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Christina Marie RIGGS

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: November 4, 1997
Date of arrest: Next day (suicide attempt)
Date of birth: September 2, 1971
Victims profile: Justin Thomas, 5, and Shelby Alexis, 2 (her two children)
Método de matar: Smothering with a pillow
Location: Pulaski County, Arkansas, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Arkansas on May 2, 2000
 
 

 
 

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Summary:

Riggs, a licensed nurse, was convicted of murder by smothering her two preschool-aged children in their beds at the family's Sherwood home.

On November 4, 1997, Riggs obtained the anti-depressant Elavil from her pharmacist, the painkiller morphine and the toxic potassium chloride from the hospital where she worked.

The heart-stopping potassium chloride is the same drug used in the lethal cocktail injected into condemned inmates in the death house.

Riggs gave the children a small amount of Elavil to put them to sleep. Then she placed each of the children in their beds.

About 10 p.m., she injected 5 year old Justin with undiluted potassium chloride. But unless it is diluted, the drug causes burning and pain. Justin woke and cried out in terror. She then smothered the boy with a pillow.

Moving to her 2 year old Shelby, Riggs passed on the potassium chloride injection because of the pain it had caused Justin. She suffocated her daughter with a pillow.

Riggs then placed the children side-by-side on her bed and covered them with a blanket. She wrote suicide notes, took 28 Elavil tablets, normally a lethal dose, and injected herself with enough undiluted potassium chloride to kill five people. The Elavil took effect, and she fell unconscious to the floor.

The next day, she was discovered by her mother and rushed to the hospital.

At her June 1998 trial, Riggs contended she was not guilty by reason of insanity, blaming chronic, acute depression, but the Pulaski County jury convicted her.

During the penalty phase, Riggs would not allow attorneys to put on a defense, saying she wanted a death sentence. The jury obliged.

Riggs was the fifth woman executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. She was also the first woman executed in Arkansas in more than 150 years.


They Kill Women, Don't They?

By Michael Haddigan - Arkansas Times Online

April 9, 1999

Arkansas moves toward its first execution of a woman.

NEWPORT — An eternity ago, Christina Riggs spent her days shuttling her two pre-school children to day care, working as a licensed practical nurse and managing a calamitous love life.

Now her days are filled with monotony, silence, solitude and soul-crushing guilt. Riggs was convicted last year of smothering her two preschool-aged children in their beds at the family's Sherwood home.

She is the only inmate on the state's newly inaugurated Death Row for women at the Correction Department's McPherson Unit at Newport. She could become the first woman executed in Arkansas in modern times.

But there's another distinction that sets Riggs apart from the rest of Arkansas's condemned inmates. While many claw desperately for life through legal appeals and appeals of appeals, Riggs is what in the death penalty business they call "a volunteer."

She says she has appealed her death sentence only reluctantly. And, the condemned woman says, she's eager to die. "I'll be with my children and with God. I'll be where there's no more pain," Riggs said in a recent interview at the Newport prison. "Maybe I'll find some peace."

Riggs is one of 48 condemned women in American prisons. Death sentences for women are rare, and actual executions are even more infrequent. The state of Arkansas has never executed a woman.

But, according to Watt Espy, an independent Alabama death penalty researcher, at least three women were executed in Arkansas before the Civil War. Executions were the responsibility of the counties until 1913 when the state took them over. Since then, the names of only three other women have appeared on the death list. All eventually had their sentences reduced.

Riggs meets with her infrequent visitors in a visitation hall not far from the cell where she has been quartered in solitude since her conviction. Handcuffed as she always is when outside her cell, Riggs talks with visitors through a thick clear plastic window and over the hum of the visitation hall's soft-drink machines.

A guard stands just out of earshot. Prison food, she said, is good. Too good, really. Time on the death list has aggravated a lifelong struggle with her weight, she said. "I've put on 30 pounds since I've been here," Riggs said smiling.

Dressed in off-white prison scrubs and sneakers, Riggs wears a little makeup and has taken pains to curl her hair — using rolled-up tube socks as curlers. "You'd be surprised at what you learn in prison," she said. Riggs learned the sock-curling technique in the Pulaski County Jail and later taught it to Whitewater defendant Susan McDougal while they were both being held there.

On Death Row, Riggs said, she's trying hard to deal with what she did to her children, Justin, 2, and Shelby, 5. Pictures of the children decorate a mirror in her cell. At times, she speaks of them almost as if they were still alive. "Sometimes I can't think about them," Riggs said as tears rolled down her cheeks. "It's like they're being ripped away from me all over again."

During her trial, Riggs blamed chronic, acute depression for the state of mind that led her to drug and suffocate her children and then to unsuccessfully attempt suicide. But Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley said the jury saw a much different Christina Riggs. "Essentially, what the jury saw was that she was self-centered, that she viewed the children as an inconvenience and an interference with what she wanted to pursue," Jegley said. "She placed her interests above those of the children."

Alone in the isolation of her cell, the condemned woman said, Death Row is a state of mind. She continues to be haunted by the memory of her children. "A lot of regret. That's what goes through my mind, day-in, day-out," Riggs said. "God's punishing me. He let me live so I would suffer."

By her own account, the torment of the last few years came after a lifetime of sexual abuse, depression and failed relationships. A native of Lawton, Okla., Riggs lived most of her life in Oklahoma City.

According to a journal Riggs recently began in prison, her stepbrother sexually abused from about age 7 to 13. At 13, she was also abused by a neighbor, she said. Within a year, she began drinking, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. "I felt that no boy liked me because of my weight, so I became sexually promiscuous because I thought that was the only way I could have a boyfriend," she wrote.

By age 16, Riggs was pregnant, and in January 1988 she gave the baby boy up for adoption. After high school, she became a licensed practical nurse and worked part-time as a home care nurse and full-time at a Veterans Administration hospital. After dating several men, including a sailor and a bar bouncer, Riggs began a relationship with Timothy Thompson, who was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base.

In late October 1991, she learned she was pregnant again. She told Thompson about the baby the day before his discharge from the service. According to the condemned woman's mother, Carol Thomas of Jacksonville, Thompson at first wouldn't accept the baby as his own.

He moved back to his native Minnesota. "Chrissy's luck with men was about zero to nothing," Thomas said. Meanwhile, the pregnant woman rekindled her relationship with the sailor, Jon Riggs, while he was home on leave. "It was great," she wrote in her prison journal. "He felt the baby's first kick. As far as he was concerned, it was his baby."

The baby, Justin, was born on June 7, 1992. His little sister would later call him Bubbie. The nickname stuck. "As I held Justin in my arms and looked into his little face, I became so scared. Would I be a good Mom? Could I give him all he needed?" Riggs wrote.

Jon Riggs eventually moved in with her, but their relationship was troubled from the start, the condemned woman wrote. She became pregnant again, and the couple married in July 1993. But bitter disappointment visited again. Christina Riggs had a miscarriage on her wedding night.

The marriage teetered on the verge of divorce, Riggs wrote, and she became depressed and suicidal, partly, she says, as a result of prescribed birth control medication. A doctor prescribed the anti-depressant Prozac. But when she began to feel better, she stopped taking the drug.

Carol Thomas said her daughter confided in her about the depression, but minimized its effect. "She's always been that way. If I pushed her hard she might get mad and tell me what was going on," Thomas said. But generally Riggs kept her feelings to herself, her mother said.

In the spring of 1994, Riggs became pregnant again, and in December, Shelby Alexis Riggs was born. Her family called the child Sissie. "We were so happy. she was so beautiful. I didn't think things could get any better. (Jon) cried. I cried. He was full of so much love for her. The way he looked at her," Riggs wrote in the journal.

When a terrorist bomb ripped apart Oklahoma City's Murray Federal Building in April 1995, Riggs said the hospital assigned her to work at a triage station a short distance from the blast site.

Defense attorneys indicated during her trial that she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result. But prosecutors contended the hospital had no record that she worked in the blast zone.

In the summer of 1995, the couple decided to move to Sherwood where her mother was then living. The couple hoped the grandmother could help with day care. Riggs got a job at Baptist Hospital where her mother is employed as as a food service worker.

Both children had health problems. Shelby had a series of serious ear infections, and Justin's attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity made him more than a handful, Thomas said.

Eventually, the Riggs' marriage crumbled. Christina divorced Jon Riggs and moved back to Oklahoma City after the father punched Justin in the stomach so hard that the boy required medical attention, according to court documents. Justin was crushed. "Justin would say, 'My Daddy hurt me, and then he went away,' " Thomas recalled. From then on, Riggs' difficult financial circumstances got worse.

Child support payments from Riggs came irregularly, court documents say. And while Riggs worked long hours at a new job at the Arkansas Heart Hospital and at a temporary nursing agency, her child care bills mounted. "The more you work, the more you need day care," she recalled during the prison interview. "Then you feel bad about having them in day care."

Riggs remembered dropping off her daughter Shelby at day care for the first time. The child cried as her mother walked to the car. "She was beating on the glass, yelling, 'Mama! Mama!' " Riggs recalled.

Riggs wrote hot checks. Her car registration and insurance expired. She realized she was going under, Riggs said. "I started out in a boat with a small hole. But the hole kept getting bigger, and no matter how hard you bail, you keep sinking," she said. "I was tired and I gave up. Suicide seemed like the only thing." Carol Thomas said she sensed something was wrong and asked her daughter what was wrong. "She'd just say she was tired and working too many hours," Thomas remembered.

Because Riggs' appeal is still pending, the condemned woman's lawyer, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, allowed an interview only on the condition that she not be asked about her crime. But court papers and trial testimony offer a chilling account of the killings.

On November 4, 1997, Riggs gathered drugs she would need. She obtained the anti-depressant Elavil from her pharmacist, the painkiller morphine and the toxic potassium chloride from the hospital where she worked.

The heart-stopping potassium chloride is the same drug used in the lethal cocktail injected into condemned inmates in the death house. Riggs gave the children a small amount of Elavil to put them to sleep. Then she placed each of the children in their beds.

About 10 p.m., she injected Justin with undiluted potassium chloride. But unless it is diluted, the drug causes burning and pain. Justin woke and cried out in terror. Crying herself now, she injected her son with morphine. It had no effect, and he continued to wail. She then smothered the boy with a pillow.

Next, she moved to Shelby's bed. Riggs decided to forego the potassium chloride injection because of the pain it had caused Justin. She suffocated her daughter with a pillow. Riggs then placed the children side-by-side on her bed and covered them with a blanket.

