomon, have had trouble building this argument in court while the city Administration for Children Services has presented witness after witness to say that they saw the parents slap the girls.

The case against the parents has been on and off the Family Court docket since June because the judge, Joseph M. Lauria, is handling three dozen other cases, and because of the summer vacations of the many lawyers involved.

During that time, the two girls, who do not speak English, have lived in four foster homes, two in New York and two in Arizona. Reporters have been allowed into the trial on condition that they not disclose the girls' names.

The shifting of the girls from foster home to foster home has worried adoption experts, who say that such a whirligig of caregivers, in a strange land, can only harm the children.

The purpose of the trial is to establish whether abuse took place and, if so, what services to provide, like counseling for the parents, so the family can get back together. If the parents are found guilty of abuse, it is conceivable that the girls could remain in foster care or be sent back to Russia. After this trial is over, the Thornes still face criminal charges of assault, harassment and endangering the welfare of their children.

Although the girls were adopted, they are still Russian citizens. They now have green cards, as a prelude to becoming United States citizens.

Maggie Lear, a spokeswoman for the Administration for Children's Services, said, ''We recommend at this time the kids remain in foster care pending the outcome of the trial.''

The Thornes, who have remained silent about the details of the flight from Moscow, are scheduled to testify tomorrow, when the trial resumes.

The girls were taken from the Thornes after their plane landed at Kennedy International Airport on May 28. The parents -- who spent a total of about a week with the girls in Russia -- were charged, incarcerated overnight and released on $5,000 bail.

Testifying today were three passengers from the Dallas area who took the same Delta Air Lines flight from Moscow after adopting children at the same time the Thornes adopted theirs.

Peter Boucher, 41, an engineer, testified that Mr. Thorne had grabbed one of the girls by the shoulders -- practically choking her -- then shoved her down on the seat and slapped her three times across the face.

William John May, 41, whose occupation was not identified, said that one of the girls was pulling her parents' hair and pulling Mr. Thorne's face, and that Mr. Thorne had screamed at her.

1997 Oct 7