Christina Marie Riggs.
Christina Marie Riggs is unique among the women on
these pages in that she insisted on her execution, which took place on
She confessed to the killing of her two children, Justin Thomas, 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."
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
"I hope one day you will forgive me for
taking my life and the life of my children. But I canít live like this any
more, and I couldnít 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
The Pulaski County Coroner Mark Malcolm estimated that the children had been dead for 10-14 hours before they were discovered.
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
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 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.
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
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
Apparently the 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."
The Arkansas state governor Mike Huckabee reviewed the case but declined to intervene and eventually the execution was set for Tuesday May 3rd, 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 the 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.
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 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
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 didnít buy her "excuses"
for murdering her children.
"Simply put, sheís a self-centered, selfish, premeditated killer who did the unspeakable act of taking her own childrenís 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.
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 heard of her and it would be just another of those tragic 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."
A factor that may have affected Christina's
decision to drop her appeals was the treatment she received from other women
inmates while in prison awaiting trial. She was spat on and sworn at. She may
also have been aware of the treatment of Susan Smith in
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.