2 May 2000 – Christina Marie Riggs

Christina Marie RiggsSevere depression or post-traumatic stress may have prompted Christina Marie Riggs to kill her children and attempt to commit suicide. Whatever her motive, Riggs became the first woman to be executed in Arkansas for over 150 years.

She was charged with murder after she tried to poison then smother her children one night as they slept and attempted the same on herself and failed.

Use and abuse

It transpired that from the age of seven, she was abused by her brother before six years later the baton was taken up by a neighbour. With low self-esteem she slept around until she fell pregnant and gave the child up for adoption when she was just 16. She trained as a nurse and there met another man who would eventually be the person her children called dad – he was a sailor by the name of Jon Riggs.

They split but then they met up again after she had fallen pregnant by another man. This time she kept the baby boy, because, by the time she gave birth, she was in a steady relationship with Riggs, whom she married. They stayed together and went on to have a baby daughter together. But theirs was a rocky relationship – he even punched her son so hard in the stomach that he was hospitalised.

Money matters

Eventually the two split, then divorced and that’s when the money troubles set in. Run ragged by having to ferry her children to and from nursery, in the midst of a full day at the hospital, she could barely subsist. She was allegedly posted to do triage following a bomb blast, which left her with post-traumatic stress disorder. But the hospital had no records to indicate that she was posted there, so they were unable to corroborate her story. As a result her main defence at trial remained unsubstantiated.

Nevertheless, that she had money worries was never in doubt. With intermittent payments coming from her ex, plus her wage, it wasn’t enough, what with childcare a constant drain on resources.

Suicidal

‘I was tired and I gave up. Suicide seemed like the only thing,’ said Riggs. Even her mother picked up on her listlessness but Riggs passed it off as tiredness. But her mother’s intuition was bang on. Riggs bought some Elavil (an anti-depressant) over the counter, as well as some morphine. She then nabbed some potassium chloride from the hospital and was set to do the deed.

One winter night in November, she injected her son with the potassium chloride. But what she didn’t know was that you need to dilute it, otherwise it’s painful and the acid burns. He woke up in agony so she gave him a dose or six of morphine, but that made little difference. So she smothered him with a pillow. Then, dispensing with the drugs, she took a pillow to her two-year-old daughter too. After her two babies were dead, she took a lethal dose of Elavil followed by five times the lethal dose of potassium chloride, which was so invasive, it burned a hole in her arm. The next morning her mum found her and called an ambulance. Amazingly she lived through that ordeal only to face her next – the trial and the guilt her actions induced.

Confession

What counted against her in the courts was her confession. She detailed how she planned to kill herself and her children and it was her confession that landed her a guilty verdict. It’s highly unusual for confessions to be used in evidence and while her actions may have been motivated by depression, her own words made the crime sound premeditated. And what really stuck the needle in was that the prosecution painted her out to be a selfish mum who’d leave her children home alone or offload them onto their gran so she could hang out at karaoke bars.

A jury took less than an hour to find her guilty. There was one half-hearted appeal before she acquiesced with the plan to put her out of her misery using another cocktail of lethal drugs successfully in Arkansas.

She was hooked up to the gurney and the last words to pass her lips were ‘ Now I can be with my babies as I always intended. I love my babies’.

A commentator at the time said that not executing her would have been a far greater punishment than the lethal injection.

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8 Responses to “2 May 2000 – Christina Marie Riggs”

  1. human history repeats itself, over and over again.
    poor woman, poor children, poor judges.

    • david Says:

      @cocochanelleke

      What?? Poor Woman – Poor Judges? She’s a murderer dude. She killed two defenseless children so she could have them all to herself in heaven. What a selfish murdering bitch. And your a bitch for attempting to defend her. I speak for the babies. F you.

  2. savannah Says:

    there are so many lies in this storie! first off the kids did not even have the smae last name. hello! and her mother did not find her the next morning. they found her that night becasue her mother was going over there to watch the kids. if your going to write a stroy at least get the freakin facts right!

    • Thanks for your comments Savannah.

      Please can you let us know your sources?

      We have never actually named the children in the write-up so please can you elaborate? It’d be good to understand what you feel is inaccurate about our write-up so we can look to redress the problem.

      Similarly, we’ve got our information about the discovery of the bodies from primary sources, such as Riggs’ own words and transcripts of the trial.

