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Jessica Renae RIGGINS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - For money
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 5, 2007
Date of arrest: 7 days after
Date of birth: June 16, 1967
Victim profile: Rusty Riggins (her husband)
Method of murder: Shooting (.22-caliber handgun)
Location: Flagstaff, Coconino County, Arizona, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison with possibility for parole in 25 years on April 20, 2009
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Court of Appeals
State of Arizona

 

State of Arizona v. Jessica Renae Riggins

 
 
 
 
 
 

Riggins gets life, but with parole

By Larry Hendricks - AZDailySun.com

April 21, 2009

A woman convicted of murdering her husband by shooting him in the back was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison with possibility for parole in 25 years.

Jessica R. Riggins, 41, refused to make a statement before sentencing in Coconino County Superior Court, saying that she didn't want what she said misinterpreted.

She was convicted by a jury in February of first-degree murder in the August 2007 shooting death of her husband, Rusty. The prosecution said she shot him for money. She said she was the victim of domestic violence at his hands and shot him in self-defense.

Victim's mother makes statement

Surrounded by several supporters, Rusty's mother Judith asked to make a statement.

"On the morning of August 7, 2007, my life changed forever," Judith said, wiping away tears. She recalled calling police to have them check the Boulder Pointe home in which he was staying. It was police who found his body. He had been shot once in the back with a .22-caliber handgun Jessica had bought two days prior.

"I knew my son was gone," she said. "I still can't imagine the rest of my life without him."

In the aftermath, she had a heart attack. Her health failed her. She had endless nights with no sleep. She went into a deep depression.

"It will take years for me to get over the violent way my son died," Judith said.

She said Rusty had turned a corner while on probation for a domestic violence conviction against Jessica. The drugs and the alcohol were behind him. Rusty was seeking redemption for his mistakes and becoming a productive member of society.

Judith asked for life in prison without possibility of parole for Jessica.

"I believe justice has been found and I can really move on and my family heal," she said.

She then addressed Jessica, but the judge did not allow her to face Jessica.

She said the Lord is her savior.

"He has put this on my heart and I don't understand it but he wants me to forgive you," Judith said, adding that she did forgive Jessica.

She ended by saying she will be praying that Jessica asks God for forgiveness for what she has done.

Her testimony not credible

During the trial, the prosecution presented evidence that Jessica wanted to get Rusty's probation revoked so he would get thrown in jail and she could get $30,000 she believed he had. Half a dozen witnesses took the stand testifying that Jessica had spoken about getting $30,000 from her husband.

She was characterized as a manipulative woman who would do anything she could to get what she wanted.

People Jessica visited on her subsequent flight to Mexico in a car belonging to Rusty's mother testified that she confessed to killing her husband.

Jessica repeatedly denied on the stand in her own defense she told anybody about the money or that she confessed to the killing. After rendering the verdict, some jurors stated that Jessica's testimony was not credible and contradicted itself at times.

Jessica has already announced her plans to appeal the verdict. Among the issues is that the jury might possibly have acquitted her if jurors were allowed to hear specific testimony about instances of domestic violence she experienced at Rusty's hands. She said that violence led to a condition known as "battered woman syndrome" that she was suffering from the night she shot Rusty in fear for her life.

Leniency for history of domestic abuse

Judge Danna Hendrix said Jessica deserved a possible sentence of natural life in prison. The reasons for a harsh sentence included:

A weapon was used in the crime

The crime was committed in expectation of gaining money

The crime caused emotional and financial harm to Rusty and his family

Jessica fled the country after the crime was committed.

But Hendrix added that her sentence deserved leniency because Jessica had been a longtime victim of domestic violence, had a traumatic childhood and deeply loved her five children.

"I think the hardest part is knowing you have three daughters who will be your age if I sentence you to life in prison," Hendrix said.

She decided the sentence should be life with possibility of parole in 25 years.

"You haven't lost the hope of seeing your children again," Hendrix said. She added that she hoped Jessica would make the appropriate decisions in prison to in order to see her children again.

Jessica, in jail awaiting trial since Aug. 12, 2007, received 608 days of credit toward her life sentence.

 
 

Riggins found guilty of murder

By Larry Hendricks - AZDailySun.com

February 24, 2009

A Coconino County jury has found a former Flagstaff woman guilty of murdering her husband in August 2007.

Jessica Riggins, 41, has been found guilty of first-degreee murder in the shooting death of Rusty Riggins. She was also found guilty of auto theft and two counts of credit card theft.

As the verdict was read, Jessica Riggins bowed her head in the standing-room-only gallery in the Coconino County Superior courtroom of Judge Danna Hendrix. Judith Riggins, Rusty's mother, broke into tears and supporters comforted her.