She wrote suicide notes to her mother and her ex-husband Jon Riggs. She took 28 Elavil tablets, normally a lethal dose, and injected herself with enough undiluted potassium chloride to kill five people. The Elavil took effect, and she fell unconscious to the floor. It was all over by about 10:30 p.m.

The undiluted potassium chloride burned a hole in her arm as big as a silver dollar as she lay in a stupor. After Riggs failed to show up for work the next day, Thomas telephoned her daughter's home but got no response. So she drove to her daughter's apartment and let herself in.

She found the children dead, and thought Christina Riggs was dead too. "All I could do was turn around and around and scream and holler, 'No. No. No.' " Thomas said. "There's no way to describe how I felt." Thomas punched 911 into her cell phone. "My daughter and her babies are dead!" she cried.

Paramedics and police found Riggs barely alive and took her to the Baptist Memorial Medical Center emergency room in North Little Rock. Doctors stabilized Riggs, and later moved her to intensive care where police, who had found the syringes and the suicide notes, kept her under guard.

At her June 1998 trial, Riggs contended she was not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, but the Pulaski County jury convicted her. During the penalty phase, Riggs would not allow Hall to put on a defense, saying she wanted a death sentence.

The jury obliged. Prosecutor Jegley said he doesn't buy Riggs' prayer for death. "One of the things that was clear to the jury was that she was extremely self-centered and manipulative. Saying she wanted to die may have been one of the manipulative machinations that she had grown comfortable with throughout her life," Jegley said.

Attorney John Wesley Hall said the Supreme Court will likely hear her appeal by the summer. He contends that Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey erred when he failed to throw out the statement Riggs made to police from her hospital bed after the failed suicide try.

Hall said Riggs was still "literally hallucinating" from the drug overdose at the time. Hall also contends the court allowed prosecutors to prejudice the jury by showing them four photographs of the dead children. Riggs is still bitter about the photographs, but she seems to bear no malice for the legal system that sentenced her to death.

But if the death penalty was an expression of the jurors' revulsion, they weren't the only ones outraged. Riggs said her early days in the county jail were the toughest. Some women inmates were incensed that Riggs killed her children while they endured a forced separation from their own. "One woman spit at me and cussed me," she said. Now, in the McPherson Unit, she is almost totally isolated from other inmates.

As the appeal of her death sentence slowly winds its way through the legal system, Riggs spends much of her time reading or watching television through the glass of her cell door. "I didn't read a whole lot before I came to jail. I hated reading," Riggs said. "Now I read three or four novels a week. My mom sends them."

Riggs walks circles during exercise periods in the small outdoor courtyard adjoining her cell. She corresponds with prisoners in other states who she said are giving her "an education" about how to be a Death Row inmate.

Riggs also hears regularly from death penalty opponents from as far away as England and Austria. But she doesn't have much in common with them. "I still believe in the death penalty even though I'm sitting here on Death Row," Riggs said. "In my case, I'm glad I have the option." She said lifelong incarceration is a "waste of tax dollars" and torture for the inmate who can only leave prison "feet first" anyway.

Thomas said she hopes her daughter will change her mind, but she supports her decision. "She tells me she is adamant. she does not want to do life," Thomas said. "I want her to do whatever she needs for her. I know how hard it is for her to be in solitary up there by herself."

Riggs said she often wishes she was doing only a ten-year stretch and that her children were still alive. "I'd give anything to have 10 years if I just knew my kids were on the other side of the fence waiting for me," she said. Riggs says she doesn't know what she would do with a lifetime behind bars. If she could get therapy in prison, maybe she'd feel differently, she said. "My kids were all I had." Riggs says she believes her children are in heaven and that she will join them there when she dies. "I know it sounds crazy," she said. "But the torture I have put myself through every day is worse than anything you can imagine."


ProDeathPenalty.com

Gov. Mike Huckabee on Thursday set May 2 for the execution of Christina Marie Riggs, who was sentenced to die by lethal injection for killing her 2 children.

Riggs was convicted in Pulaski County Circuit Court for the Nov. 5, 1997, deaths of Justin, 5, who was injected with potassium chloride and morphine, then smothered, and Shelby Alexis, 2, who was smothered.

Prosecutors said Riggs, who was living at Sherwood at the time, decided that the children had become an inconvenience to her.

They said she left the children by themselves while she competed in karaoke contests and plotted their deaths for 2 or 3 weeks.

Last week, the state Supreme Court affirmed a Pulaski County Circuit Court ruling that granted Riggs' request to stop her appeals and found that she was competent to do so.

Prison officials say records going back to 1913 indicate that no woman has been executed by the state. Riggs is the only woman on Arkansas' death row.

Huckabee said that deciding Riggs' date was uncomfortable because of her sex and because her victims were children. "With all candor, I find myself very much aware that this would be a first in Arkansas," he said. "I'm not particularly comfortable or necessarily happy with that. On the other hand, I recognize the crime and the process that we have to go through, and I'll weigh all of those things, but I'm going to try my best to be as objective as I can be in all of this."


Christina Marie Riggs

Capital Punishment USA

Christina Marie Riggs is unique among the women on these pages in that she insisted on her execution, which took place on the 3rd of May 2000.

She was the first woman to be executed in Arkansas, since the state took over responsibility for executions in 1913 and only the fifth nation-wide since 1977.

She confessed to the killing of her two children, Justin Thomas aged 5 and Shelby Alexis, 2 in November 1997 and asked the jury for the death sentence at the sentencing phase of her trial, telling them "I want to die. I want to be with my babies. I want you to give me the death penalty."

The crime

After her arrest, Christina made a detailed taped confession to the police explaining how she had killed her children. She told them she had mixed an amount of the antidepressant drug Elavil with water and made the children drink it.

Elavil also has a sedative effect and when the children became drowsy she injected Justin in the neck with potassium chloride (one of the drugs used both in lethal injections and open heart surgery to stop the heart beating). Sadly she didn't realize that she had to dilute the potassium chloride for it to work - instead of killing Justin, as she intended, it left him in agony and she gave him an injection of morphine to ease the pain. Weeping, she rocked him in her arms, according to court statements.

When his pain had subsided she smothered him with a pillow and then did the same to Shelby, leaving their bodies side-by-side on a bed, covered with a blanket. She then wrote a suicide note to her estranged husband and left it on the bedside cabinet.

"I hope one day you will forgive me for taking my life and the life of my children. But I can’t live like this any more, and I couldn’t bear to leave my children behind to be a burden on you or to be separated and raised apart from their fathers and live knowing their mother killed herself."

She then swallowed 28 tablets of Elavil and injected herself with potassium chloride. Her mother, Carol Thomas, became concerned that she couldn't raise her daughter and called the police. Officers David Smith and Steve Henker entered her apartment and found the children's bodies and Christina on the floor in the bedroom.

She was semi-conscious and not responding. She was taken to the Baptist Memorial Medical Center in North Little Rock for treatment and arrested by Sherwood police immediately after her release the following day. The Pulaski County Coroner Mark Malcolm estimated that the children had been dead for 10 - 14 hours before they were discovered.

The trial

Christina came to trial at the Pulaski County Circuit Court in June 1998 and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Her defense did not dispute the fact that she had killed her children. Her defense attorneys claimed that she had a long history of depression and low self esteem.

She was relatively poor, a single mom and very overweight at 280 pounds. It seems clear that when she killed her children that she intended to kill herself too and one psychiatrist testified that she was a mentally ill woman who suffered severe depression, which led her to believe that it was "an act of love" to take her children with her.

She did not want the children separated after her death. The specialists who testified in her defense said that her family had a long history of depression and suicide.

She was said to suffer from an hereditary chemical imbalance that caused depression. Christina also claimed to have been sexually abused as a child, which caused her to internalize her feelings. It had also been claimed, prior to the trial, that she had become traumatized by working as a nurse at the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing.

This was later disputed and was not used in evidence by the defense. She did work as a nurse in Oklahoma City but there was no record of her actually being at the scene of the bombing or treating its victims.

The prosecution painted a rather different picture, however. They claimed that she killed the children because they were an inconvenience to her and that she had planed the murders for several weeks in advance.

They also claim that she left them alone in the house or with her mother while she went out at night to Karaoke bars. The eight minute long taped confession was permitted to be entered as evidence and played to the jury giving them a chilling account of how she planned and carried out the killings.

On June 30th 1998, the jury of 7 women and 5 men took just 55 minutes to find her guilty of two counts of first degree murder. Christina collapsed in the court on receiving the verdict.

The trial now moved into the sentencing phase and Christina told the jurors "I want to die. I want to be with my babies. I want you to give me the death penalty." They agreed and Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey sentenced her to death by lethal injection. Christina said "thank you" and squeezed her attorney's hand. The initial execution date was set for August 15th 1998.

She did allow a motion to be filed for a retrial, however, claiming she did not get a fair trial because her police confession (the main evidence against her) was admitted into evidence.

Her attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., told the court that Christina was still under the influence of the Elavil when she gave her confession to police and that Elavil can cause confusion. ''She did not know where she was or what day it was and that she was hallucinating about the officers arriving on an escalator to talk to her,''

It was also claimed that the prosecuting attorney made prejudicial opening remarks to the jury and that they did not take their oath seriously. These motions were rejected by Circuit Judge John Langston. The state Supreme Court overturned all appeals and accepted a motion from her in July 1998 that she was competent to be executed.

On death row

Christina was the only inmate to be housed in the three cell female death row facility at the Correction Department's McPherson Unit at Newport after her sentence. By all accounts she was well cared for. She was allowed to meet with her occasional visitors in a visitation hall not far from her cell.

She was handcuffed whenever she was outside her cell and talked to her visitors through a clear plastic window. Prison food was good. "I've put on 30 pounds since I've been here," she said. She was given the standard off-white prison scrubs and sneakers to wear and was allowed to curl her hair and use a little makeup. She was able to watch television and read several books a week which her mother sent in for her.

She was allowed to exercise in a small outdoor courtyard adjacent to her cell. When interviewed, she said that it was hard trying to deal with what she did to her children, pictures of whom decorated the mirror in her cell. She told the interviewer that she was eager to die. "I'll be with my children and with God. I'll be where there's no more pain. "Maybe I'll find some peace."

Execution

The Arkansas state governor Mike Huckabee reviewed the case but declined to intervene and eventually the execution was set for Tuesday 3rd May, to be carried out between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. in the Cummins Unit, outside Pine Bluff.

Christina was flown from female death row in the McPherson Unit to the Cummins Unit three days prior to execution.