      Her mother did indeed call the police the morning after the murders and suicide attempt as she’d been expecting to babysit the children that day while Riggs went to work.

      These details are in line with other commentary on the case too.

      But you obviously know different and have primary-source proof, so we’d be very interested to hear more.

      Thanks for reading and we look forward to hearing more.

  3. Peaches Says:

    I looked up this story because my friend that I work with may live in the same house that this happened. She said that a woman killed her two kids in her house back in the nineties in Sherwood. This is the only story that we can find that could possibly be the same one. Nothing is listed as far as the street name. What is weird is that my friend was taking pictures with her phone camera of the room while she was sitting on the couch. All the pictures came out black because there was no light except for one. She showed me the picture and it is a distorted face of what looks like a mans face with a green demon like face behind it in the front of the hall leading back to the bedrooms. It was enough to put chills down your spine.

  4. Christina Marie Riggs is unique among the women on these pages in that she insisted on her execution, which took place on the 3rd of May 2000. She was the first woman to be executed in Arkansas, since the state took over responsibility for executions in 1913 and only the fifth nationwide since 1977.

    She confessed to the killing of her two children, Justin Thomas, 5, and Shelby Alexis, 2, in November 1997 and asked the jury for the death sentence at the sentencing phase of her trial, telling them “I want to die. I want to be with my babies. I want you to give me the death penalty.”

    The crime.
    After her arrest, Christina made a detailed taped confession to the police explaining how she had killed her children. She told them she had mixed an amount of the antidepressant drug Elavil with water and made the children drink it. Elavil also has a sedative effect and when the children became drowsy she injected Justin in the neck with potassium chloride (one of the drugs used both in lethal injections and open heart surgery to stop the heart beating). Sadly, she didn’t realize that she had to dilute the potassium chloride for it to work. Instead of killing Justin, as she intended, it left him in agony and she gave him an injection of morphine to ease the pain. Weeping, she rocked him in her arms, according to court statements. When his pain had subsided she smothered him with a pillow and then did the same to Shelby, leaving their bodies side-by-side on a bed, covered with a blanket. She then wrote a suicide note to her estranged husband and left it on the bedside cabinet.

    “I hope one day you will forgive me for taking my life and the life of my children. But I can’t live like this any more, and I couldn’t bear to leave my children behind to be a burden on you or to be separated and raised apart from their fathers and live knowing their mother killed herself.”
    She then swallowed 28 tablets of Elavil and injected herself with potassium chloride.
    Her mother, Carol Thomas, became concerned that she couldn’t raise her daughter and called the police. Officers David Smith and Steve Henker entered her apartment and found the children’s bodies and Christina on the floor in the bedroom. She was semi-conscious and not responding.
    She was taken to the Baptist Memorial Medical Center in North Little Rock for treatment and arrested by Sherwood police immediately after her release the following day.
    The Pulaski County Coroner Mark Malcolm estimated that the children had been dead for 10-14 hours before they were discovered.

    The trial.
    Christina came to trial at the Pulaski County Circuit Court in June.1998 and entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Her defense did not dispute the fact that she had killed her children.
    Her defense attorneys claimed that she had a long history of depression and low self esteem. She was relatively poor, a single mom and very overweight at 280 pounds.
    It seems clear that when she killed her children that she intended to kill herself too and one psychiatrist testified that she was a mentally ill woman who suffered severe depression, which led her to believe that it was “an act of love” to take her children with her.
    She did not want the children separated after her death.
    The specialists who testified in her defense said that her family had a long history of depression and suicide. She was said to suffer from an hereditary chemical imbalance that caused depression. Christina also claimed to have been sexually abused as a child, which caused her to internalize her feelings.
    It had also been claimed, prior to the trial, that she had become traumatized by working as a nurse at the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing. This was later disputed and was not used in evidence by the defense. She did work as a nurse in Oklahoma City but there was no record of her actually being at the scene of the bombing or treating its victims.
    The prosecution painted a rather different picture however. They claimed that she killed the children because they were an inconvenience to her and that she had planned the murders for several weeks in advance. They also claim that she left them alone in the house or with her mother while she went out at night to Karaoke bars.
    The 8 minute long taped confession was permitted to be entered as evidence and played to the jury giving them a chilling account of how she planned and carried out the killings.