Once proceedings were over, Judith said the verdict will bring "Peace. I'm hoping to get on with my life now. It's been on hold for a year and a half now."

She continued, "I'm excited to see justice done. I love her children to death, but I feel they have a better chance now in life."

Judith said the experience of the trial, which began Jan. 13, has been very hard, especially when attorneys brought up what happened the night her son was shot and killed by Jessica.

"God is the only reason I'm still standing on my feet right now," Judith said.

After the verdict was read and the jury was excused, Jessica was cuffed immediately. The jury will return today at 10 a.m. to determine if Jessica deserves leniency at sentencing.

She faces one of two scenarios: 25 years to life in prison, which means she must serve at least 25 years before she is eligible for release; or natural life in prison, which means she must spend the rest of her life behind bars.

The Coconino County Attorney's Office did not seek the death penalty in the case.

As the jurors entered the courtroom and the verdicts were read, two were visibly shaken and crying.

Body found Aug. 7, 2007

Rusty's body was found Aug. 7, 2007, in a home in the Boulder Pointe neighborhood of Flagstaff. He had been shot at close range in the side of his back with a .22-caliber handgun Jessica had bought just two days before. The couple had been scheduled to attend divorce proceedings the week police discovered Rusty's body.

Jessica had taken a car belonging to Rusty's mom, driven to California, and visited an ex-husband, her son and her ex-husband's sister before crossing into Mexico. She was arrested about a week later trying to re-enter the country.

During the trial, prosecutors contended that Jessica wanted to get Rusty's probation revoked so he would be jailed and she could get $30,000 she believed he had before they were divorced. She planned the entire scenario that led to her shooting her husband. And if he were in jail during the divorce proceedings, she would request a judge give her that money through a power of attorney she had with Rusty.

She bought a gun at a Flagstaff gun shop two days before she shot Rusty.

The defense had countered that Jessica was a woman who was repeatedly physically abused by Rusty, and he had two felony domestic violence convictions against him involving Jessica. The night she shot her husband, she was acting in self-defense, trying to keep from being hurt or killed, said defense attorneys.

Closing arguments were presented to the jury in Coconino County Superior Court Thursday, and the jury began deliberating Friday afternoon because one of the jurors was unable to continue. That juror was replaced with an alternate.

During the course of the trial, another juror died in a cycling accident. The trial was postponed for half a day so the remaining jurors could attend the funeral.

 
 

Riggins: No intention of shooting husband

By Larry Hendricks - AZDailySun.com

February 6, 2009

No, she did not think her estranged husband Rusty Riggins had $30,000.

No, she did not want to get him arrested so she could get the money.

And no, she did not intend to shoot and kill him in self-defense during an August 2007 visit. She was trying to reconcile with her verbally and physically abusive husband she loved and hoped would change.

Jessica Riggins, 41, took the stand in her own defense in Coconino County Superior Court Friday. She is accused of first-degree murder, auto theft and credit-card theft in the shooting death of her husband.

She has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Her testimony continues Tuesday.

Defense asserts constant abuse

During opening arguments Wednesday, the defense asserted that although her husband was only twice convicted of domestic violence felonies, the beatings and abuse were constant throughout their relationship.

Friends and relatives of Rusty have commented in the past that Jessica could be just as much the aggressor in the couple's relationship. And an expert testified at trial that mutual aggression does happen in abusive relationships.

Rusty's body was found Aug. 7, 2007, in a Boulder Pointe home, where he had been housesitting for the owner. He had been shot at close range in the back with a .22-caliber weapon. A vehicle his mother loaned him was missing.

Police discovered the vehicle had crossed into Mexico from California, and Jessica was caught a few days later trying to get back into the country.

During her testimony, Jessica tearfully recalled nearly two dozen domestic violence instances with Rusty between the time they started dating in September 2001 and the night of the shooting in August 2007.

"He hit me. He punched me and he had me by the neck," she told the jury of once instance.

When her attorney, Kenneth Sheffield asked her why she never called police, she said several times, "I didn't want anybody to know."

In another instance, he threw a knife at her, she said. In yet another, Rusty burned her hand with a cigarette. In another incident, he smashed out a window of her car in order to reach in and grab her by the throat and wrestle her back into a residence. In an incident when she considered her and Rusty no longer in a relationship, she came home to find him in her bedroom, which caused an argument. He called her a whore and beat her again.

The first time Rusty was arrested for beating her, a friend had called after seeing her puffy, black-and-blue face, she said.