The execution began 18 minutes late because of difficulty in finding a suitable vein to put the catheters into. Christina agreed to have the catheters placed in veins in her wrists.

Her last words, strapped to the gurney, were "There is no way no words can express how sorry I am for taking the lives of my babies," she said. "Now I can be with my babies, as I always intended." She also said "I love you, my babies". The execution went smoothly and she was certified dead nine minutes later.

Background

She had had a difficult childhood. She was born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1971 and claimed to have been sexually abused by her stepbrother between the age of 7 and 13. At 13 she was also abused by a neighbor. By 14 she was drinking, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Her obesity was a major problem - she is quoted as saying "I felt that no boy liked me because of my weight, so I became sexually promiscuous because I thought that was the only way I could have a boyfriend," The inevitable pregnancy followed and in January 1988 she gave the resulting baby boy up for adoption.

On graduating from high school she became a licensed practical nurse. She became pregnant again in October 1991 (with Justin) although the father abandoned her immediately on learning the news.

A little later she went back with a former boyfriend, Jon Riggs, who eventually moved in with her and married her in July 1993 by which time she was pregnant again - sadly this pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. The marriage was not a success and Christina became depressed and suicidal, being prescribed the anti-depressant drug Prozac.

In 1994, she became pregnant again, and in December, Shelby Alexis was born. They moved to Sherwood, Arkansas in 1995 to be near where her mother lived so as to be able to get some help with child care. She and Jon soon divorced and she was left to fend for herself with two small children. Her already poor financial situation began to deteriorate.

Her child support payments from the children's fathers were irregular, she claimed, and the day care costs for her children high. By this time she was working at the Arkansas Heart Hospital (from where she stole the potassium chloride, the morphine and the syringes and needles).

Other bills came in such as her car registration and insurance. She found herself in an increasingly desperate financial situation. Suicide she told one interviewer "seemed like the only thing."

One can imagine that it would be easy to have suicidal thoughts in this situation - it is hardly uncommon, although the prosecution challenged her financial hardship. She was apparently earning $17,000 a year working 12 hour shifts at the Heart Hospital and according to them the children's fathers were making most of their maintenance payments.

Larry Jegley, the Pulaski Country prosecutor who led the case against her, told reporters he didn’t buy her "excuses" for murdering her children. "Simply put, she’s a self-centered, selfish, premeditated killer who did the unspeakable act of taking her own children’s lives." "She used every excuse in the world." "I think the jury just saw her as the manipulative, self-centered person she really and truly is.

She claims she was horribly depressed, she was overweight, she was a single mom, and she didn't have enough money. My response to that is welcome to America. Plenty of folks are in far worst situations than she was." There would seem to be some truth in that too.

Comment

The basic facts of Christina's case are simple - she did kill her two children and wanted to be put to death for so doing. These facts are not in dispute. Had she succeeded in killing herself, after the children, as she intended few people would have ever of heard of her and it would be just another of those sad cases where people kill their family and then themselves.

Unusually, perhaps, Christina believed in capital punishment herself, telling an interviewer "I still believe in the death penalty even though I'm sitting here on Death Row. In my case, I'm glad I have the option." She felt that life without parole was a "waste of tax dollars" and cruel to the inmate who can only leave prison "feet first".

Mianette Layne, a criminal justice and psychology student who corresponded with Christina is quoted as saying of her "I think that she is comforted that she will be punished for what she did," "Her days are guilt-ridden, and she is not getting any help dealing with that guilt. She believes that she will be with her children when she dies, and this is also comforting to her."

Prosecutor Larry Jegley was not impressed by Christina's request to be allowed to be executed, however, telling reporters "One of the things that was clear to the jury was that she was extremely self-centered and manipulative.

Saying she wanted to die may have been one of the manipulative machinations that she had grown comfortable with throughout her life." Did she deserve the death penalty? There is no doubt in law that if you kill your children and then fail in a suicide attempt you can be guilty of murder.

Christina clearly felt this and refused to let her defense put some of the obvious mitigating factors to the jury. A lot of people would consider that the killing of two small children by the mother who they love and trust to be a particularly heinous crime and one which deserves death. Perhaps she was manipulative and selfish, I think we all can be at times.

Raising two small children in difficult financial circumstances may have just got to Christina over time, she knew it was going to be a long time before they grew up and she may not have been able to take the stress of it any longer. I don't feel personally that Christina was really an evil woman but rather a sad and somewhat inadequate person who saw killing the children and herself as the easy way out of the stresses of life. Equally I think not executing her would have been the ultimate cruelty.


Mom Who Killed Kids Is Eager to Die

Waives Appeals So She Can Join Victims

By Robert Anthony Phillips - APBNews Online

April 30, 2000

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.(APBnews.com) -- Christina Marie Riggs is looking forward to being strapped to gurney and dying by lethal injection. Only then does she think she'll find peace in murdering her two children, Justin, 5, and Shelby, 2.

She believes she will be reunited with them in heaven and forgiven by God. "She is racked by guilt," said John Wesley Hall, her lawyer. "I talk to her every day. Like I said, her state of mind is good but she actually is looking forward to dying." She may get her wish this Tuesday.

Riggs, 29, has waived her death penalty appeals after the Arkansas Supreme Court upheld her conviction and sentence. She has even forbidden her lawyer from filing a clemency petition. If nothing changes, she will die by lethal injection in the Cummins Unit, outside Pine Bluff, between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m.

Was depression a factor?

There is no doubt that Riggs killed her children. She gave police an audio-taped confession detailing how she injected Justin with poison, hoping to make his death peaceful, but instead causing him agony. She then smothered both Justin and Shelby and tried to commit suicide.

But the debate over whether Riggs, a one-time licensed practical nurse, should die centers on why she killed her children. Those who feel she should be spared say the single mother developed severe depression that twisted her mind and made her believe it was an act of "mercy" to spare them from being unloved and unwanted after her death. "I think that she is comforted that she will be punished for what she did," said Mianette Layne, a criminal justice and psychology student, who has corresponded with Riggs over the years. "Her days are guilt-ridden, and she is not getting any help dealing with that guilt. ...She believes that she will be with her children when she dies, and this is also comforting to her." "This case is truly pitiful," said Rita Spellinger, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arkansas. "Helping her commit suicide is not what we should be doing."

Rocks anguished child in arms The murders occurred in Riggs duplex home in Sherwood. On the night of Nov. 4, 1997, Riggs placed a small amount of Elavil, an antidepressant with sedative affects, into water and made Justin and Shelby drink it.

Later, Riggs injected a large dose of potassium chloride into Justin's neck, which awakened him in agony. She gave him another injection of morphine to ease the pain, and wept as she rocked him in her arms, according to court statements.

Then, she smothered Justin with a pillow. Riggs also smothered to death 2-year-old Shelby. She laid the two children side-by-side on a bed and covered them with a blanket. She then wrote a suicide note and left it on the nightstand.

She mailed a similar letter to Shelby's father the day before, authorities said. "I hope one day you will forgive me for taking my life and the life of my children," Riggs wrote. "But I can't live like this any more, and I couldn't bear to leave my children behind to be a burden on you or to be separated and raised apart from their fathers and live knowing their mother killed herself." Riggs then injected herself with potassium chloride and swallowed 28 tablets of Elavil.

'Her babies are dead'

The next day, when Riggs didn't show up for work, her mother, Carol Thomas, went to the house to find her. She found her daughter unconscious and the children dead. "My daughter and her babies are dead," she reported to police. Carol Thomas did not respond to requests for comment.

Hall, along with a psychologist and psychiatrist, said that her life was collapsing under the weight of being a single mother. Riggs had been arrested on a bad check charge and threatened with jail time if she issued any more bad checks.

She claimed she was having trouble getting support money from a child's father. She was working 12-hour shifts at Arkansas Heart Hospital, but it still wasn't enough to cover daycare and other expenses, she said. Riggs even claimed to have had to pawn her television and VCR to pay for Justin's birthday party.

Hall said that Riggs earned about $17,000 a year. She was also severely depressed, Hall stated. The sexual abuse she claimed to have suffered as a child, her failed relationships with men and a poor self-image over a weight problem helped turn her into a child killer, doctors and Hall argued in court.

Was murder an act of 'love?'

A psychiatrist testified that Riggs was a mentally ill woman who suffered severe depression, which led her to believe that it was "an act of love" to take her children with her in death. Doctors who talked to Riggs say she killed them out of "mercy" to save them from being separated after her death.

In addition, the psychologist and psychiatrist who testified on her behalf at trial said that Riggs' family has a long history of depression and suicide.

Riggs also claimed to have been sexually abused as a child, which caused her to internalize her feelings and suffer silently. But Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley says he doesn't buy Riggs' "excuses" for murdering her children. "Simply put, she's a self-centered, selfish, premeditated killer who did the unspeakable act of taking her own children's lives," Jegley told APBnews.com.

'She used every excuse in the world' Jegley said that to Riggs, the children were a "hindrance" and an "inconvenience." She locked them in their room for hours and left Justin and Shelby alone when she went out to Karaoke bars.

Other times she left the children with her mother. The allegation angered Hall, who said that if Riggs did lock Justin and Shelby in a room "it only happened one time." He said the woman who testified to that later admitted that she gave Riggs her own child to watch. "She used every excuse in the world," Jegley said. "I think the jury just saw her as the manipulative, self-centered person she really and truly is. She claims she was horribly depressed, she was overweight, she was a single mom, and she didn't have enough money. My response to that is welcome to America. Plenty of folks are in far worst situations than she was."

Prosecutors said that Riggs also claimed that while previously working at a hospital in Oklahoma City, she suffered traumatic stress disorder while treating victims of the April 1995 bombing. However, hospital officials later said there was no record of Riggs treating any bombing victims.

In addition, Jegley stated the children's fathers made most of their support payments, contrary to Riggs' claims she was having a difficult time obtaining money from them.

Justin was born out of wedlock to an Air Force airman and Shelby was the product of a failed marriage that ended in divorce. Jegley stated that he believes Riggs' suicide attempt was a ruse. He said she took just enough to render her unconscious.

'I want to die'

Police interviewed Riggs after she was revived and obtained an eight-minute, tape-recorded confession detailing the murders. Riggs had pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect at her trial in 1998. After being convicted, Riggs asked the jury for a death sentence. "I want to be with my babies," Riggs told the jury. "I started this out seven months ago. And I want you to give me the death penalty. ...This was a decision I made seven months ago." The jury granted her request.

