Could a mum and dad really kill their innocent girl?

Victim Rebecca Riley

Victim Rebecca Riley

Early in the morning on 13 December 2006, police were called to a house in Hull, Massachusetts. They found a 4-year-old girl on the floor of her parents’ bedroom, dead. That little girl was Rebecca Riley.

Poor Rebecca had already had a tough time in her short life…

Aged just 2, her mum Carolyn had taken her to a psychiatrist because she said the child had difficulty sleeping and seemed hyperactive.

At 3, Rebecca was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and bipolar disorder, and prescribed drugs.

Her brother, then 10, and sister, then 4, were already being treated for bipolar disorder. It can’t have been easy for the children’s parents.

But they followed the doctor’s orders, giving Rebecca an antipsychotic drug, anti-seizure medication, and a drug for controlling blood pressure. But now, their youngest was dead.

Carolyn told police that on the night before Rebecca died, she gave her children’s cough medicine. Later, Carolyn gave her half a blood-pressure pill, then lay the little girl down beside her on the floor and they both fell asleep. But next morning, she couldn’t rouse Rebecca.

An autopsy showed she’d died of an overdose of prescribed drugs.

Two months later, Michael and Carolyn Riley were arrested for deliberately poisoning their daughter by giving her an overdose to sedate her. They pleaded not guilty.

Slowly a picture began to emerge of Rebecca’s life…

A school nurse said that she was so weak, she was like a ‘floppy doll’. A relative said the girl had seemed ‘sleepy and drugged’ most days.

Her parents insisted they were only following doctor’s orders – so was the prescription dosage too high?

Police gathered evidence.

Three years later, in 2010, Michael and Carolyn Riley appeared in court charged with murdering their daughter. Prosecutors claimed they deliberately overmedicated Rebecca to keep her quiet, ultimately killing her.

Carolyn and Michael denied the accusations. Carolyn’s lawyer said the mother only gave Rebecca the number of pills prescribed.

Michael’s lawyer said he was trying to take care of his family while struggling with his own problems, including bipolar.

In closing arguments, the Assistant District Attorney told jurors that Michael either gave Rebecca the extra pills himself, or told his wife to do so.

The night she died, Rebecca was given two to three times her daily dose of medication.

It was also alleged that Michael made up symptoms of mental illness in Rebecca and his other two children so he could collect Social Security disability benefits.

Michael’s defence said the father had little to do with Rebecca’s medication, because he’d been living apart from the family for months, returning about a week before she died.

So did Michael and Carolyn Riley give Rebecca a fatal overdose on purpose? Was she drugged to death?

The verdict

Michael and Carolyn Riley. (Photo: PA Photos)

The jury found both parents guilty of deliberately overdosing Rebecca. Carolyn Riley, 35, was convicted of second-degree murder. She got a mandatory life sentence. Michael Riley, 37, was convicted of first-degree murder and received life without parole.


By Rachel Tompkins

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. The verdict
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