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Trial date set for parents charged with murdering 4-year-old in Hull

BROCKTON - Michael and Carolyn Riley will go on trial Jan. 22 on charges that they killed their 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca, in December 2006 with intentional overdoses of powerful psychiatric drugs.

The Hull couple are charged with second-degree murder for allegedly giving the girl a lethal combination of clonidine and other drugs she had been prescribed for attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity and bipolar disorder.

Plymouth Superior Court Judge Charles J. Hely will hear the jury trial, which was scheduled earlier this week.

The Rileys were arrested in February 2007 and initially charged with first-degree murder. They have been held in jail since then – Carolyn Riley at the South Bay jail in Boston, Michael Riley in the Norfolk County jail.

Their trial date was set in the wake of two recent legal moves – the opening of court files by the judge, and an evidence retest request by Carolyn Riley, who now asserts that Rebecca died from pneumonia rather than an overdose.

Hely has lifted an impoundment order from the Rileys’ court files, which had been closed to the media and public for more than a year. The Patriot Ledger and other news organizations had asked the judge to make the files available.

Hely has left a gag order in place for prosecutors and defense attorneys. That prevents them from speaking with the media or anyone else about the case. Prosecutors sought the order in early 2007, saying a defense attorney had improperly talked to the media about grand jury testimony.

In September, Carolyn Riley asked the court to allow a private forensic pathologist to re-examine tissue samples taken from Rebecca after she died, so the pathologist could explain to the jury that the girl “did not die from an overdose but rather from a form of pneumonia.”

Michael Riley has not filed a separate motion for the repeat examination.

In a companion affidavit to the Sept. 11 request, Carolyn’s attorney, Michael Bourbeau of Boston, contends that the microscope photography the Plymouth County medical examiner used to determine Rebecca’s cause of death was of “mediocre quality” and that the magnification was too low to show adequate detail in the tissue samples.

The pathologist, Dr. Jonathan Arden, is in McLean, Va. He previously worked in the chief medical examiners’ offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Hely has not decided whether to allow the new tissue examination.

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