Evidence shows parents accused of killing their 4-year-old daughter with an overdose of prescription medication should be tried for first-degree murder, not less-severe charges, the Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled Monday.
There is enough evidence to find probable cause that Carolyn and Michael Riley "murdered Rebecca with deliberate premeditation and with extreme atrocity or cruelty," the court said.
It overturned the ruling of a lower court judge, who had reduced the charges to second-degree murder after finding there was no evidence of premeditation.
The Rileys say they were following the orders of Rebecca's psychiatrist, who had diagnosed the girl with bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
But prosecutors say the couple kept Rebecca and two older siblings loaded with psychiatric drugs to keep them quiet and to collect Social Security disability payments.
Rebecca was found dead in her parents' bedroom on Dec. 13, 2006. A state medical examiner determined that she died of a lethal combination of prescription drugs.
The defense maintains that Rebecca died of pneumonia. "This is a death by natural causes," Carolyn Riley's lawyer, Michael Bourbeau, said Monday.
Monday's ruling said evidence showed Michael Riley directed his wife to give the children Clonidine, a blood pressure medication sometimes prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, "to quiet them down and make them 'pass out'"
"Whenever they began to annoy him, he told Carolyn to shut them up with Clonidine — telling her to 'give them their pills' and 'give them their meds,'" the appeals court wrote.
Bourbeau said he was disappointed with the appeals court decision but will not appeal to the state's highest court.
However, Michael Riley's attorney, John Darrell, said he will appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court. "My original request was that this should be reduced to manslaughter, and that's still my position," he said.
A spokeswoman for Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said prosecutors were reviewing the decision.
Michael Riley is being held without bail; Carolyn Riley was released in November on her own recognizance. A trial date is expected to be set at a hearing Wednesday.