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“If they would listen to anyone who knows my daughter, there would be no one who could deny the amount of love and patience she has. She adores her children.”

Valerie Berio,
Carolyn Riley's mother
Defense blames
Rebecca’s death
on doctor

Calls prosecution’s likely argument a ‘sick theory’


The Patriot Ledger

A medical malpractice case, and nothing more. That’s the explanation of the lawyer defending a mother accused of killing her 4-year-old daughter in Hull with a prescription drug overdose.

The lawyer said the district attorney will argue the woman and her husband, also accused of murder, killed their daughter because they were unhappy with how much they were getting from the state to help care for the girl, who suffered from bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.

The lawyer called that a “sick theory,” and said he would seek release of the mother during a court hearing today.

Carolyn Riley, 32, and Michael Riley, 34, were arrested last month and charged with killing their daughter, Rebecca, at the home in Hull where the family was living.

Carolyn and Michael Riley appeared in court in Hingham March 6, 2007. Michael Riley’s attorney, John Darrell, is in the foreground.
GREG DERR /The Patriot Ledger
Carolyn and Michael Riley appeared in court in Hingham March 6, 2007. Michael Riley’s attorney, John Darrell, is in the foreground.

Boston attorney Michael Bourbeau, who represents Carolyn Riley, yesterday advanced what he said would be a prosecution argument: the Rileys killed Rebecca because they wanted more state money because of her condition.

“It’s a very sick theory,” Bourbeau said. “It’s completely not based on the evidence. If they indict her on this theory, there is something tragically wrong. It should be nothing more than a medical malpractice case.”

Bourbeau said he feared his client wouldn’t get a fair trial because of publicity that has been generated.

“It’s turned into a media circus and a prosecutorial nightmare,” he said. “What exactly caused her (Rebecca) to die? I don’t know. It wasn’t an intentional overdose.”

Bourbeau said only two days before Rebecca’s death, her parents bought her dresses.

Bridget Norton-Middleton, a spokeswoman for the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office, declined comment last night.

The Rileys, who have yet to be indicted, are scheduled for an appearance today in Hingham District Court.

Bourbeau said he planned to argue that Carolyn Riley should be released on bail because of inaccurate information from a police affidavit used to obtain the arrest warrant.

“They drew conclusions that are flat-out wrong,” he said.

In an affidavit filed with the court, State Police Trooper Anna Brookes said there was evidence of a “slow and painful killing of Rebecca Riley over a period of days.”

GARY HIGGINS/The Patriot Ledger
Carolyn Riley's mother, Valerie Berio of Weymouth.

Carolyn’s mother, Valerie Berio of Weymouth, said she was stunned when a State Police investigator told her they believed Rebecca was murdered because she was only worth $2 a month in Social Security benefits to her parents.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Berio said. “They said they killed her because she wasn’t worth enough money.”

Berio said her daughter is a wonderful mother.

“If they would listen to anyone who knows my daughter, there would be no one who could deny the amount of love and patience she has,” Berio said. “She adores her children.”

The Rileys’ two older children, an 11-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, are now in foster care. Both youngsters had also been diagnosed with bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and are receiving federal disability benefits from Supplemental Security Income.

The program provides money to people who are 65 or older, as well as blind or disabled individuals, including children.

Hull police were called to the Rileys’ home at 70 Lynn Ave. in the town’s Kenberma neighborhood at 6:30 a.m. on Dec. 13. Rebecca was already dead as she lay on the floor of her parents’ bedroom.

Prosecutors later called the girl’s death an “intentional overdose,” but have declined to reveal a motive since the couple’s Feb. 5 arrest.

Witnesses told police the Rileys gave their daughter large doses of powerful prescription drugs to keep her quiet and sleeping for long periods of time.

The state medical examiner’s office said Rebecca died from the combined effects of three drugs used to treat bipolar disorder, including clonidine, and two over-the-counter cold medicines.

Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, a Tufts New England Medical Center psychiatrist, had prescribed clonidine for the youngster to treat her for hyperactivity and bipolar disorder. The other two drugs were Depakote and Seroquel, which are also used to treat bipolar disorder.

Rebecca, who attended the Elden H. Johnson Early Childhood Center in North Weymouth, was 28 months old when she was diagnosed.

Attorneys for the Rileys have said they were only following the dosage Kifuji prescribed.

Although Kifuji has since agreed to stop practicing pending a Board of Registration in Medicine investigation, her attorney has said she was innocent of any wrongdoing.

The Rileys were also receiving Social Security benefits for mental disabilities, according to Berio.

Carolyn reportedly had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety while Michael had a bipolar disorder.

Michael Riley was awaiting trial in Norfolk Superior Court on charges of attempted rape of a child under the age of 14, giving pornography to child and four counts of indecent assault and battery on a child when he was arrested for his youngest daughter’s murder.

Dennis Tatz may be reached at dtatz@ledger.com.