BROCKTON – A South Shore mother was found guilty today of second-degree murder in the death of her 4-year-old daughter who never woke up one night in December 2006 after ingesting toxic levels of psychotropic drugs.
Carolyn Riley, 35, remained impassive as the jury, which had deliberated 19 hours at the end of a three-week trial, announced the verdict in the death of her daughter, Rebecca. Plymouth Superior Court Judge Charles Hely immediately sentenced Carolyn Riley to the mandatory term of life in prison with parole eligibility in 15 years.
The case had drawn national attention to the growing use of psychotropic drugs on very young children. When Rebecca died, she and her two older siblings were all on three potent psychiatric medications for bipolar and hyperactivity disorders. All of them went on those medications at age 2.
"Today we have a small measure of justice for Rebecca Riley," Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said outside the courthouse.
Defense attorney Michael Bourbeau said he planned to appeal the verdict. He said the jury's verdict on Carolyn Riley appeared to have been based on "what kind of mother she was as opposed to a criminal violation" and that the jury had been swayed by the emotions evoked by the case.
Carolyn Riley grew up in Weymouth but was living briefly in Hull when her daughter died. The mother was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carries mandatory life in prison without parole, but the jury had the option of convicting her of a lesser offense.
Prosecutors Frank J. Middleton Jr. and Heather Bradley depicted Carolyn Riley as an unusual type of child abuser, a woman who routinely overused sedating psychiatric pills to control her energetic toddlers and induce sleep. Prosecutors said she went to a lethal extreme in the hours before her daughter died on Dec. 13, 2006, dispensing as much as twice the girl's daily dosage of clonidine at once as the girl was already battling a respiratory illness.
Prosecutors said the mother also had a scheme to obtain federal disablity checks through fraudulent claims that her children were mentally disabled. They said she fabricated her children's behavioral problems, managing over three years to dupe a Tufts Medical Center child psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, into authorizing drugs. The state asserted that Carolyn Riley always put her husband's needs over her children's, and the night Rebecca received her fatal overdose, the husband was irate about the sick child's repeated efforts to enter her parents' bedroom, moaning, "Mommy ... Mommy."
Rebecca's body, clad only in a pull-up diaper with a teddy bear beneath her head, was discovered dead by her mother around 6 a.m. on Dec. 13, 2006, on the floor next to her parents' bed. The father called 911.
The father, Michael Riley, faces a first-degree murder charge, but he is being tried separately. His trial is scheduled for March 8.
Her defense attorneys portrayed Carolyn Riley as an overwhelmed mother deserving of sympathy, a former foster child who was doing her best to raise a family in which the parents and three children all had mental health issues. If the mother had some lapses, her attorneys said, they had to be viewed in light of the difficult choices she faced living in poverty with a domineering, occasionally violent, husband.
The defense also contended that the girl's death was due to a rapid-onset, aggressive pneumonia.
Riley was handcuffed immediately after the verdict was announced. She showed no emotion through most of the hearing -- including a victim impact statement before the sentencing -- except when she was led out of the courtroom past her sobbing mother, Valerie Berio. At that point, tears could be seen streaming down Riley's face.
Jurors in the case left quickly without commenting. Berio, as she left, openly wept. "I need to go home and absorb this," she said.
On the beat
Columnist Shirley Leung says Boston mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh should focus on middle-class housing. Read more