Doctor claims Conway suffered trauma before alleged shooting
Testifies suspect on trial had ‘psychotic’ episode
The verdict in the case of Car- oline Marie Conway, accused of shooting two, killing one, during what was supposed to be custody exchange last year, will likely be decided by conflicting testimony of two expert psychologists.
The doctor called by the defense on Wednes- day opined that Conway, 52, was not criminally responsible for first-degree murder and attempted murder for shooting Robert Mange, 25, and Krys- tal Mange, 25, the mother of her son’s two children, in May 2015. She said that Conway was in a “psychotic dissociative state” at the time and could not “appreciate the criminality of her conduct.”
As of press time Thurs- day morning, Charles County State’s Attorney Anthony Covington (D) and assistant state’s at- torney Francis Granados were preparing to call their rebuttal expert wit- ness, a psychologist who’s findings contradict those of Dr. Bethany Brand.
The defendant’s son, Prince George’s Coun- ty police officer Richard Travess Conway, 27, was arrested and charged with murder a few days after the shooting when investi- gators discovered that he had reportedly conspired with his mother to kill the Manges, motivated by a heated and ongoing custody battle.
Around 5:45 p.m. on May 20, 2015, Krystal Mange was seated next to her husband, Robert, in a Jeep Wrangler outside the McDonald’s on Mall Circle, waiting for Richard Conway to drop off their two shared children, ac- cording to proceedings. The court mandated visi- tation schedule required Richard to have them there at 6 p.m.
Suddenly, Caroline Conway, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and black gloves, opened the driv- er-side backdoor bran- dishing a black handgun, similar in appearance to Richard Conway’s police-issued handgun, Krystal testified. Caroline then forced Krystal to call Richard to change the cus- tody exchange location to the courthouse parking lot in La Plata at 7:30 p.m. Granados said in his open- ing statements that the move was an attempt to set up an alibi for Richard Conway.
After Krystal hung up the phone, “Robert went for the gun,” she testified. She said Robert pushed Caroline’s arm up against the roof of the Jeep, and that gave her enough time to try to escape the vehi- cle. “Halfway out the car, the first gunshot went off,” Krystal told the court. She then ducked behind a vehicle and heard sever- al more shots, and then silence. She thought she had left, she said.
“I looked up and saw Ms. Conway standing there with a gun, looking at me,” Krystal testified. Caroline then shot at her twice, she said, one bullet striking her in the side of her abdomen, and one hit- ting the Jeep.
Wounded, she crawled over to a car parked next to the Jeep and placed her bloody hands on the win- dow, asking for help from the man inside, according to testimony. Robert had been shot multiple times in his upper body and died soon after.
Krystal identified Caroline Conway as the shoot- er to first responders as she received medical treatment.
Several witnesses indicated that Caroline Con- way then walked away from the scene toward a wooded area.
The shooting, Granados explained in his opening argument, was a violent culmination after a long and protracted custody battle between Richard Con- way and Kr ystal Mange. In 2013, Krystal left Richard and moved to Virginia with their two children, and a visitation schedule was established, according to court proceedings. Rich- ard and Caroline Conway made several allegations against the Mange couple, starting with child neglect, then physical abuse, and then child sexual abuse — unfounded accusations made in hope of winning sole custody, Granados said.
Throughout the trial, defense attorneys James E. Farmer and Melvin Allen Jr. took every opportuni- ty to attempt to give credence to the allegations that a friend of the Mang- es, “Montana,” had been sexually abusing the child, despite the unfounded dis- positions in the criminal investigation and depart- ment of social services investigation, which were conducted after Caroline Conway reported her sus- picions to authorities in April 2015, according to proceedings. Caroline had told investigators that one of her grandchildren dis- closed to her that Manges and Montana had touched his private parts, testimony indicated.
Jennifer Helms, the child’s therapist at Cen- ter for Children, testified that the child indicated he had received a “con- fusing” touch from Mon- tana, when she discussed the difference between a good, a bad and a confus- ing touch.
Though at a forensic in- terview at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Virginia, the child made no disclosures, and the subsequent investiga- tions yielded no evidence of wrongdoing, according to proceedings.
