Legal analysts are divided on the wider influence of the Hull mom’s second-degree murder conviction for the death of 4-year-old Rebecca Riley. But they say it won’t affect Michael Riley’s upcoming murder trial – at least for now.
Carolyn Riley’s murder conviction could have a wide impact on future cases in which prescription medication for children is at issue, legal analysts say.
But the Hull mother’s second-degree conviction for the death of her 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca, isn’t likely to influence the upcoming trial of her husband, Michael Riley – not immediately, at least.
On Tuesday, Carolyn Riley was found guilty of fatally overdosing the little girl with clonidine, an anti-seizure drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Riley was automatically sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 15 years.
By state law, her conviction will automatically be appealed.
The defense argued that Rebecca died of pneumonia, and that the Rileys were following the instructions of the psychiatrist who diagnosed her and prescribed clonidine and Depakote, a drug for bipolar disorder.
Michael Riley is scheduled to go on trial March 8, and neither prosecutors nor his defense attorney are talking about a plea bargain.
“We have absolutely no interest.” said John Darrell, Michael Riley’s attorney.
That’s an easy call at this stage, since Michael Riley would have to plead guilty to murder. He can’t plead guilty to a lesser manslaughter charge unless prosecutors offer it – and they’re not interested, either.
“We’re ready to go to trial,” said Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz.
Darrell said the most important issue in Michael’s trial would be finding an impartial jury after Carolyn’s conviction.
Milton defense attorney Robert Jubinville and former prosecutor David Frank of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly said Michael may be able to argue that Carolyn’s conviction showed she was in charge of their children’s prescriptions and medical condition, thus reducing his role in Rebecca’s death.
“You explain that the people who sit on your case (on the jury) are going to be completely different people,” said Jubinville, who’s defended parents accused of similar charges. “You can’t really measure one jury against another.”
“There’s no question they (the defense) would be paying close attention,” Frank said. “The defense could certainly try and point the finger at someone who’s not in the courtroom, someone who’s already been convicted.”
Frank noted that in a high- profile child death case in 2002, father Jacques Robidoux was convicted of first-degree murder, while the mother, Karen Robidoux, was convicted of assault and battery.
The couple were members of a religious sect. In that case, prosecutors said they allowed their baby to starve to death.
Frank and Jubinville are divided on the wider impact of Carolyn Riley’s conviction. Like the Robidoux case, Frank notes one issue was the same: the parents’ role in a child’s harm and death.
He doesn’t think the Riley case will prompt a rush of similar prosecutions, but Jubinville thinks it could leave parents reluctant to give their child “an extra pill” without a doctor’s approval.
“What door do we open next?” he said.
Reach Lane Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org.