Image: Michael and Carolyn Riley
Gary Higgins  /  AP file
Michael Riley, 34, and his wife, Carolyn Riley, 32, are shown in Hingham District Court during their arraignment, on Feb. 6, 2007, in Hingham, Mass. The two were charged in the overdosing death of their 4-year-old daughter and ordered held without bail Tuesday after pleading not guilty.
updated 10/6/2009 6:17:03 PM ET 2009-10-06T22:17:03

A woman accused with her husband of giving their 4-year-old daughter a fatal overdose of prescription drugs is asking a judge to bar testimony about her alleged history of getting more pills than prescribed for the girl.

Rebecca Riley was found dead on the floor of her parents' bedroom in Hull on Dec. 13, 2006.

Prosecutors claim Carolyn and Michael Riley over-drugged the girl to keep her quiet and out of their way and in an attempt to collect Social Security disability payments.

The Rileys have said they were only following orders from their daughter's psychiatrist, who had diagnosed the girl with bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The defense claims the girl died of pneumonia.

Psychiatric drugs debated
The case reignited a long-running debate within the psychiatric community about whether young children can accurately be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and whether they should be given powerful psychiatric drugs.

In court papers filed Monday, Carolyn Riley's lawyer argues that prosecutors should only be allowed to introduce evidence of her alleged purchases of prescription drugs during a "reasonable" period of time right before Rebecca's death.

Prosecutors have said they believe Carolyn Riley made up stories about losing or accidentally destroying bottles of Clonidine — a blood pressure medication that is sometimes used to treat ADHD — so that she could get more pills to give Rebecca and the couple's other two children.

Defense attorney Michael Bourbeau said prosecutors should not be allowed to introduce pharmacy records and testimony that prosecutors say show that Carolyn obtained more Clonidine than what was prescribed over a two-year period.

"There is, simply, no causal link between the acquisition of Clonidine months prior to Rebecca's untimely death and her death," Bourbeau argued in court papers.

A state medical examiner found that Rebecca died of a lethal combination of prescription drugs, including a fatal dose of Clonidine.

Prosecutors allege that in the year before Rebecca's death, Carolyn Riley got more than 200 more pills over what was prescribed for Rebecca by claiming she either lost or ruined bottles of pills and by telling a pharmacy she had run out.

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Limiting evidence
The motion is one of several filed Monday by the defense to try to limit evidence that can be introduced at the Rileys' trial. Judge Charles Hely on Tuesday granted a prosecution request to delay the start of the trial from Oct. 19 to Jan. 7.

Carolyn Riley is also asking the judge to bar prosecutors from introducing evidence about the medical records of the Rileys' other children, whom prosecutors claim were also being over-medicated by their parents.

Rebecca's older siblings, then 11 and 6, had been diagnosed with the same disorders by the same psychiatrist and were on similar medications.

Prosecutors allege the Rileys received Social Security disability payments because their older children were diagnosed with mental illness. They claim the Rileys also concocted symptoms for Rebecca in an attempt to collect additional disability benefits.

Bourbeau would not comment, but in court papers he called the prosecution's theory "simply illogical."

"Logically, if someone was placing a child on medication in order to receive SSI payments there would be no motive to kill said individual as such would take away the 'cash cow,'" Bourbeau wrote in his motion to exclude the evidence.

Michael Riley's lawyer, John Darrell, said the other children's medical histories are not relevant to the murder charge against the Rileys in Rebecca's death.

"The only issue is Rebecca's illness, the medication she received for it and the cause of death," Darrell said. "Our opinion is there was no murder."

Darrell said Michael Riley will also seek to bar prosecutors from introducing such evidence.

Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for Plymouth District Attorney Tim Cruz, declined to comment on the defense motions.

"We'll deal with those issues in court," she said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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