The Women on Death Row: Christina Marie Riggs

Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash

By the time Christina Marie Riggs was 30, she would become the first woman executed in Arkansas in over 100 years.

The Beginning

Riggs was allegedly abused by her stepbrother until she was 13 years old. When she was 13, she claims she was abused by a neighbor. It was around this time that Riggs began to use marijuana, alcohol, and cigarettes.

Sexuality became commonplace in Riggs’ young life. She became promiscuous. Looking back, she claims that she felt like her weight was a major factor in her low self-esteem, and she felt that sexuality was the best way to get a boyfriend.

At 16, Riggs learned she was pregnant. In January of 1988, she gave birth to a boy she would place for adoption. She would go on to finish high school.

Building an Adult Life

In adulthood, Riggs became a licensed practical nurse. She would spend her days working part-time in home care and full-time at a VA center.

Riggs dated around for a whole until she eventually started up with Timothy Thompson. Thompson was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base and planning for discharge from the military when Riggs told him she was pregnant in October of 1991. Thompson seemingly rejected the idea that the baby was his and took off.

While pregnant, she began dating a sailor named Jon Riggs, the man whose name she would take. He was seemingly willing to take responsibility for the baby. They moved in together, but the relationship was difficult. Riggs gave birth to her son, Justin, during this time.

Riggs learned she was pregnant again soon after she gave birth, and the couple got married in the summer of 1993. The night of their wedding, Riggs apparently suffered a miscarriage. This added a lot of stress to an already tense marriage. It was during this time that Riggs allegedly became depressed, even suicidal. She claimed this was perhaps a result of her birth control pill. She was prescribed Prozac but stopped taking it when she felt better.

In less than a year, Riggs was pregnant again. In December of 1994, she would give birth to Shelby Alexis, affectionately nicknamed Sissie.

The Riggs family moved to Sherwood, Arkansas in 1995. Riggs was now living closer to her mother, and she looked forward to allow her grandmother to look after the kids. Riggs was able to find work at a local hospital.

Despite the way things seemed, all was not well in the Riggs home. First, the children were having some health issues. For Shelby, it was ear infections. For Justin, it was ADHD. Second, Riggs decided to file for divorce after her husband allegedly punched young Justin in the stomach.

After that, Riggs also faced severe financial difficulties. In fact, she got arrested for writing bad checks and was facing time in jail if her check writing continued. She was not receiving the child support she was owed, all the while working 12-hours shifts. She pawned her TV and VCR to pay for Justin to have a birthday party.

On November 5, 1997, Riggs failed to show up to the hospital where she worked. When her mother, Carol Thomas, came to the home looking for her, she found her daughter unconscious. She also found her grandchildren, five-year-old Justin and two-year-old Shelby, dead.

A Sinister Plot

The day before she was found on the floor, Riggs had apparently obtained morphine and potassium chloride from the hospital where she worked. She also had access to an anti-depressant through her pharmacy.

In order to carry out her plan, Riggs gave each of the children anti-depressants in their water. She hoped that the drug would knock them out. She laid Justin in his bed and injected his neck with concentrated potassium chloride. This caused a significant amount of pain for Justin, and he woke up crying. She gave him an injection of morphine before smothering him with a pillow.

She then went to Shelby’s room and smothered her too.

Shelby and Justin were placed on a bed next to each other. Riggs covered them with a blanket and left the room.

Next, Riggs wrote suicide notes. One was for her mother, another for her sister, and another for her ex-husband. One note said, “I couldn’t bear to leave my children behind to be a burden on you or to be separated and raised apart from their fathers and live knowing their mother killed herself.”

With her tasks completed, Riggs took a significant amount of the anti-depressant and then allegedly injected herself with the potassium chloride. She passed out on the floor of her bedroom and remained there until she was found by her mother and then rushed to the hospital.

Riggs would live, for now.

On Trial

Riggs spent her days awaiting trial in county jail. She faced abuse from other inmates when they learned she had killed her children. Many of them were upset that they were forced to be away from their own kids.

In June of 1998, Riggs pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She blamed the entire situation on her depression. Her legal team also argued that she had been suffering from PTSD after treating victims who had been injured in the Oklahoma City bombing. Later, it was demonstrated that there was no record of her treating any victims of the bombing.

The jury, not moved, convicted her.

The prosecution had claimed that Riggs saw her children as a mere inconvenience to the rest of her life. She was accused of leaving children locked in a room while she went out to bars.

Riggs claimed she wanted a death sentence, and she got it.

Execution

Governor Mike Huckabee was the one to set an execution date for Riggs. The sentence would be carried out on May 2, 2000 via lethal injection. She would be the fifth woman executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

Before she died, Riggs said, “Now I can be with my babies, as I always intended.”

The prosecutor did not feel sorry for Riggs, who claimed that her weight and finances made it difficult for her to overcome depression.

Prosecutor Larry Jegley is quoted as saying, “She claims she was horribly depressed, she was overweight, and she was a single mom, and she didn’t have enough money. My response to that is ‘welcome to America’. Plenty of folks are in far worse situations than she was.”

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