Web site tells Riggs story Photographs of the children are posted on a Web site Layne started called "Voices For Christy." There's a photo of a happy baby Shelby. She's wearing a red dress with a pink bow. Another shows Justin playing with a toy.

The site also contains research on women who kill their children and three excerpts from Riggs' prison diaries. In these diaries, Riggs claims various factors led her to murder.

She says she was molested as a child and teenager, and began drinking and using marijuana when she was about 13. She wrote that because of her weight, she had a self-image problem and became a promiscuous teenager.

She became pregnant at 16 -- the father an African-American boy -- and gave up the child for adoption, she said in her diary. In 1991, she has became pregnant with Justin during an affair with a man serving in the Air Force. "He was so beautiful," Riggs said of Justin. "When I held him in my arms, I thought my heart would explode. I was so proud. ...I held Justin in my arms and looked into his little face. I became so scared. Would I be a good mom? Could I give him all he needed?"

Life 'not different' from ours

Riggs said that after Justin's father left, she got back together with an old boyfriend. He told her he wanted to marry her and treat Justin as his own son. The couple married, but divorced. That marriage produced Shelby, Riggs wrote.

Layne said she created the site to show the "fragile line" that separates Riggs from other people. "People are curious about how this sort of crime happens, and I wanted to put some information out there with some real research about why mother's killed their children," Layne said. "I wanted people to see that her life was not so different from the rest of ours. It was that moment that made it different, and I wanted people to see how fragile a line it is."

Layne's research suggests that psychological factors are present in many of the mothers who kill their children -- depression, psychosis and personality disorders. She states that social factors include marital problems, financial problems and social isolation.

Riggs: Evil or mad with depression?

Is Riggs just a selfish killer who took the lives of her children or a woman so beaten by life that her mind became ravaged by depression? It depends on who you ask. "Most decent folks' initial reaction to a parent taking his or her child's life ... is that she's got to be crazy," Jegley said. "People want to find an explanation for the unspeakable. You just have to acknowledge that some folks are evil. They are so wrapped up in themselves that they view children as property to be disposed of." The prosecutor's claims anger Hall. "He's just trying to justify killing her," Hall said. "I think the prosecutor is evil and it's more evil how they have twisted the facts. ...I think that people are so horrified and scared by this kind of crime that they have to draw a very clear line around these people, basically labeling them as pure evil so that they are not confused with the rest of us."

If Riggs enters the death house Tuesday, she will become the first woman executed in Arkansas since the state took over all executions from the county in 1913, state prison officials said. Hall said Riggs gets letters from people urging her to appeal her conviction. Her mother is with her each day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he said. Jim Harris, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Huckabee, said no applications for clemency have been filed.


Sexism and the death chamber

Chivalry lives when a woman must die

By Cathy Young - Salon.com

May 4, 2000

On Tuesday night in Varner, Ark., 28-year-old Christina Marie Riggs was executed for the 1997 murders of her two small children. She was given a lethal injection of potassium chloride, the drug she had originally planned to use to kill her children. (She suffocated them after a botched attempt of the drugging plan.)

Riggs, a former nurse, was put to death despite pleas for her life from anti-death-penalty groups including Amnesty International and the American Civil Libertes Union.

In fact, there was little difference between the execution of Riggs and the other 28 executions carried out in the United States so far this year, except that Riggs, who said she wanted to die to be with her "babies," had refused to appeal her sentence or to seek clemency from Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. And yet her death was much bigger news.

The cause for intense public soul-searching and beating of breasts was not the nature of Riggs' crime or her wish to die. It was her gender. It was, for all intents and purposes, a demonstration of garden-variety sexism. And this isn't the first time our hypocrisy has been blatantly displayed.

Riggs was the first woman to be executed in Arkansas in 150 years, and only the fifth executed in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the ban on capital punishment in 1976.

Obviously, the very rarity of women's executions makes them newsworthy. But this is only the statistical manifestation of the stubborn gender discrimination that taints our attitude about capital punishment in this country.

Whether one sees the death penalty as justice or barbarism (and, for the record, I have no moral objection to imposing it for premeditated murder, though the risk of the state taking an innocent life is troubling enough to warrant opposition to the practice), surely the perpretrator's gender should be irrelevant.

But that is not the way it works in the real world. We are consistently more likely to seek mitigating circumstances for women's heinous deeds, to see female criminals as disturbed or victimized rather than evil. The thought of a woman in the death chamber makes people cringe -- even those who have no problem with sending a man to his death for his crimes.

It appears that chivalry still lives when a woman must die.

Two years ago, there were many more headlines and much more debate as Karla Faye Tucker awaited execution in Texas for a brutal double murder.

Tucker had become a born-again Christian and her clemency petition was backed by such unusual suspects as Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson, Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and right-wing hero Oliver North -- all generally pro-capital punishment.

While most of Tucker's champions insisted that redemption and not womanhood was the issue, none had intervened on behalf of male murderers who had experienced similar death-row conversions.

And there was ample evidence to suggest that the support for "this sweet woman of God," as Robertson put it, was not entirely gender-neutral. On CNN's "Crossfire," when asked if the crusade to save Tucker was an instance of "misplaced chivalry," North gallantly replied, "I don't think chivalry can ever be misplaced" -- though he went on to insist that "gender is not a factor."

Meanwhile, on the left, the chivalrous Geraldo Rivera dispensed with any pretense of neutrality and issued a bizarre plea to Texas Gov. George W. Bush on his CNBC show: "Please, don't let this happen. This is -- it's very unseemly. Texas, manhood, macho swagger ... What are ya, going to kill a lady? Oh, jeez. Why?"

The lady in question, by the way, had used a pickax to dispatch two sleeping people (one of whom had made her angry by parking his motorbike in her living room) and later bragged that she experienced an orgasm with every swing.


American Civil Liberties Union

April 28, 2000

The Honorable Mike Huckabee
Governor, State of Arkansas

Re: Execution of Christina Riggs

Dear Governor Huckabee:

I understand that you believe that, under Arkansas law, the Governor does not have the power to grant clemency to a prisoner who has not asked for clemency first. I believe that question is debatable.

However, you do have the power to grant Christina, or any prisoner, a reprieve, to give her more time to consider further appeals and a clemency request. I am asking you to do that now, know that there are many who would do everything in their power to persuade Christina to do so.

Imagine this scenario: a man who claims he is innocent is convicted of capital murder; he waives all appeals and decides to die; another man comes forward, confesses and has the DNA sample to prove it. Even if the innocent man does not ask for clemency, certainly in a just and democratic state the governor must have the right to intervene on his behalf and say, "this state will not execute an innocent man."

I understand that you have a keen interest in due process, especially in capital cases. In considering your decision, please also take these facts about the trial into consideration. Although the police were instructed not to speak to Christina out of the presence of her attorney, a statement was taken from her while she was in a drugged state. Please see below the excerpt from her original appeal:

At 9:20 a.m., with Appellant's family still demanding to see her, and officers telling them that she was incapable of seeing them because she was in no condition to talk to them, Dets. Jones and Williams went into Appellant's room, Mirandiz-ed her, and pro-ceed-ed to take an eight minute statement.

At times, Appellant was variously crying uncontrollably, talking fairly rationally, did not know where she was or what day it was, and was then delusional and hallucinating. One could infer from the statement that, as soon as Appellant said something truly delusional, the officers immediately cut off the questioning. The statement ended at 9:28 a.m.

Two minutes after the statement was concluded, a doctor came into her room and found her unconscious and difficult to wake and talk to. [My emphasis] He found that she was still suffering greatly from the effect of the drug overdose. Shortly thereafter, Appellant was charged with the capital murder of her two children and moved to the County Jail. She was still suffering from the ef-fects of the drug overdose and was not aware of what was going on. . . .

This is the first case to truly deal with a suspect in a crime being under the direct influence of a powerful drug and literally hallucinating during the taking […] of a statement. Also, the police knew that Appellant's family had retained her a lawyer and agreed not to talk to her and then took a statement anyway. The statement is involuntary under the "totality of circumstances" for multiple reasons.

It would be a terrible shame if the State of Arkansas executed a person with mental illness because 1) a statement was taken from her in a drug-induced hallucinatory state, 2) the jury failed to judge her mental state properly, and 3) she was too depressed or deluded to ask for help herself.

Thank you for considering a reprieve for Christina Riggs. This would allow the possibility of her pursuing federal appeals, and enable our criminal justice system to work to its fullest potential in the matter of life and death.

Sincerely,

Rita Sklar, Executive Director, ACLU of Arkansas


Christina Marie Riggs (1971 – May 2, 2000) was a murderer executed in Arkansas by lethal injection. She was convicted of the November 4, 1997 murder of her two preschool-aged children, Justin and Shelby Alexis Riggs in their beds at the family's Sherwood, Arkansas home.

The murder

Riggs, a licensed nurse, was convicted of murder by smothering her two preschool-aged children in their beds at the family's Sherwood home. On November 4, 1997, Riggs obtained the anti-depressant Elavil from her pharmacist, the painkiller morphine and the toxic potassium chloride from the hospital where she worked. The heart-stopping potassium chloride is the same drug used in the lethal cocktail injected into condemned inmates in the death house.

Riggs gave the children a small amount of Elavil to put them to sleep. Then she placed each of the children in their beds. About 10 p.m., she injected 5 year old Justin with undiluted potassium chloride. But unless it is diluted, the drug causes burning and pain. Justin woke and cried out in terror. She then smothered the boy with a pillow.

Moving to her 2 year old Shelby, Riggs passed on the potassium chloride injection because of the pain it had caused Justin. She suffocated her daughter with a pillow. Riggs then placed the children side-by-side on her bed and covered them with a blanket.

She wrote suicide notes saying "I hope one day you will forgive me for taking my life and the life of my children. But I can’t live like this any more, and I couldn’t bear to leave my children behind to be a burden on you or to be separated and raised apart from their fathers and live knowing their mother killed herself.".

She then took 28 Elavil tablets, normally a lethal dose, and injected herself with enough undiluted potassium chloride to kill five people. The Elavil took effect, and she fell unconscious to the floor.

The next day, she was discovered by Officers David Smith and Steve Henker after a call by her mother Carol Thomas, who had became concerned that she couldn't reach her daughter. The officers entered her apartment and found Riggs and rushed her to the hospital. She was taken to the Baptist Memorial Medical Center in North Little Rock for treatment and arrested by Sherwood police immediately after her release the following day.

The Pulaski County Coroner Mark Malcolm estimated that the children had been dead for 10 - 14 hours before they were discovered. After her arrest, Christina made a detailed taped confession to the police explaining how she had killed her children.

