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Court restores first-degree murder charges against former Hull couple

The Court of Appeals on Monday restored first-degree murder charges in the case against Michael and Carolyn Riley, who are charged in the death of their daughter Rebecca in December 2006.

BOSTON - Any reasonable person would know the number of prescription pills given the 4-year-old girl was likely to kill her, the state appeal court says, but the attorney for a mother charged with murdering her young daughter says he is confident a jury will find the girl died of pneumonia, not a deliberate overdose.

The Court of Appeals on Monday restored first-degree murder charges in the case against Michael and Carolyn Riley, a former Hull couple charged in the death of their daughter Rebecca in December 2006. The appeals court said Superior Court Judge John P. O’Connor Jr. was in error when he reduced grand-jury charges to second degree murder a year after the death.

Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz said he’s pleased with the appeals court ruling. Carolyn Riley’s attorney, Michael Bourbeau, said the decision “was not unexpected.”

Bourbeau said he and Carolyn Riley “are anxious to go to trial,” and confident they can convince a jury that Rebecca died from pneumonia.

To prove that, Carolyn Riley has asked Superior Court to allow a forensic pathologist to analyze tissue samples the state medical examiner collected.

Rebecca died on Dec. 13, 2006. She had been prescribed clonidine, Depakote and other drugs by Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, who diagnosed the girl as bipolar with attention deficit disorder when she was 2.

According to the appeals court decision, the amount of clonidine alone in Rebecca’s system was enough to kill her.

“A reasonable person would have known that a plain and strong likelihood of death would follow their intended actions,” the court said of the Rileys’ heavy use of the drugs.

With questions about their murder charges now apparently settled, the Rileys could find out as early as Wednesday when they’ll go on trial when Plymouth County Superior Court Judge Charles Hely presides over a status hearing on the case.

At last December’s appeals court hearing, prosecutors said the jury should decide whether the Rileys were guilty of first degree murder or lesser charges. The couple’s appeals court attorneys argued there’s no evidence the couple deliberately killed their daughter.

The three-judge appeals panel said the prosecution’s evidence was sufficient for probable cause for first-degree murder. The decision called that evidence “graphic and disturbing.”

Lane Lambert may be reached at llambert@ledger.com.