Yet, despite all the abuse, she decided to marry Rusty in December 2004.

Sheffield wanted to know why she would marry Rusty.

"I don't know," Jessica said. "I shouldn't have, but I did."

She loved him and believed he would change. Several times she tried reconciliation, she said. Each time, Rusty would not make good on his promise to change.

He was arrested a second time and convicted for putting a knife to her throat during a drunken rage.

But she would continually return to him when he pleaded. In June 2007, she told a judge she wanted to try reconciliation. The court hearing was postponed until August. They fell apart again and she went traveling with her children. He continually contacted her for her to come back, she testified.

She left her children with relatives in Kansas and Missouri so she could attend divorce proceedings in Flagstaff and tell the judge she wanted to give Rusty another chance in August. Then, they would go to her home in Lake Tahoe, where she went after a January 2006 break with Rusty, and retrieve her belongings to be together.

Never talked to relatives about money

Testimony concluded Friday before Jessica could recount to the jury what happened the day she shot and killed her husband.

During the prosecution's case, the jury heard evidence from relatives that Jessica wanted $33,000 she believed Rusty had as a result of a moving business he had started.

Jessica had tried several times to get Rusty arrested, and family members testified she wanted a judge to give her Rusty's money during divorce proceedings.

She told the jury that she didn't believe Rusty was operating a legitimate business and she wanted him to stop in order to prevent any lawsuits against her because she was still married to him.

Jessica's mother, who claimed to dislike her daughter and her lifestyle, testified via videotaped deposition that Jessica told her Rusty would give her the money "or else." Jessica said she and her mother are estranged and have very little contact.

Jessica denied that she ever talked with relatives about money Rusty had. In fact, she said he was broke. The only time she talked to relatives about money owed her was alimony and child support from an ex-husband who lives in California.

Jessica bought a .22-caliber handgun at a Flagstaff sporting goods store just days before the shooting. And the prosecution contends that when Jessica fled and dumped the gun, claiming to acquaintances in California she had shot Rusty, she demonstrated she had knowledge of guilt.

Jessica's testimony continues Tuesday morning in front of Judge Danna Hendrix.

 
 

Alleged murder motive: $33K

By Larry Hendricks - AZDailySun.com

January 13, 2009

The prosecution argued that she left her children with relatives, drove to Flagstaff, bought a gun and intended to kill her husband for $33,000 she believed he had.

The defense has maintained all along that she accidentally shot her husband while trying to defend herself from a man who had attacked her before.

Trial began Tuesday in Coconino County Superior Court for Jessica Riggins, 41, accused of intentionally shooting and killing her husband, Rusty, in his Flagstaff home on Aug. 7, 2007.

A jury of 12 with three alternates in the courtroom of Presiding Judge Danna Hendrix listened as the prosecution outlined its case.

In the gallery was Rusty Riggins' mother and other family members and supporters.

Dennis Harrison, deputy Coconino County attorney, said the motive for the murder boiled down to money. Jessica believed her husband to have $33,000 and she wanted it. Harrison added that she wanted the money because the two were scheduled to attend divorce proceedings the day before his body was discovered, and she was scheduled to receive very little spousal support.

Defense attorney Kenneth Sheffield told the judge that he wanted to withhold making his opening statement until the prosecution completed it case.

In previous courtroom appearances and public statements, Sheffield said that Riggins acted in self-defense in the shooting. Sheffield also said that an additional defense was that the shooting was accidental. Her husband had been convicted of prior domestic violence attacks against her.

The defense also argued prior to trial that Jessica Riggins suffered from battered woman syndrome, which explains why she would return to her abuser and eventually decide that she had had enough.

Shot in the back

The body of Rusty Riggins was found in his Boulder Pointe home in the master bedroom. He had been shot at close range in the back with a .22-caliber weapon. The bullet pierced both lungs and his heart. Harrison told the jury that just days prior to the shooting, Jessica Riggins had purchased a semi-automatic .22-caliber handgun at a local sporting goods store.

She wasn't originally sold the weapon because she did not have a local address. The next day, she got an identification card at the Motor Vehicle Division in Flagstaff with her husband's address and legally purchased the weapon, Harrison said.

A car belonging to the mother of Rusty Riggins was missing from the home and police found a Jeep Wagoneer belonging to Jessica abandoned in a motel parking lot on Woodlands Village Boulevard, less than a mile from the crime scene.

Prior to coming to Flagstaff, Jessica Riggins had dropped her two children off with relatives in Missouri. After the shooting, she fled to Mexico and was arrested a few days later when she tried to re-enter the country.