Trial and appeals

Christina came to trial at the Pulaski County Circuit Court in June 1998 and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Her defense did not dispute the fact that she had killed her children. Her defense attorneys claimed that she had a long history of depression and low self esteem. She was relatively poor, a single mom and very overweight at 280 pounds. It seems clear that when she killed her children that she intended to kill herself too and one psychiatrist testified that she was a mentally ill woman who suffered severe depression, which led her to believe that it was "an act of love" to take her children with her.

She did not want the children separated after her death. The specialists who testified in her defense said that her family had a long history of depression and suicide. She was said to have suffered from an hereditary chemical imbalance that caused depression. Christina also claimed to have been sexually abused as a child, which caused her to internalize her feelings.

It had also been claimed, prior to the trial, that she had become traumatized by working as a nurse at the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing. This was later disputed and was not used in evidence by the defense. She did work as a nurse in Oklahoma City but there was no record of her actually being at the scene of the bombing or treating its victims.

The prosecution painted a rather different picture, however. They claimed that she killed the children because they were an inconvenience to her and that she had planned the murders for several weeks in advance. They also claimed that she left them alone in the house or with her mother while she went out at night to Karaoke bars. The eight minute long taped confession was permitted to be entered as evidence and played to the jury giving them a chilling account of how she planned and carried out the killings.

On June 30th 1998, the jury of 7 women and 5 men took just 55 minutes to find her guilty of two counts of first degree murder. Christina collapsed in the court on receiving the verdict. The trial now moved into the sentencing phase and Christina told the jurors "I want to die. I want to be with my babies. I want you to give me the death penalty."

During the penalty phase, Riggs would not allow attorneys to put on a defense, saying she wanted a death sentence. The jury obliged and Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey sentenced her to death by lethal injection. Christina said "thank you" and squeezed her attorney's hand. The initial execution date was set for August 15th 1998.

She did allow a motion to be filed for a retrial, however, claiming she did not get a fair trial because her police confession (the main evidence against her) was admitted into evidence. Her attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., told the court that Christina was still under the influence of the Elavil when she gave her confession to police and that Elavil can cause confusion. She did not know where she was or what day it was and that she was hallucinating about the officers arriving on an escalator to talk to her,

It was also claimed that the prosecuting attorney made prejudicial opening remarks to the jury and that they did not take their oath seriously. These motions were rejected by Circuit Judge John Langston. The state Supreme Court overturned all appeals and accepted a motion from her in July 1998 that she was competent to be executed.

Execution

The Arkansas state governor Mike Huckabee reviewed the case but declined to intervene and eventually the execution was set for Tuesday 3rd May, to be carried out between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. in the Cummins Unit, outside Pine Bluff. Christina was flown from female death row in the McPherson Unit to the Cummins Unit three days prior to execution.

The execution began 18 minutes late because of difficulty in finding a suitable vein to put the catheters into. Christina agreed to have the catheters placed in veins in her wrists. Her last words, strapped to the gurney, were "There is no way no words can express how sorry I am for taking the lives of my babies." she said. "Now I can be with my babies, as I always intended." She also said "I love you, my babies". The execution went smoothly and she was certified dead nine minutes later.

Riggs was executed by lethal injection at the Cummins unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections on Thurday, May 2, 2000. Riggs was the 22nd person executed by the state of Arkansas since Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972), after new capital punishment laws were passed in Arkansas and that came into force on March 23, 1973. She was also the 5th female murderer executed in U.S. and the 1st female murderer executed in Arkansas since 1976.

Wikipedia.org
 


Supreme Court of Arkansas

Riggs v. State

Christina Marie RIGGS v. STATE of Arkansas.

No. CR 98-1281.

November 04, 1999

John Wesley Hall, Jr., Little Rock, for appellant.Mark Pryor, Att'y Gen., by:  David R. Raupp, Sr. Asst. Att'y Gen., Little Rock, for appellee.

Appellant Christina Marie Riggs appeals her judgment of conviction for the capital murder of her two children, Justin Thomas (age 5) and Shelby Riggs (age 2).   She raises four points on appeal relating to the guilt phase of her trial:  (1) that her statement to police was involuntary and her waiver of Miranda rights was also involuntary, unknowing, and unintelligently made due to her attempted suicide by drug overdose and overreaching police conduct;  (2) that the trial court erred in refusing to give instructions that the jury should consider her mental disease and defect in assessing her ability to form the necessary intent to murder;  (3) that the trial court erred in overruling her objection to prejudicial remarks in the prosecutor's opening statement;  and (4) the trial court erred in admitting into evidence four prejudicial photographs.   Riggs presents no issues relating to the sentencing phase of her trial and at her trial asked to receive the death penalty after her guilt for capital murder was determined.   We are not persuaded that any of these issues has merit, and we affirm.

The record reveals that at the time of the murders of her children Riggs was a licensed practical nurse at the Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock. On the last day of her work at the hospital which was November 4, 1997, she obtained Elavil, which is an antidepressant.   She also obtained morphine and potassium chloride.   She returned to her residence in Sherwood, and that night at about ten o'clock, she gave Elavil to her children to make them sleep.   After they fell asleep, she injected Justin with potassium chloride.   When he woke up crying in pain, she injected him with morphine.   When that did not quiet him, she smothered him with a pillow.   According to Riggs, Justin fought back as she smothered him.   After her experience with Justin and the potassium chloride, she decided to smother Shelby with a pillow, which she did.   She told police that Shelby only fought “a little bit.”   Following the murders, she moved the bodies of the dead children into her bedroom and placed them together in her bed.   She wrote suicide notes to her mother, Carol Thomas;  her sister, Roseanna Pickett;  and a former husband, John Riggs.   She next took a considerable dosage of Elavil and injected herself with potassium chloride.   The drugs caused her to pass out on her bedroom floor.   This was estimated to have occurred at approximately ten-thirty p.m. that same night.

The following day, which was November 5, 1997, Riggs's mother attempted to locate her and came to her house in Sherwood at about four o'clock in the afternoon.   She found the bodies of the two children and her unconscious daughter.   She called 911, and paramedics arrived on the scene.   The paramedics eventually took Riggs to Baptist Memorial Hospital in North Little Rock at about five-thirty p.m., where her stomach was pumped and she was stabilized.

Meanwhile, the Sherwood police conducted a search of Riggs's home, where they found the suicide notes, the bottle of Elavil, the morphine, potassium chloride, and the used syringes.   Back at the hospital, Riggs's family members had arrived, including her mother and sisters, and they asked to see her.   The Sherwood Police Department had instructed police officers and hospital staff not to permit her to talk to or see her family.   Shortly after midnight, Riggs's family retained an attorney to represent her.   The attorney contacted the Sherwood Police Department and told police officers not to speak to Riggs without his being present.

On the morning of November 6, 1997, Detectives Charles Jones and Cheryl Williams of the Sherwood Police Department arrived to take Riggs's statement.   At 9:20 a.m., Detective Jones gave Riggs Miranda warnings and took an eight-minute statement.   In that statement, Riggs admitted to killing her children and explained the details of the killings, together with her attempted suicide.   Riggs was released from the hospital several hours later and moved to the Pulaski County Jail. She was charged with two counts of capital murder.   Later, she pled not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

Before her trial, Riggs moved to suppress the statement made to the Sherwood detectives in the hospital on the basis that her statement was involuntary because of her drugged condition and because her family had retained an attorney for her.   According to her motion, taking the statement under these conditions violated her right to due process of law and her right to counsel.   The trial court denied Riggs's motion and found that after listening to a recording of her statement, there was no indication that she was hallucinating.   The court also found that she was sufficiently coherent, that her statement was voluntary, and that she had been accorded her rights under Miranda.

At trial, the jury rejected Riggs's defense of mental incapacity caused by severe depression, and she was convicted on both counts of capital murder.   During the penalty phase, Riggs testified and asked that she be sentenced to death.   The jury sentenced her to death on both counts.   Riggs initially refused to appeal, and this court stayed her execution for a determination of whether she had the capacity to choose between life and death under Franz v. State, 296 Ark. 181, 754 S.W.2d 839 (1988).   See Riggs v. Humphrey, 334 Ark. 231, 972 S.W.2d 946 (1998) (per curiam ).   Before the trial court could conduct the hearing, Riggs agreed to appeal the guilt phase of her trial.   She instructed her attorney not to appeal any of the issues related to the penalty phase.

I. Suppression of Her Statement

For her first point, Riggs claims that the trial court erred in finding that her statement to the detectives was voluntary and her waiver intelligently made, because she was still under the influence of the drugs taken during her suicide attempt and was hallucinating when she made her statement.   She further claims that isolating her from family and retained counsel violated her Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

a. Custody

We initially address whether Riggs was an accused in custody at the time she gave her statement to the Sherwood police.   The State argues that she was not in custody for purposes of Miranda protection when she talked to the police detectives.   We disagree.

In 1995, we discussed several United States Supreme Court decisions regarding what constitutes custodial interrogation:

It is settled that the safeguards prescribed by Miranda become applicable as soon as a suspect's freedom of action is curtailed to a “ degree associated with formal arrest.”  Berkemer v. McCarty, 468 U.S. 420, 440, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 82 L.Ed.2d 317 (1984), citing California v. Beheler, 463 U.S. 1121, 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517, 77 L.Ed.2d 1275 (1983) (per curiam).   Stated another way, the Supreme Court defined custodial interrogation as meaning the questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of action in any significant way.   Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966);  see also Stansbury v. California, 511 U.S. 318, 114 S.Ct. 1526, 128 L.Ed.2d 293 (1994) (per curiam);  and Oregon v. Mathiason, 429 U.S. 492, 97 S.Ct. 711, 50 L.Ed.2d 714 (1977) (per curiam).   The Supreme Court further explicitly recognized that Miranda warnings are not required simply because the questioning takes place in the station house, or because the questioned person is one whom the police suspect.  Beheler, 463 U.S. at 1125, 103 S.Ct. 3517.   In resolving the question of whether a suspect was “in custody” at a particular time, the only relevant inquiry is how a reasonable man in the suspect's shoes would have understood his situation.   The initial determination of custody depends on the objective circumstances of the interrogation, not on the subjective views harbored by either the interrogating officers or the person being interrogated.  Stansbury, 114 S.Ct. at 1529.

State v. Spencer, 319 Ark. 454, 457, 892 S.W.2d 484, 485 (1995).   In later cases, we have followed the standards set forth in Spencer.   See, e.g., Wofford v. State, 330 Ark. 8, 952 S.W.2d 646 (1997);  Solomon v. State, 323 Ark. 178, 913 S.W.2d 288 (1996).