    On June 30, 1998, the jury of 7 women and 5 men took just 55 minutes to find her guilty of two counts of first degree murder. Christina collapsed in the court on receiving the verdict. The trial now moved into the sentencing phase and Christina told the jurors “I want to die. I want to be with my babies. I want you to give me the death penalty.”
    They agreed and Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey sentenced her to death by lethal injection. Christina said “thank you” and squeezed her attorney’s hand. The initial execution date was set for August 15, 1998.

    She did allow a motion to be filed for a retrial, however, claiming she did not get a fair trial because her police confession (the main evidence against her) was admitted into evidence. Her attorney, John Wesley Hall, Jr., told the court that Christina was still under the influence of the Elavil when she gave her confession to police and that Elavil can cause confusion. ”She did not know where she was or what day it was and that she was hallucinating about the officers arriving on an escalator to talk to her.” It was also claimed that the prosecuting attorney made prejudicial opening remarks to the jury and that they did not take their oath seriously. These motions were rejected by Circuit Judge John Langston.
    The state Supreme Court overturned all appeals and accepted a motion from her in July 1998 that she was competent to be executed.

    On death row.
    Christina was the only inmate to be housed in the 3 cell female death row facility at the Correction Department’s McPherson Unit at Newport after her sentence. By all accounts, she was well cared for. She was allowed to meet with her occasional visitors in a visitation hall not far from her cell. She was handcuffed whenever she was outside her cell and talked to her visitors through a clear plastic window.
    Prison food was good. “I’ve put on 30 pounds since I’ve been here,” she said.
    She was given the standard off white prison scrubs and sneakers to wear and was allowed to curl her hair and use a little makeup. She was able to watch television and read several books a week which her mother sent in for her. She was allowed to exercise in a small outdoor courtyard adjacent to her cell.
    When interviewed, she said that it was hard trying to deal with what she did to her children, pictures of whom decorated the mirror in her cell. She told the interviewer that she was eager to die. “I’ll be with my children and with God. I’ll be where there’s no more pain. “Maybe I’ll find some peace.”

    Execution.
    The Arkansas state governor Mike Huckabee reviewed the case but declined to intervene and eventually the execution was set for Tuesday May 3rd, to be carried out between the hours of 8 and 9 p.m. in the Cummins Unit, outside Pine Bluff. Christina was flown from female death row in the McPherson Unit to the Cummins Unit 3 days prior to the execution. The execution began 18 minutes late because of difficulty in finding a suitable vein to put the catheters into. Christina agreed to have the catheters placed in veins in her wrists.
    Her last words, strapped to the gurney, were “There is no way no words can express how sorry I am for taking the lives of my babies,” she said. “Now I can be with my babies, as I always intended.” She also said “I love you, my babies”.
    The execution went smoothly and she was certified dead 9 minutes later.

    Background.
    She had had a difficult childhood. She was born in Lawton, Oklahoma in 1971 and claimed to have been sexually abused by her stepbrother between the age of 7 and 13. At 13, she was also abused by a neighbor. By 14, she was drinking, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. Her obesity was a major problem – she is quoted as saying “I felt that no boy liked me because of my weight, so I became sexually promiscuous because I thought that was the only way I could have a boyfriend.” The inevitable pregnancy followed and in January 1988 she gave the resulting baby boy up for adoption.

    On graduating from high school, she became a licensed practical nurse. She became pregnant again in October 1991 (with Justin) although the father abandoned her immediately on learning the news. A little later she went back with a former boyfriend, Jon Riggs, who eventually moved in with her and married her in July 1993 by which time she was pregnant again – sadly this pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage.
    The marriage was not a success and Christina became depressed and suicidal, being prescribed the anti-depressant drug Prozac.
    In 1994, she became pregnant again and in December, Shelby Alexis was born. They moved to Sherwood, Arkansas in 1995 to be near where her mother lived so as to be able to get some help with child care. She and Jon soon divorced and she was left to fend for herself with two small children. Her already poor financial situation began to deteriorate. Her child support payments from the children’s fathers were irregular, she claimed, and the day care costs for her children high. By this time, she was working at the Arkansas Heart Hospital (from where she stole the potassium chloride, the morphine and the syringes and needles). Other bills came in such as her car registration and insurance. She found herself in an increasingly desperate financial situation. Suicide she told one interviewer “seemed like the only thing.”

