A Plymouth County jury has found a Massachusetts mother, whose four-year-old daughter died after being given toxic levels of drugs prescribed to control her behavior, guilty of second-degree murder.
The case has raised disturbing questions about the apparent ease with which some parents can convince compliant physicians to diagnose and prescribe powerful psychotropic drugs for young children to help qualify for benefits. It also raised questions about whether some of these conditions can even be properly diagnosed in very young children.
Four-year-old Rebecca Riley was found dead in her bed on the morning of Dec. 13, 2006.
In the days leading up to her death, Rebecca had been suffering from a respiratory illness. To quiet her complaints and get some sleep, her mother, 35-year-old Carolyn Riley, gave her double her daily dosage of clonidine. Clonidine is a psychotropic drug used to control hyperactivity and bipolar disorder, according to the Boston Globe.
Riley was sentenced to life imprisonment with a possibility of parole after 15 years.
The father, Michael Riley, 37, will be tried separately beginning next month.
The investigation that followed revealed two of Rebecca’s siblings, now age 9 and 14, had routinely been given Depakote, Seroquel, and clonidine to sedate them since the age of 2. An older sister, now 17, had been removed from the home earlier for undisclosed reasons, and been adopted by the time of Rebecca’s death. The two other siblings are in foster care.
The prosecutors alleged the couple used the diagnosis given to their children to scam the Social Security office to approve disability benefits.
The defense characterized Carolyn Riley as a former foster child deserving of sympathy, overwhelmed by a family life full of mental illness.
Michael Riley had been barred from living with the family after allegedly showing pornography to the eldest daughter as well as attempting to sexually assault her.
The drugs were prescribed by Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, a Tufts Medical Center psychiatrist, who testified only after being granted immunity from prosecution. A grand jury cleared her of any criminal wrongdoing in the case, and she continues to practice in another community.