In the instant case, we have no doubt that viewing the objective circumstances, a reasonable person in Riggs's shoes would have believed she was in custody.   First, she was under a police guard at the hospital, she was strapped to her bed in the ICU unit, and her family was prevented from seeing her.1  Second, the police officers had found her dead children and had reasonable cause to believe that she killed them based on the suicide notes found at her house.   Third, she was read her Miranda rights by the Sherwood police detectives, which indicates that she was more than a mere suspect.   We hold that the objective circumstances of the interrogation support a conclusion that Riggs was in custody.

b. Voluntariness of the Statement.

We have said that statements made while in police custody are presumed to be involuntary and the burden rests on the State to prove their voluntariness and a waiver of Miranda rights by a preponderance of the evidence.   See Rychtarik v. State, 334 Ark. 492, 976 S.W.2d 374 (1998);  Smith v. State, 334 Ark. 190, 974 S.W.2d 427 (1998).   In determining voluntariness, this court looks to whether the statement and waiver were the result of free and deliberate choice rather than coercion, intimidation, and deception.  Rankin v. State, 338 Ark. 723, 1 S.W.3d 14 (1999);  Smith v. State, supra, citing Colorado v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 107 S.Ct. 851, 93 L.Ed.2d 954 (1987) and Moran v. Burbine, 475 U.S. 412, 106 S.Ct. 1135, 89 L.Ed.2d 410 (1986).   On appeal, this court makes an independent determination of the voluntariness of a confession, but in doing so, we review the totality of the circumstances and will reverse only when the trial court's finding of voluntariness is clearly against the preponderance of the evidence.   See Jones v. State, 323 Ark. 655, 916 S.W.2d 736 (1996);  Trull v. State, 322 Ark. 157, 908 S.W.2d 83 (1995).   We recognize in our determination of whether a trial court's finding is clearly erroneous that conflicts in testimony are for the trial court to resolve.   See Jones v. State, supra.   Where it is apparent from the record that a statement is not the product of an accused's free and rational choice and where the undisputed evidence makes clear that the accused did not want to talk to police detectives, the Supreme Court has held that due process of law requires that the resulting statement not be used against the accused.  Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 2408, 57 L.Ed.2d 290 (1978).   Other factors mentioned in Mincey, in addition to the fact that the accused made repeated requests that the interrogation stop so he could retain a lawyer, were that he was weakened by pain and shock, isolated from family, friends, and legal counsel, and was barely conscious.   Under these circumstances the Court held that Mincey's will was overborne and the statement could not be used against him.

Riggs argues lack of voluntariness in connection with her statement but also as concerned her waiver of Miranda rights.   Her primary claim is that her medical condition rendered her vulnerable and that she was hallucinating and delusional at the time of the statement.   She was, according to her theory of the case, incapable of choosing to make a voluntary statement when she talked to the Sherwood detectives the morning of November 6, 1997.

We turn then to the statement made by Riggs to the police detectives, the accuracy of which was stipulated by the prosecutor and defense counsel:

detective Jones:  This is Detective Jones of the Sherwood Police Department.   Today's date is November 6, 1997.   The time is 9:20 a.m. Present in this inter.. room is Detective Cheryl Williams and Christina Riggs.   Christina, do you understand that I am tape recording this?

riggs:  Yes, I do.

detective Jones:  Okay, Christina.   I want to advise you of your rights.   You have the right to remain silent.   Anything you say, can and will be used against you in a court of law.   You have the right to talk to a lawyer and have him present with you while you are being questioned.  (Riggs crying) If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you wish.  (Riggs crying) You can decide at any time to exercise these rights and not answer any questions (Riggs crying) or make any statements.   Do you understand your Miranda rights, Christina?   (Riggs crying in the background)

riggs:  Yes, I do, sorry.

detective Jones:  You do.   Okay. Christina, what we are doing is investigating the death of your two babies.   Do you want to tell us what happened?

riggs:  (Crying) I killed them.

detective Jones:  What did you say?

riggs:  I said ․

detective Jones:  Did you say you killed them?

riggs:  I'm sorry.

dectective Jones:  Christina, how did you go about doing that?

riggs:  I got some bottles (inaudible) and stuff from here ․ I need a cigarette (inaudible) ․ Darvocet.

detective Jones:  Are you saying that you got some medicine from the hospital?

riggs:  (no verbal response)

detective Jones:  Christina, how did you do it?   Did you give them an injection?   Did you give them a shot?

riggs:  I tried to ․ and ․ I did it with Justin, because I figured with him being the oldest one that he would give me more problem.

detective Jones:  Uh-huh. (yes)

riggs:  So, I tried it with him and I thought it would just stop his heart.   But it hurt.   Oh, he said it hurt ․ (inaudible ).

detective Jones:  Uh-huh. (yes)

riggs:  It didn't work, he just kept calling, “Momma!   Momma!  Momma!”   I just figured it was too late now because I had no place to turn back to.   I cleaned out my checking account and gave my mother all the money I had.   (Crying)

detective Jones:  Christina, why did you do this?

riggs:  Because I wanted to die.   But I didn't want to die and leave my kids behind or for them to be a burden to somebody else.   I didn't want them to think I didn't love them and I didn't want them to grow up separately because they have two different Daddy's.   And I knew if I passed away they would be fighting my Mother for custody and I didn't want that for nobody.

detective Jones:  You felt like you were doing it for the kids' sake?

riggs:  In a way, yeah.  (Inaudible) ․ my piece of mind.

detective Jones:  Christina, did you really want to die?

riggs:  (Crying)

detective Jones:  And you felt it would be better if your children just die with you and ․ was the children already dead before you took your medicine?

riggs:  Yes.

detective Jones:  How long had they been dead before you took your medicine?

riggs:  About twenty minutes.

detective Jones:  About twenty minutes?

riggs:  That's because I drank and got up and smoked a cigarette and got back and sit for a minute and (inaudible) I was like, “Okay, I'm going to do it now.   I can't turn back now because you've already killed Justin.”   And ․ so I did it.

detective Jones:  What time did you give them the medicine?   Do you remember?

riggs:  (inaudible) Justin about 10:15 or 10:30.

detective Jones:  10:15 or 10:30 in the morning?

riggs:  No, in the evening.

detective Jones:  Oh, in the evening?

riggs:  Last night.

detective Jones:  Okay.

riggs:  Then I smoked another cigarette and waited ․ and suffocated Shelby.

detective Jones:  You suffocated Shelby?

riggs:  (Crying)

detective Jones:  What did ․ how did you suffocate her?

riggs:  I put a pillow over her head.

detective Jones:  Okay, Did you ․

riggs:  (Crying)

detective Jones:  Had you given her any medicine at all, or ․ any of the Morphine or the Potassium Chloride?

riggs:  I slipped them ․ I made them drink half of an Elavil because I figured that would make them sleep a little bit better so that it wouldn't wake them (inaudible).

detective Jones:  So, Shelby, Shelley, you killed her with a pillow.   You suffocated her.   And what about the little boy.   How did you do him?

riggs:  I gave him the medicine and when it didn't work (inaudible).

detective Jones:  You suffocated him too?

riggs:  (Crying) yes.

detective Jones:  With a pillow?

riggs:  (Crying)

detective Jones:  Were they fighting while you were suffocated (sic ) them?

riggs:  Justin did.   Shelby a little bit but not much.  (Crying)

detective Jones:  When did you decide to do this, Christina?   On what day did you decide to do this?

riggs:  Uh ․ the best I remember it was Sunday night or Saturday night, because we was out talking and this and that and the other ․ and they caught me.

detective Jones:  Who caught you?

riggs:  The Sherwood (inaudible) got me depressed.   I was thinking about what was going on in my life and that things aren't always working for me and (inaudible).

detective Jones:  When did you get those drugs from the hospital?

riggs:  When?

detective Jones:  Uh-huh?  (Yes)

riggs:  Yesterday.

detective Jones:  Yesterday?

riggs:  (No verbal response)

detective Jones:  You mean the day that you killed them?   Is that the day that you got the drugs?   The last was it ․

riggs:  (Inaudible) Seventh street right (inaudible).

detective Jones:  Was it the last day that you worked at the hospital or the day before that?

riggs:  I think ․

detective Jones:  When you got ․

riggs:  I got the drugs and I gave them to my kids.   That's the only drugs that I had in my hand.   And I know that there was three Valiums in a vial in there, but there wasn't enough to even cover the jar up (inaudible ) put it in my pocket and bring them home.

detective Jones:  Uh-huh. (yes)

riggs:  And I know I should have thought better ․ had somebody rinsing with me, but ․ they were just what came home in my pockets.

detective Jones:  Did you know what you were going to do when you took the drugs from the hospital?   Did you have intentions of giving them to your children?   And how many days did you think about this before you killed your children?

riggs:  About three weeks.   Two weeks.

detective Jones:  Two or three weeks.   In other words, you've been thinking about doing this for the last two or three weeks?

riggs:  (No verbal response)

detective Jones:  What made you decide to just go ahead and do it?

riggs:  I just can't take it no more.

detective Jones:  You couldn't take it any more.

riggs:  I felt like I was out of control.

detective Jones:  Did you just feel like your life was in a mess?

riggs:  (No verbal response)

detective Jones:  Had you talked to anybody about this?   Your Mom or anybody?

riggs:  I've tried to talk to people about what I feel and what I think and they were just like, “I don't have time right now.   We'll do it some other time.”   So, I just got to where I don't care any more.   I (inaudible) but they can't give me no help.

detective Jones:  So you just felt like nobody was listening to you?

riggs:  (Crying)

detective Jones:  Okay, Christina ․

riggs:  Answer me something.   Did you come down the escalators by yourself?

detective Jones:  Uh, did we come down the escalator by ourself?

riggs:  Your Mother.   When ․ she came in town.

detective Jones:  Your Mother?

riggs:  It seems like I keep seeing some old people getting on the elevators ․ sitting down away from the (inaudible).   She didn't like what was on it, so she put (inaudible ) just like your mother.

detective Jones:  Christina, do you have anything more to say about your babies or anything?

riggs:  I wish I hadn't done it now.

detective Jones:  Okay. Detective Williams, do you have anything to add to this interview?

detective Williams:  No.

detective Jones:  This is Detective Jones, the time is 9:28 a.m. This concludes this interview.