    One can imagine that it would be easy to have suicidal thoughts in this situation. It is hardly uncommon, although the prosecution challenged her financial hardship. She was apparently earning $17,000 a year working 12 hour shifts at the Heart Hospital and according to them the children’s fathers were making most of their maintenance payments.

    Larry Jegley, the Pulaski Country prosecutor who led the case against her, told reporters he didn’t buy her “excuses” for murdering her children.
    “Simply put, she’s a self-centered, selfish, premeditated killer who did the unspeakable act of taking her own children’s lives.” “She used every excuse in the world.” “I think the jury just saw her as the manipulative, self-centered person she really and truly is. She claims she was horribly depressed, she was overweight, she was a single mom, and she didn’t have enough money. My response to that is welcome to America. Plenty of folks are in far worst situations than she was.”
    There would seem to be some truth in that too.

    Comment.
    The basic facts of Christina’s case are simple. She did kill her two children and wanted to be put to death for so doing. These facts are not in dispute.
    Had she succeeded in killing herself, after the children as she intended, few people would have ever heard of her and it would be just another of those sad cases where people kill their family and then themselves.
    Unusually perhaps, Christina believed in capital punishment herself telling an interviewer “I still believe in the death penalty even though I’m sitting here on Death Row. In my case, I’m glad I have the option.” She felt that life without parole was a “waste of tax dollars” and cruel to the inmate who can only leave prison “feet first”.
    Mianette Layne, a criminal justice and psychology student who corresponded with Christina is quoted as saying of her “I think that she is comforted that she will be punished for what she did,” “Her days are guilt-ridden, and she is not getting any help dealing with that guilt. She believes that she will be with her children when she dies, and this is also comforting to her.”
    Prosecutor Larry Jegley was not impressed by Christina’s request to be allowed to be executed, however, telling reporters “One of the things that was clear to the jury was that she was extremely self-centered and manipulative. Saying she wanted to die may have been one of the manipulative machinations that she had grown comfortable with throughout her life.”

    A factor that may have affected Christina’s decision to drop her appeals was the treatment she received from other women inmates while in prison awaiting trial. She was spat on and sworn at. She may also have been aware of the treatment of Susan Smith in South Carolina who also murdered her two small children for which she received a 30 year sentence and has now been beaten up 3 times by other inmates who see killing of one’s children as beyond normal crime.
    Was Arkansas state governor Mike Huckabee right to sanction her execution? Or was he merely allowing her a state assisted suicide? It is difficult to see what she had to look forward to in life. She would have had to live every day with overwhelming feelings of guilt and in constant fear of other prisoners. Being grossly overweight would have made her additionally vulnerable as fat people tend to be discriminated against anyway. One can well understand, faced with such a bleak future, why she insisted on her execution. She is one of around 10 people a year who, for whatever personal reasons, do so.
    Did she deserve the death penalty? There is no doubt in law that if you kill your children and then fail in a suicide attempt you can be guilty of murder. Christina clearly felt this and refused to let her defense put some of the obvious mitigating factors to the jury. A lot of people would consider that the killing of two small children by the mother who they love and trust to be a particularly heinous crime and one which deserves death. Perhaps she was manipulative and selfish, I think we all can be at times. Raising two small children in difficult financial circumstances may have just got to Christina over time. She knew it was going to be a long time before they grew up and she may not have been able to take the stress of it any longer.
    I don’t feel personally that Christina was really an evil woman but rather a sad and somewhat inadequate person who saw killing the children and herself as the easy way out of the stresses of life. Equally, I think not executing her would have been the ultimate cruelty.

    • andrea yates killed five kids and actually chased the eldest around the house, giving herself plenty of time to snap out of whatever she was in,yet she got 40 years to start with. not bad, 8 years per child. now she’s in a mental facility and before we know it she’ll be out. judith neeley is out after her atrocious crimes and so is karla homolka,who murdered her own sister to please her perverted husband.christina riggs attempted suicide was not a half-hearted attempt so i think she should have been jailed and, like any other prisoner be made to fend for herself and face or avoid whatever was coming her way. she wouldn’t be fat for long i can tell you that!

  5. Curtis Carter Says:

    ‘She’ll be with her kids’ when she dies? Are her kids in hell? No! The sweet things are in heaven for they are pure and innocent, innocent victims of what is a self confessed child killer. What makes her think they’ll even want to see her, yet again will Saint Peter let her beyond the pearly gates? An educated guess is HELL NO! (Sorry for the unintentional pund).

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