Tragic end: Van Cliburn winner’s wife is found not guilty of murder

Tragic end: Van Cliburn winner’s wife is found not guilty of murder


norman lebrecht

July 18, 2018

A judge in Fort Worth, Texas, has found Sofya Tsygankova not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of her two children, Nika Kholodenko, aged 5, and Michaela Kholodenko, 20 months.

Tsygankova, 34, has been committed indefinitely to a state mental hospital.

The court was told that Tsygankova had a history of mental illness, dating back to her teenaged years. She was estranged from her husband, 2013 Van Cliburn gold medallist Vadym Kholodenko, and was in the process of getting divorced.

Vadym Kholodenko discovered the bodies when arriving to visit his children.

Three experts testified that Tsygankova was criminally insane when she killed her daughters.

Report here.

The rest is silence.



  • Alex Davies says:

    The choice of headline seems odd. Under the circumstances this surely was the best possible outcome. Rather than being executed, a clearly severely mentally ill woman is going to receive medical treatment. The outcome of this case was inevitably going to be inherently tragic, but of all possible outcomes this one surely was the least tragic.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    If the facts are as stated she surely was insane. Equally insane… letting her continue to have custody of the children in her suicidal frame of mind.

    So this is a ruling by a judge?

    That may be rather brave since he will have to stand for re-election in the future. I can easily imagine this story being distorted for opposition campaign ads.

    • Alex Davies says:

      This is why I have always thought that it is a very bad idea to have judges who are elected by the public or appointed by politicians who are themselves elected by the public. Here in Britain our judges are appointed by an independent Judicial Appointments Commission made up of judges, lawyers, and lay people. Furthermore, judges hold office until retirement, and removing a judge from office requires the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice (judiciary) and Lord High Chancellor (government) and is exceptionally rare. This means that judges are able to interpret and uphold the law in ways that may foreseeably prove unpopular with the public without having to fear removal from office. It is therefore not merely of symbolic interest that judges swear an oath promising to serve the Queen rather than the people (since it is one of the monarch’s utmost virtues never to express a personal opinion about public affairs). I would certainly fear for the administration of justice in this country if I thought that judges had to concern themselves with the opinions of members of the public.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        Of the US 50 states, 20 have elected trial judges such as the one in this story.

        It’s a mixed bag. When the judges are appointed then the political intrigue is merely transferred to the official tasked with the appointment. In any system, even the supposedly non-partisan ones, someone ultimately has to answer for the appointment.

        Here in Texas is is possible to get rid of noxious judges by election. Back in the 80s a judge gave a murderer a very slight sentence, saying that the gay victim “was asking for it”.

        It was close, but he lost the next election on that issue. In other states he might still be on the bench.

        • Alex Davies says:

          That is interesting. My concern, however, would be what happens when a judge makes a decision that is clearly bad from a legal point of view but nonetheless plays well with the public. Voters could just as easily have thought, for example, that, actually, gays probably are just asking to be murdered, and that the lenient sentence was quite right.

          The electoral successes of George Galloway in the UK have shown that demographic factors can facilitate the election of a charlatan who appeals to special interests among a community with whom he claims to have particular sympathy. Of course, I’m not saying that most Muslims in Britain would approve of murdering gay people, but I can see a situation in which a lawyer wishing to push a particular agenda (e.g. with regard to LGBT rights, wearing conspicuous religious symbols in the workplace, allowing corporal punishment in religious schools, etc.), such as a conservative evangelical Christian, could gain office by appealing to shared sympathies among Muslims, African Christians, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, etc. in an area of the country where these groups are particularly heavily represented.

          And then, of course, you have to consider that the public generally favour ever harsher sentencing of criminals, even where that sentencing would be incompatible with our fundamental values (such as the rule of law) or would be deleterious to the common good in some more pragmatic way (all the evidence seems to suggest that harsh punishment of criminals expends vast resources while actually achieving the precise opposite of what it is supposed to achieve). If you asked the general public, an alarming proportion of them would say that the ten-year-old boys who murdered James Bulger should have been hanged for the crime. I believe that this would have made them the youngest criminals to be hanged in this country since 1629. Indeed, while the death penalty for under-16s was only formally made unlawful in 1908, nobody under that age had been hanged since some time in the early 19th century.

  • Sharon says:

    Part of this tragedy is that the mother was not separated from her children and properly observed by professionals. As a psychiatric nurse I know that one of the purposes of hospitalization is to observe a person 24/7.

    The article said that a “doctor” ( we do not even know if it was a psychiatrist) said that the kids were safe with the Mom. It is very easy to fool even a psychiatrist, especially one who deals only with outpatients and thus seldom with psychotic people.

    In addition people can cycle in and out of psychosis very quickly. A person can be thinking normally and have a normal interview with a doctor at 10 am and be hearing voices telling him/her to kill someone at 3 pm. This is why constant observation over a period of at least two weeks is necessary to make a judgement as to how “safe” a person with a psychotic history is.

    In Texas and in most states if a person has a place to live and does not have a recent history of hurting him/herself or others he/she will not be hospitalized.

    Although I strongly believe in giving people and situations the benefit of the doubt I also believe that people have a “sixth sense”, especially with regard to their own young children. That is, if someone has a “funny feeling” that their child is in danger or seriously ill, even in the face of no evidence, the parent must assume that there is a serious risk, and act accordingly.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    “He said he had met his girlfriend in June 2015 and requested a divorce from his wife that July, causing Tsygankova to have a mental breakdown. She was hospitalized at John Peter Smith Hospital as a result, he said.

    Kholodenko said he had asked a doctor if the children were safe to be with their mother and that he was told that they were.”

    If you are a parent, and your spouse has a mental breakdown, would YOU feel comfortable, safe, and secure leaving your very young children with the mentally broken-down spouse? Personally, I would not. Regardless of what any doctor said. She was having post-partum depression after the birth of the second child! Post-partum depression PLUS the mental breakdown caused by Kholodenko dumping her for someone they both knew is a recipe for disaster.

    It’s an outrage that these kids are dead in the first place. However, all the parties seem to be in agreement (defense, prosecution, judge) that the verdict is the correct one.

    • Laima says:

      Now we know what should have been done. But back then it wasn’t clear to anybody around that separating depressed mother from her kids and causing more pain to her is a safer option than otherwise. Vadym was a loving father, he would never ever leave his daughters in obvious danger. And he is punished more than enough.

  • stephen kennedy says:

    Dangerous people should be executed. The reason why they are dangerous is secondary. Will the judge that exonerated her be responsible for her future actions?