When cross-examined by Farmer, Krystal Mange had initially testified that from July 2013 to May 20, 2015, she had been living at her mother’s residence in Smithsfield, Va. She tes- tified that she was absolutely sure that Montana did not sexually abuse the children because he did not have any alone time with them.
Farmer then read text messages she had sent to Montana that she said she didn’t remember. “How are the kids doing,” Farmer read, and “Can you take the chicken out of the freezer?” Then he read one from Montana to Krystal, “When are you coming home?” Especially notable was a text in which Krystal indicated that she was upset she had to live at her mother’s house for a week.
The following day, Krys- tal testified again and told the court she had actually lived at Robert’s apart- ment in Norfolk, Va., and had not been honest because she was still scared of Richard Conway. Farm- er pointed out that she had also falsely listed her mother’s address as her residence during all of the custody hearings.
The defense argued that the child sex abuse allegations were relevant to the case because Caroline Conway had a “psychot- ic dissociative episode” brought on by the phone call from DSS just hours before the shooting on May 20, 2015. The call in- formed the Conways that their investigation had been closed as unfounded.
Called by the defense, Brand said that Caroline Conway had suffered “very severe chronic trauma” throughout her upbringing which was un- treated and internalized throughout her other- wise normal life, and that she became increasingly mentally unstable in the months leading up to the shooting because of her belief that her grandchil- dren were being sexually abused, as she had been as a child, according to court proceedings. At age 2, Brand told the court, Caroline’s father was mur- dered in front of the fam- ily’s Chicago apartment. As he climbed into his truck to go to work one morning, a man hiding in the backseat shot him in the back of the head.
With the family’s breadwinner gone, Caroline’s mother had to work mul- tiple jobs to support the large family, and she and her older sister, then 4, were often subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of a series of babysitters.
Caroline Conway and her older sister both testi- fied about the abuse. Car- oline told the court she remembers one occasion where she was taken into a room with two men. “He proceeded to touch me,” she testified. “I remember the pain. I remember cry- ing … but they continued to do it anyways … it happened quite a few times.”
Caroline testified that af- ter the Conways received the news from DSS, her grandson looked at her and said, “Yaya, I’m in big trouble.”
She said, “I remember walking, and then I was in a car” with Richard and her grandchildren. “We came back home and the road was cut off.” She then remembers being handcuffed, but testified that she had no memory of the shooting, going to the house to change her cloth- ing, or being interviewed by Det. John Elliot. Brand attributed the memory loss to “dissociative amnesia.”
Brand said that “there’s very eerie parallels” between Caroline’s ex- perience and what she thought was happening to her grandchildren, who were 2 and 4 at the time of the shooting. Another parallel she found was the similarities between how Caroline’s father was killed, and how she shot the Mange couple, calling it a “re-enactment.”
The doctor believes Car- oline “fell apart psycholog- ically” when the Conways learned of the unfounded dispositions just hours before the shooting on May 20, 2015.
Granados cross-examined Brand and was very critical of her thoroughness and her findings, pointing out that at the time she determined her opinion she had only interviewed Caroline Conway, her family, a search warrant affidavit, reports from DSS, and information relayed to her through the defense attorneys. Despite the stakes being so high, “you didn’t review a single of those items before reaching your opinion?” Granados asked. “Any of the police reports, any of the collateral information? …Give me someone [else you interviewed] other than the Conway family before you wrote your report.”
Brand defended herself by saying she had conducted numerous different tests on Caroline Conway and found no evidence of her lying or “malingering” during a seven hour interview. She testified that she was able to review more discovery leading up to the trial and could have changed her opinion if that didn’t “jive” with her initial findings. Brand also said the Conway family did not have the financial means for her to review all of the documentation in the case.
“So you don’t do a full job unless they pay you enough?” Granados responded, who also pointed out that witnesses said she wore gloves, a hooded sweatshirt, called Richard Conway from a pre-paid phone minutes after the shooting, and was captured on video getting rid of evidence afterwards.
“It’s pretty logical and rational to flee the scene” and hide evidence, Granados said, pointing out that she instructed Krystal to call Richard to change pickup location, and later the Conways went to new meet up spot.
“So they lived out the alibi that Ms. Conway set up for them,” he continued, “... Isn’t that perfectly rational?”
The trial is ongoing.