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Jurors in Riley trial hear more about father

Testimony offers conflicting views as to influence

DEATH OF A CHILD The body of 4-year-old Rebecca was found next to her parents’ bed after a week in which a coldlike illness escalated. DEATH OF A CHILD
The body of 4-year-old Rebecca was found next to her parents’ bed after a week in which a coldlike illness escalated.
By Patricia Wen
Globe Staff / January 27, 2010

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BROCKTON - Jurors in the first-degree murder trial of Carolyn Riley, accused of killing her 4-year-old daughter through a fatal overdose of psychiatric drugs, heard more yesterday about the child’s father and how he may have influenced the atmosphere in the home prior to the girl’s death.

A Weymouth Housing Authority manager testified that Michael Riley, 37, had been banned since 2005 from spending overnights in the family’s apartment there, the result of pending charges that included providing pornography to a minor. A social worker said the father’s alleged beating of his son in 2006 triggered a renewed child-abuse investigation, and the mother, while remaining devoted to the father, filed a restraining order to protect the boy. A house guest also testified that the Rileys’ three children often seemed “more timid’’ when their father was around.

But Dr. Kayoko Kifuji of Tufts Medical Center, the psychiatrist for all three of the Riley children, portrayed the father as a positive influence. At the request of Carolyn Riley, the doctor wrote the Weymouth Housing Authority in early 2006, requesting that Michael Riley be allowed to move back in. The doctor said the mother had told her that the children’s behavioral problems may be related to his absence.

“The children do much better having the father at the home,’’ Kifuji testified this week, recalling what she wrote.

These divergent views of Michael Riley and his role in the family emerged yesterday in a Plymouth County courtroom where the mother is being tried. Michael Riley faces the same charges, but will be tried separately.

The lifeless body of 4-year-old Rebecca was found next to her parents’ bed on Dec. 13, 2006, after a week in which a coldlike illness escalated quickly into frequent vomiting and a mental daze. Witnesses testified that the couple, who had by then been reunited in Hull, did not heed repeated warnings to take Rebecca to a doctor.

Based on an autopsy report that found that Rebecca had died of an overdose of psychiatric medications, prosecutors charged both parents with first-degree murder.

But defense attorneys for Carolyn Riley, 34, say they have medical experts who will show that Rebecca died of rapid-onset pneumonia. They say that the mother followed Kifuji’s recommendations in dispensing medication to the children.

Kifuji wrapped up two days of testimony yesterday, facing questioning about her role with the troubled family, particularly her oversight of the mother’s dispensing of pills.

Prosecutors questioned how often she informally sanctioned or tolerated the occasions when Carolyn Riley gave extra drugs to her children without the doctor’s explicit approval. Each child was on several potent drugs for bipolar and hyperactivity disorder.

The psychiatrist reiterated yesterday that she was aware that the mother had introduced Kaitlynne - Rebecca’s sister, who is two years older - to clonidine for the first time, after taking some pills from the prescription bottle of her oldest son, Gerard, who is seven years older than Rebecca.

Even when Kifuji learned of this and warned the mother against the practice, the doctor then wrote up a prescription of clonidine for Kaitlynne. The doctor said she listened to the mother’s explanation for why she gave the medication, concluding, “It made sense.’’

Questioned by defense attorney Michael Bourbeau, Kifuji said that in February 2004 she had told Carolyn Riley that she could give a half-tablet of clonidine, a sedating drug, to Kaitlynne as needed during the day “for agitation.’’ On another occasion, she agreed that a half-tablet of clonidine could be given for help with sleep problems, but the doctor was not sure which Riley child she authorized the extra dosage for.

“I’m not sure if it’s Kaitlynne or Rebecca,’’ she said.

Kifuji, 55, testified this week only after the government granted her immunity from prosecution. She had initially refused to testify on grounds that her statements might be self-incriminating.

She had been the subject of a grand jury investigation, but last summer the panel chose not to indict her. She stopped practicing after Rebecca’s death, but the state licensing board authorized her to return to practice.

She is now seeing patients at Tufts Medical Center without any restrictions, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Kifuji still faces a medical malpractice suit filed by the estate of Rebecca Riley.