Last words go to children Lawyer says execution ‘state-assisted suicide’ — (The Daily Oklahoman)

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The Daily Oklahoman

May 4, 2000

Author: Jamie Stengle; AP

VARNER, Ark. – A former Oklahoma nurse who unsuccessfully tried to kill herself after smothering her two young children was put to death in an execution criticized by her lawyer as the state-assisted suicide of a depressed woman.

“Now I can be with my babies, as I always intended,” Christina Marie Riggs said just before her execution began Tuesday night.  A minute after a toxic mix of chemicals began flowing through needles inserted into her wrists, she said, “I love you, my babies.”

Riggs admitted killing her children, Justin, 5, and Shelby Alexis, 2, and asked the jury at her capital murder trial to sentence her to death.

Police interviewed Riggs as she recovered from a suicide attempt the night her children died.  Defense lawyer John Wesley Hall Jr. said the interview was improper.

“This woman died under an unconstitutional conviction and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it,” Hall said. “I’m convinced she would have gotten a new trial. State-assisted suicide is not what the death penalty is for.”

Riggs was convicted June 30, 1998 – seven months after the killings – and briefly followed an appeal in state court. In January, a court said she was competent to drop her appeals. She did not file a clemency request with Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The execution began at 9:18 p.m. – 18 minutes late – because prison workers had trouble finding a suitable vein in the 270-pound woman’s elbows. She agreed to take the needles at her wrists, prison spokeswoman Dina Tyler said.

She was the first woman to be put to death in Arkansas since 1845. She also was the fifth woman executed nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment in 1976.

Riggs kept a journal while on death row and kissed the book before handing it to Hall for delivery to her mother, Carol Thomas, who had visited her weekly in prison.

She also wrote to Thomas that she hated that she hurt her.   Among her final words in the death chamber, she asked her family for forgiveness.

Her death completed her self-destruction, Hall said.

“What this amounted to from beginning to end was state-assisted suicide,” he said.

Hall said Riggs told him before the execution that it was what she wanted.  He had motions pending with federal courts that would have automatically stopped her execution Tuesday night, but she refused to approve them.

Riggs was injected with a mixture of drugs, including potassium chloride, which stops the heart. She had told authorities that she intended to use the same drug to kill her children.

She gave the children an antidepressant in hopes it would make them drowsy, then injected Justin with the drug.  She was unaware, however, that it must be diluted and fed intravenously into the body, or else it burns the skin and veins without reaching the heart.

When Justin began crying, Riggs told police, Riggs injected him with some leftover morphine she had used on a hospital patient and then smothered the boy and his little sister.  Riggs then took 28 antidepressant tablets, intending to commit suicide, and injected herself with potassium chloride.

The children were found dead in Riggs’ bed by her mother, and Riggs was found on the floor nearby.

Hall said a funeral would likely be this weekend in Coweta, OK.

Record Number:  2113163