The trial court had the recorded statement and transcribed text before it at the suppression hearing.   The court also had the testimony of Dr. Joe Buford, who was the emergency room physician late afternoon on November 5, 1997, when Riggs was admitted to Baptist Memorial Hospital.   He testified that she was presented as a “probable overdose,” and because of this, her stomach was pumped, and she was given charcoal to absorb any of the remaining drugs in her stomach.   Dr. Buford testified that he saw Riggs on the morning of November 6, 1997, and at that time, she was alert and oriented and her vital signs were stable.   This was before Riggs gave her statement.   He added that she responded appropriately to his questions, and that she did not appear to be incoherent or suffering from hallucinations at that time.

Karen Stiles, a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at the hospital, testified that she first came into contact with Riggs on the evening of November 5, 1997.   Ms. Stiles stated that at that time, Riggs was combative and incoherent.   Ms. Stiles testified that the next morning, Riggs was calm, and she answered questions appropriately.   Ms. Stiles referred to her assessment notes and stated that at seven-thirty or eight o'clock in the morning, Riggs was awake, alert, and oriented.   She also testified that according to her notes, Riggs was speaking rapidly and was hard to understand, but that she could understand her.   Ms. Stiles then referred to the assessment she did of Riggs using the Glascow Coma Scale.   According to Ms. Stiles, the scale is used to determine a patient's level of consciousness.   Ms. Stiles testified that at eight o'clock in the morning on November 6, 1997, she gave Riggs a fifteen, the highest score she could receive on the scale.   On cross-examination, Ms. Stiles noted that Riggs signed the discharge orders from the physician but that her signature was illegible.

Detective Jones and Detective Williams testified at the suppression hearing that Riggs made no attempt to stop the statement and that they in no way forced her to give the statement.   Detective James Harper of the Sherwood Police Department testified that he sat in Riggs's hospital room the night of November 5, 1997, and the early morning of November 6, 1997.   At one point he overheard her say:  “I had to do it so I wouldn't leave them behind.”

To counter this evidence, Riggs called several witnesses at the suppression hearing.   Another emergency room physician, Dr. Jim Rice, testified that Riggs was “combative at times” and “just incoherent and not really making any sense,” when she was brought into the emergency room on November 5, 1997.   Julia Brown, a nurse, stated that Riggs was confused as late as four o'clock in the morning of November 6, 1997, but she was not surprised that the nurse on the next shift four hours later found her to be alert, oriented, and responsive because it is not unusual for an overdose victim “to come around.”

Riggs's family members also testified at the suppression hearing.   Her mother, Carol Thomas, told the court that Riggs was confused the day after the statement was given about whether Shelby was alive.   She “hallucinated” about a conversation with her that did not happen.   Riggs's sister, Roseanna Pickett, testified that the day after the statement, Riggs was incoherent and thought she was playing with Shelby.   Her aunt, Mary Willis, testified that the next day, Riggs was “seeing things,” including her dead children and a piece of gum.   Another sister, Elizabeth Nottingham, testified that the following day, Riggs was groggy, not making sense, and “ describing hallucinations.”   There is, too, the fact that at the end of her questioning Riggs made reference to the detective's mother descending on an escalator and old people getting on elevators which had no bearing on the subject matter of the interview and was arcane and bizarre.2

The trial court was confronted with all of this testimony and the statement itself and found the statement to be voluntary and not the product of delusion or hallucinations.   It is clear to us that the testimony was in conflict, and we have no doubt that Riggs was somewhat impaired at the time she talked to police detectives because of the drug overdose.   Yet, we have resolutely held that conflicts in the testimony and the extent of her impairment are for the trial court to resolve.   See, e.g., Jones v. State, supra;  Trull v. State, supra.   We also defer to the trial court in its determination of credibility of witnesses in suppression matters.   See Rankin v. State, supra.   In the instant case, according to the testimony of Dr. Buford and Ms. Stiles, who were in contact with Riggs the morning of November 6, 1997, Riggs was alert and responsive before she gave her statement.   The statement itself further portrays an ability to answer questions and describe events which physical evidence already in the hands of police confirmed.   Rational response to questioning is a legitimate factor for the trial court to consider.   See Midgett v. State, 316 Ark. 553, 873 S.W.2d 165 (1994);  McDougald v. State, 295 Ark. 276, 748 S.W.2d 340 (1988).   And unlike the facts in Mincey v. Arizona, supra, Riggs never requested that the interview stop so that she could retain counsel.   Under these circumstances, we hold that the trial court did not clearly err in finding that her statement was voluntarily given.   See Jones v. State, supra.

Having held as we do, there is one aspect of the trial court's ruling following the suppression hearing with which we disagree.   The trial court refers to the mental evaluation of Riggs by Dr. John Anderson, a psychologist with the Arkansas Division of Mental Health Sciences, who concluded that Riggs was able to appreciate the criminality of her conduct at the time of the murders on November 4, 1997.   The trial court stated that it “leaned on” the evaluation in finding Riggs mentally competent to give her statement because the murders and police interview were close in time.   That part of the ruling discounts the drug overdose and vulnerability of Riggs to having her will overborne, all of which forms the cornerstone of her voluntariness argument.

The trial court went forward, however, and made the following ruling:

Furthermore, the Court, in listening to the tape today, doesn't have any indication that there is hallucination during the time of questioning.   If so, it's certainly not evident from the tape.   And I believe that the statement made by the defendant is sufficiently coherent as to establish the fact that it is a voluntary statement.   Her rights were accorded.   There's no indication that there are any constitutional violations.   There is no indication of any false promises made by police officers.   No denial.   The statement was given only after the Miranda rights were given.

And, looking at all the totality of the circumstances, the Court is of the opinion that this statement should not be suppressed.   So, the defendant's motion to that effect is denied.

It is this finding by the trial court which we hold is not clearly erroneous.

c. Legal Counsel

Riggs next contends that her hospital statement was involuntary because police officers isolated her from her family and withheld information that her family had retained legal counsel for her.   Counsel had been retained before she gave her statement to the two detectives the morning of November 6, 1997.

There was no reversible error in this regard.   The United States Supreme Court has made it clear that failure by police officers to inform an accused that counsel has been retained by the accused's family is not enough to invalidate the confession.   See Moran v. Burbine, supra.   In Moran, the accused's sister arranged legal counsel for her brother.   The lawyer called the police department and stated that she would act as the accused's counsel, should the police choose to question him.   The lawyer was informed that the accused would not be questioned until the next day.   Despite that information, less than an hour later, police officers began a series of interviews where the accused confessed to committing the murder in question.   The Court held that the police officers' failure to inform the accused of the attorney's telephone call did not deprive him of information essential to his ability to knowingly waive his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent or Sixth Amendment right to counsel.   The Court said:

Events occurring outside of the presence of the suspect and entirely unknown to him surely can have no bearing on the capacity to comprehend and knowingly relinquish a constitutional right․  No doubt the additional information would have been useful to respondent;  perhaps even it might have affected his decision to confess.   But we have never read the Constitution to require that the police supply a suspect with a flow of information to help him calibrate his self-interest in deciding whether to speak or stand by his rights.

475 U.S. at 422, 106 S.Ct. 1135.   The Court continued:  “Nor do we believe that the level of the police's culpability in failing to inform respondent of the telephone call has any bearing on the validity of the waivers.”  475 U.S. at 423, 106 S.Ct. 1135.

Hence, under Moran, even if the Sherwood Police Department deliberately withheld information from Riggs regarding retention of an attorney, that would not invalidate her waiver of her Fifth or Sixth Amendment rights.   Those rights are personal to the accused, and she clearly waived them.

d. Harmless Error.

There is an alternative basis for our affirmance of the trial court's admission of the statement and that is harmless error beyond a reasonable doubt.   Here, we are concerned only with the verdict of guilty for capital murder, because Riggs did not contest her death sentence and, indeed, invited it.

To conclude that a constitutional error is harmless and does not mandate reversal, this court must conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the verdict.   See Jones v. State, 336 Ark. 191, 984 S.W.2d 432 (1999), Schalski v. State, 322 Ark. 63, 907 S.W.2d 693 (1995);  Allen v. State, 310 Ark. 384, 838 S.W.2d 346 (1992);  Vann v. State, 309 Ark. 303, 831 S.W.2d 126 (1992);  see also Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967).   The United States Supreme Court has held that the admission of an “involuntary confession” is subject to a harmless error analysis.   See Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 111 S.Ct. 1246, 113 L.Ed.2d 302(1991);  see also Criddle v. State, 338 Ark. 744, 1 S.W.3d 436 (1999);  Martin v. State, 328 Ark. 420, 944 S.W.2d 512 (1997);  rev'd on other grounds, State v. Bell, 329 Ark. 422, 948 S.W.2d 557 (1997);  Isbell v. State, 326 Ark. 17, 931 S.W.2d 74 (1996).

In the case before us, the jury heard abundant evidence that Riggs committed the murders.   The question then for this court to determine is if we excise from the evidence Riggs's statement given to the Sherwood police detectives, does the remaining evidence show beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed the murders?   See Chapman v. California, supra.   We conclude that it does.

The testimony from Riggs's suicide letters and witnesses for both the State and defense is rife with statements that Riggs admitted she killed her children.   What follows are examples of this cumulative testimony:

I.  Riggs's letter to Carol Thomas saying she had killed the children.

II. Riggs's letter to John Riggs saying she had taken the lives of the children.

III. Riggs's statement overheard by nurse Julia Brown:  “I killed my kids.”

IV. Riggs's telephone call to David McCombs where she described injecting her boy who then cried and smothering her daughter with a pillow.

V. Testimony of defense witness, Dr. Bradley Diner, a psychiatrist, that Riggs described how she injected her son with potassium chloride and morphine and suffocated her daughter.

VI. Testimony of defense witness, Dr. James Moneypenney, a psychologist, that Riggs told him that she killed her children by giving them Elavil and then smothering them with a pillow.   He further testified about Riggs planning the murders forty-eight hours before hand and getting the drugs, pulling money out of her checking account for her mother, and writing suicide letters.

VII. Testimony of Riggs's sister, Elizabeth Nottingham, that Riggs told her she was sorry for what she did.

VIII. Testimony of Carol Thomas that Riggs told her she injected Justin who cried, “It hurts.   It hurts.”   She couldn't do that to Shelby, she said, so she smothered her.

IX. State witness Dr. John Anderson, a psychologist, who stated that Riggs told him she killed her children and told him how she did it.

X. State witness Dr. Wendall Hall, a psychiatrist, who testified Riggs told him she killed her children immediately before trying to kill herself and that she had planned all this in advance.

