BOSTON — A man convicted in the lethal prescription drug overdose of his 4-year-old daughter is asking the state’s highest court to grant him a new trial.
Michael Riley was convicted of first-degree murder while his wife, Carolyn, was convicted of second-degree murder in separate trials in the 2006 death of their daughter, Rebecca.
Prosecutors said the couple concocted symptoms of bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in the girl to try to collect Social Security disability benefits, then overmedicated her on drugs prescribed by a psychiatrist.
Riley claims in his appeal that his trial attorney made a series of mistakes, including failing to present evidence to rebut prosecutors’ claim that he was responsible for the long-term overmedication of his three children. The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments in Riley’s appeal Dec. 6.
Riley says it was his wife who gave Rebecca and their two other children their medicine and met periodically with the psychiatrist who prescribed the drugs.
A state medical examiner found that Rebecca died of a combination of Clonidine, a blood pressure medication she had been prescribed for ADHD; Depakote, a mood-stabilizing drug prescribed for bipolar disorder; and two over-the-counter drugs, a cough suppressant and an antihistamine.
The medical examiner said the amount of Clonidine in Rebecca’s system was enough to be fatal.
Defense lawyers said Rebecca died of a severe, fast-moving pneumonia, not a drug overdose.
Michael Riley’s appellate lawyer says in court documents that Carolyn Riley controlled the children’s medication. He argued that his trial lawyer should have presented evidence showing that the dosage of Clonidine given to Rebecca went up after Michael moved out of the family’s home. He moved back in during the last week or two of the girl’s life.
“It is only after he moved out that the Clonidine use soared, implying, as witnesses stated, that Carolyn was unable on her own to control the children; she resorted to Clonidine to do what she could not,” Michael Riley’s attorney, Dennis Shedd, argues in a legal brief.
Prosecutors said that when Michael moved back in, Carolyn Riley began giving the children Clonidine earlier in the day because Michael would complain about the children and wanted them to go to sleep.
“The evidence showed a dramatic escalation in overmedication when the defendant formally rejoined the household. Rebecca was sleeping 17 hours a day – she was only awake seven hours. Her condition significantly worsened after the defendant moved back in with the family,” Assistant District Attorney Gail McKenna argued in a legal brief.
Shedd also argues that Michael Riley’s trial lawyer should have asked the judge to bar prosecutors from arguing that the Rileys had faked their children symptoms of mental illness to get disability checks. He said professional service providers had noted abnormal behavior by all three children.
Shedd also said the trial judge should not have allowed the jury to hear about extensive “bad character” evidence, including allegations that Michael Riley assaulted his son, testimony about allegations he verbally and physically abused the three children and his lack of emotion after Rebecca’s death.
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said he expects Riley’s conviction to be upheld.