Hull parents arrested in girl’s poisoning death

Boston Globe

By David Abel, Globe Staff

The parents of a 4-year-old girl from Hull were arrested yesterday on murder charges after investigators concluded they poisoned their daughter, prosecutors said.
Michael Riley , 34, and his wife, Carolyn, 32, were taken into custody at his mother’s house in Weymouth in the death of their daughter Rebecca in December, said officials in the Plymouth district attorney’s office.

Just after 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 13, Hull police responded to a call for an unresponsive girl at the family’s home on Lynn Avenue, prosecutors said. They found Rebecca dead on her parents’ bedroom floor.

An investigation by State Police and Hull police found the girl had been prescribed the drugs clonidine for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and valproic acid and Seroquel for bipolar disorder. A psychiatrist had diagnosed her with both disorders at age 2 1/2, prosecutors said.

The medical examiner’s office determined the girl died from “intoxication due to the combined effects” of the drugs clonidine, valproic acid (Depakote), dextromethorphan, and chlorpheniramine, the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

“This occurred as a result of the intentional overdose of Rebecca with clonidine,” the statement said. “The manner of death was determined to be homicide.”

Clonidine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat high blood pressure, but is sometimes used to treat hyperactive symptoms.

The mothers of both Michael and Carolyn Riley said last night the couple is innocent.

Valerie Berio , Carolyn Riley’s mother, called the homicide charges “ludicrous.”

“She was their treasure, their angel,” Berio said in a telephone interview. “They loved her more than life itself. They didn’t consciously give her anything to make her go to sleep and not wake up.”

She said Rebecca had been described as hyperactive in school, but had been recently seen as “a little too quiet” by school administrators.

Berio said the couple grew up in Weymouth, knew each other since they were young, and married in 1994. She said Michael Riley is unemployed and claims disability. “Michael is the sweetest kid in the world. They would have never wanted to hurt their daughter,” Berio said. “I love him like he’s my own kid.”

Kathleen Riley , Michael’s mother, described the couple as great parents.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s a terrible disgrace. I have no idea how anyone could say this is deliberate. I’m shocked. They loved their children.”

She said the couple had a miscarriage six years ago and had been living apart for the last year, though they were in the home together the morning Rebecca died.

“He’s been a wonderful father,” Riley said. “All the charges against them are false. He cried at night because he had to live with me for the past year. He’s been under such pressure. The poor kid. I don’t know how he’s going to handle this. They just wanted to be together.”

Denise Monteiro , a spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, said the department “found evidence for neglect” of Rebecca.

On Dec. 13, the agency removed the couple’s other children, a 6-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, from the home, Monteiro said. They remain in foster homes.

In 2005, DSS began investigating allegations that Michael Riley sexually abused a 13-year-old girl , Monteiro said. Kathleen Riley and Berio identified the girl as Carolyn Riley’s daughter from another relationship. The girl had been adopted to another home in 2002.

Also in 2005, DSS launched an investigation into whether Carolyn Riley had neglected her children, Monteiro said.

“We supported the allegations of abuse, and we forwarded that report to the Norfolk district attorney’s office,” she said. “We also supported the allegations of neglect against the mother.”

The status of those allegations was unclear last night.

A spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office did not return calls.

Berio called the allegations of abuse “completely ridiculous.”

“There’s no evidence at all to back them up,” she said. “But it devastated them, and now it has snowballed to this.”

In June 2005, DSS ordered Michael Riley out of the home, Monteiro said. He was only allowed to see the children under supervision by a DSS official, she said.

“We’re investigating why Michael Riley was at the home without supervision,” when police found Rebecca dead, Monteiro said last night.

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