There was, in addition, the physical evidence found by police officers at Riggs's residence in Sherwood on November 5, 1997, which included the bottle of Elavil, morphine, potassium chloride, the used syringes, the two deceased children, and Riggs collapsed at the foot of the bed in an unconscious state.   There was also the testimony of the medical examiner that there was evidence that the two children had been suffocated.

We conclude that this cumulative evidence of Riggs's confessed guilt and physical evidence established her guilt for capital murder beyond a reasonable doubt even without her statement to the Sherwood police detectives.

II. Jury Instructions on Intent

For her second point, Riggs contends that the jury instruction given on the affirmative defense of mental disease or defect was misleading because it instructs the jury not to consider the evidence of her mental defect or disease until after it determines that the State has met its burden of proving criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.   She urges that evidence of mental disease or defect should be considered by the jury at the time it considers criminal intent as an element of the crime of murder.   She concedes that this court has already decided this issue unfavorably to her in Westbrook v. State, 274 Ark. 309, 624 S.W.2d 433 (1981), and in Robinson v. State, 269 Ark. 90, 598 S.W.2d 421 (1980).   She argues, nonetheless, that this court should overrule those decisions.   She points to approximately eleven other jurisdictions that require juries to be instructed that evidence of mental disease or defect may be considered by the jury at the time of determining the requisite intent to commit the murder and argues that Arkansas should join those jurisdictions.   Her final claim is that with the correct instruction, the jury could very well have convicted her of first- or second-degree murder or even manslaughter, because there was abundant evidence of her depression which drove her to do what she did.

We decline to overrule our existing precedent on this point.   First, Riggs has offered no persuasive authority for why our precedent should be overturned.   See McGhee v. State, 334 Ark. 543, 975 S.W.2d 834 (1998);  Sanders v. County of Sebastian, 324 Ark. 433, 922 S.W.2d 334 (1996).   Second, we do not agree that the instructions given were violative of due process.   The instructions read by the trial court include instructions on the law relating to capital murder, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter.   Each instruction included the level of criminal intent necessary to commit those crimes.   The instructions also advised that the State must prove the elements of the crimes beyond a reasonable doubt.   The jury was then instructed that Riggs was not responsible for her crime if, as a result of mental disease or defect, she lacked the capacity to appreciate the criminality of her conduct or to conform it to the requirements of law.   To be successful, Riggs must prove this affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence.   But the trial court reiterated at this point of its instructions that it was the State that had the burden of proving criminal intent for the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Riggs would have preferred that the trial court give her two non-AMCI proffered instructions which read:

Evidence that the defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect may be considered by you along with all the other facts and circumstances of the case in determining whether the defendant had the required mental state or intent for the crime charged or a lesser offense.

Evidence that the defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect is admissible to prove whether he had the kind of culpable mental state required for commission of the offense charged.

But, again, giving these instructions would have simply run counter to our existing caselaw.

We conclude that the instructions which, first, advised the jury that the State had the burden of proving every element of the criminal offense (including all elements of the lesser included offenses) beyond a reasonable doubt and, second, stated that she could prove her defense that she suffered from mental disease or defect by a preponderance of the evidence did not prejudice Riggs or deprive her of due process of law.   We affirm the trial court's ruling in this regard.

III. Prejudicial Opening Statement.

Riggs next argues that the following statement by the prosecutor as part of her opening statement to the jury was prejudicial and unsupported by the evidence:

Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to go somewhere with me.   I want you to go with me to the residence at 8015 Bronco Lane, Sherwood, Arkansas.   As we walk up the sidewalk to the residence, we go to the front door.   And, as we enter the front door, we hear the laughter of two small children.   We open the door and they're not there in the front room, so we follow the laughter down a hallway.

mr. Hall:  Your Honor, this is argument.   Talking about the laughter of two dead children.

the Court:  This is opening statements.   Overrule the objection.

Riggs submits that this dramatic statement had only one purpose-to prejudice the jury against her.   She also maintains that the statement had no basis in fact and no evidence was ever presented to support it.   Because the prosecutor injected raw emotion into the trial, the trial court abused its discretion in overruling Riggs's objection and allowing this kind of argument.

While theatrical, we do not consider the prosecutor's opening statement of such moment as to warrant a new trial.   We decline to reverse the trial court's exercise of discretion on this point.   See, e.g., Rank v. State, 318 Ark. 109, 883 S.W.2d 843 (1994);  Dixon v. State, 310 Ark. 460, 839 S.W.2d 173 (1992).

IV. Photographs of the Victims.

For her last point, Riggs points to four photographs and argues that their admission into evidence was inflammatory and prejudicial.   She first notes that she admitted from the beginning that she was responsible for the deaths of her children and how she did it.3  Thus, according to Riggs, the question for the jury to decide was simply whether her severely depressed condition was sufficient to establish either the affirmative defense of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect or some reduced degree of homicide.

Riggs first objects to Photographs 7 and 10 (Photograph 7 showed the two dead children on Riggs's bed and Photograph 10 showed a needle mark on Justin's neck) as redundant and inflammatory and emphasizes that the trial court did not balance the prejudice against the relevance of these pictures.   She further argues that it was error to admit two autopsy photos of the children (Photographs 32 and 34), because cause of death was not an issue in the case.   She adds that the trial court did not apply the balancing test to these photos either and never made a finding that their probative value exceeded any prejudice.   Riggs concludes with a general argument that because emotions were so high in this case, the photographs only served to inflame the jury and unfairly prejudice her case.

The admission of photographs is a matter left to the sound discretion of the trial court.   See, e.g., Greene v. State, 335 Ark. 1, 977 S.W.2d 192 (1998).   When photographs are helpful to explain testimony, they are ordinarily admissible.   See, e.g., Williams v. State, 322 Ark. 38, 907 S.W.2d 120 (1995).   Absent an abuse of discretion, this court will not reverse a trial court for admitting photographs into evidence.  Baker v. State, 334 Ark. 330, 974 S.W.2d 474 (1998).

We conclude that there was no abuse of discretion in allowing these photographs into evidence.   The two autopsy photographs (Photographs 32 and 34) assisted the medical examiner in explaining cause of death.   Photograph 10 was a closeup of the puncture wound made by the needle in Justin's neck, and Photograph 7 was a closeup picture of the two victims in Riggs's bed taken at a different angle.   The two photographs could have aided the jury in understanding the crime scene and the condition of Justin's body when police officers found the victims.

Riggs, as a final point, focuses on the fact that the trial court never did a probative-prejudicial weighing with respect to the photographs.   Riggs, however, never asked the trial court to do this.   Again, we will not reverse a trial court for failing to do what it was never asked to do.  Gooden v. State, 321 Ark. 340, 902 S.W.2d 226 (1995).   It seems to us that it was incumbent on defense counsel to request such a weighing if it considered such to be important or legally required.   There was no abuse of discretion on this point.

V. Rule 4-3(h) Review.

Though not raised by Riggs, the State brings to this court's attention the point that Riggs sought the death penalty in the penalty phase of her trial and did not contest her death sentence on appeal.   Following the penalty phase, the jury unanimously determined, as an aggravating circumstance, that Riggs had caused the death of more than one person in the same criminal episode.   With regard to mitigating circumstances, the jury unanimously found that Riggs had no significant history of criminal activity and that she has abilities that would make her a productive member of society, even in prison.   The jury also determined that there was some evidence presented to support the fact that the murders were committed while Riggs was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance, but that the evidence was insufficient to prove a mitigating circumstance.   The jury then concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances and that this justified death by lethal injection.   Thus, it is clear that the jury conducted the appropriate weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances and made its conclusion, as required by Ark.Code Ann. § 5-4-603 (Repl.1997).

Riggs initially waived any appeal of her judgment of conviction, and we ordered that a mental determination pursuant to Franz v. State, supra, be made of her ability to choose death.   See Riggs v. Humphrey, supra.

After our order, Riggs decided to appeal her conviction on two counts of capital murder but declined to raise issues related to her death sentence.   The question, then, is whether her decision on this point constitutes a partial waiver of appeal and a choice of death, which necessitates a Franz hearing.

We think not.   Riggs has mounted a significant appeal relating to the guilt phase of her trial.   Thus, she has appealed the judgment against her, although she chose not to raise issues associated with her death sentence, just as she did not at the trial level.

We are further mindful of the fact that under Ark. R.Crim. P. 37.5, as we have interpreted it, Riggs will be entitled to a Franz hearing should she waive her right to postconviction relief.   See Willett v. State, 337 Ark. 457, 989 S.W.2d 508 (1999) (per curiam ).   Thus, if Riggs decides not to pursue her postconviction remedies, as her counsel stated at oral argument, she will be afforded a Franz hearing.   In sum, we do not believe that a Franz hearing is warranted at this time under these facts.

The record has been reviewed for other reversible error pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 4-3(h), and none has been found.

Affirmed.

As the majority points out, Ms. Riggs was held in custody at the hospital from the time she was admitted until the time she gave the statement.   During this time, she was not permitted to visit with her family, and her attorney was denied access to her in the hospital.   Both her family and her attorney notified the Sherwood Police that she was represented by counsel, and the police recognized this.   Notwithstanding the assurances from two officers that they would not question Ms. Riggs, two other officers reported to duty and proceeded to interrogate her.   Ms. Riggs' statement was delusional and incoherent, and was terminated only when she asked the police officer if his mother had trouble with the escalator.   There was no escalator in the hospital.

Under these circumstances, I differ with the majority on the question of whether her statement was given voluntarily, intelligently, or knowingly.   For that reason, I respectfully dissent.

FOOTNOTES

1.   There was some testimony that Riggs may not have been “in restraints” at the time of her statement, but the State conceded she was at oral argument.   Restraints were imposed because she was combative when first admitted to the hospital.

2.   In his brief on appeal and during oral argument, counsel for Riggs argued that the testimony of a psychiatrist, Dr. Robert L. Rice, who saw Riggs at 9:30 a.m. on November 6, 1997, showed that at that time she had a “cloudiness of sensorium” and was “a little bit cloudy” and like “someone waking up from anesthesia.”   Dr. Robert Rice did not testify at the suppression hearing but only at trial.   Thus, his testimony was not before the trial court for suppression purposes.   Even had it been, we do not view it to be of sufficient impact to render the trial court's finding on voluntariness clearly erroneous.

3.   This admission in her brief lends weight to a conclusion that any error associated with her hospital statement was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

ROBERT L. BROWN, Justice.

THORNTON, J., dissents.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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