On her way to Mexico, Jessica Riggins told the sister of her ex-husband that she needed to burn her clothes and cut and dye her hair, Harrison said. She also wanted to turn over custody of her children to her ex-husband.

Harrison told the jury that Riggins told the ex-husband's sister, "I did it. I killed him."

When she was encouraged to turn herself in, Harrison said Jessica Riggins responded, "I'm going to wait until the media plays up the domestic violence."

Changing for the better

Rusty Riggins had been arrested, and convicted, of domestic violence felonies against Jessica Riggins, Harrison said. But her husband had started a moving business and his life had been changing for the better while he was on probation and she had moved out of state.

Friends and relatives have consistently told police that Jessica Riggins was just as much the instigator and aggressor.

Harrison said that Jessica Riggins, seeing her husband's success, tried several times to get her husband rearrested by contacting the police, the probation department and even local NEWS media in Flagstaff.

In the room where Rusty Riggins' body was found, there was no evidence of a struggle or a fight, Harrison said.

Witnesses for the prosecution Tuesday included officers who initially discovered Rusty Riggins' body on a missing person call from his mother and co-worker. When the jury was shown crime scene photos of the body, Jessica Riggins did not look at the projection screen, and Rusty Riggins' mother tearfully had to excuse herself from the gallery temporarily.

Testimony continues today. The trial is likely to last 10 weeks.

 
 

Riggins to claim self-defense in killing of husband

By Larry Hendricks - AZDailySun.com

August 1, 2008

At trial, her defense will be that she is a battered woman who was trying to defend herself from an attack when the gun she pointed at her abusive husband accidentally fired.

The prosecution will attempt to frame a different picture of a woman aggressively trying to ruin her husband's life and get him sent to jail so she could tap $30,000 in credit. When that didn't work, she formed a plan to kill him.

Attorneys in the case of Jessica Riggins, 41, were in Coconino County Superior Court Friday to argue what evidence should be presented at her trial, which is scheduled to begin Oct. 16.

Defense attorney Kenneth Sheffield presented motions to keep the prosecution from using information that showed she spent several days prior to the killing trying to get her husband Rusty, who was on intensive probation at the time of his death, back in jail.

The motive, according to prosecutor Marianne Sullivan, was to get at $30,000 in credit card money Riggins had that Jessica wanted. When that didn't work, Jessica bought a gun and shot and killed her husband for the money.

The prosecution argued that the information was not only relevant and should be permitted at trial, but it helped contextualize Jessica's premeditation of murder.

Fled to Mexico

The body of Rusty Riggins was found in his home the morning of Aug. 7, 2007. He had been shot a close range with a .22- caliber weapon. Just days prior to the shooting, Jessica had purchased a .22-caliber weapon at a local sporting goods store.

Jessica fled to Mexico after the shooting. When she tried to return to the country on Aug. 12, 2007, she was arrested and extradited back to Flagstaff.

Later that month, she was indicted by a county grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, auto theft and two counts of credit card theft.

She has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Sullivan argued that the prosecution wants to present certain acts and statements Jessica made prior to and after Riggins' death to "complete the story" of what happened for a jury. Evidence exists of her efforts to get $30,000 from Riggins, contained on credit cards, by contacting police, the county attorney, the probation department and even the news media, to claim Riggins was in violation of his probation by operating a moving business without a business license. She made allegations, also, that Riggins was suicidal and was doing drugs.

When her attempts to land him in jail failed, Sullivan said Jessica's efforts turned to premeditated murder.

No bearing on motive

Sheffield said none of the acts and statements are admissible as evidence because they have no bearing on motive to commit murder. In fact, the evidence points to Riggins having every reason to be angry and aggressive toward Jessica.

Judge Danna Hendrix said Jessica's actions prior to the death of her husband have no bearing on the case and she will not allow them to be presented at trial. But statements Jessica made to friends and family, where the prosecution contends she laid out her plan to get money from Riggins, will be allowed at trial because they do have bearing on motive.

The couple had a history of domestic violence, and Riggins was twice convicted of domestic violence felonies against Jessica, according to court records.

But people who knew the couple consistently remarked how Jessica could be just as much the aggressor as Riggins.

Sheffield said he will be wanting to present to the jury evidence that Jessica suffered from battered woman syndrome, a disorder associated with being a victim of domestic violence. Previously, Sheffield said his client acted irrationally because she is a victim of domestic violence. Victims often return to their attackers, which Jessica did. She was living with Riggins at the time of his death.

The couple's divorce was scheduled to be finalized the day Riggins' body was discovered.

Sullivan said it is anticipated the prosecution will be contesting the battered woman syndrome evidence.

Jessica is being held in the county jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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