Mass. parents seek dismissal of overdose case

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BOSTON (AP) — Parents accused of killing their 4-year-old daughter by overmedicating her with prescription drugs asked a judge on Friday to dismiss murder charges, citing a prosecution medical report they say bolsters their claim that the girl died of pneumonia.

The move comes days before the trial of Carolyn and Michael Riley is set to begin in Brockton Superior Court. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

In court papers filed Friday, Carolyn Riley’s lawyer, Michael Bourbeau, argues that the indictment should be dismissed because the grand jury was misled on the cause of death.

A state medical examiner found that Rebecca died of a combination of Clonidine, a blood pressure medication the girl had been prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; Depakote, an antiseizure and mood-stabilizing drug prescribed for bipolar disorder; and two over-the-counter drugs, a cough suppressant and an antihistamine. The amount of Clonidine alone in Rebecca’s system was enough to be fatal, the medical examiner said.

But the defense argues in the motion to dismiss that the report by the state’s expert, Dr. Sara Vargas, a lung specialist, supports the defense claim that she died of an acute, fast-moving pneumonia.

“There is little question that the newly disclosed report from Dr. Vargas … casts real doubt on the validity of the evidence submitted to the Grand Jury in support of the indictment for first degree murder,” Bourbeau wrote in the motion.

In her report, Vargas said Rebecca had acute pneumonia and sepsis, or widespread infection, which were “adequately severe to explain death in this case.”

But she also says that the medications Rebecca was taking “may have caused the bacterial pneumonia and sepsis or contributed to their severity” by predisposing the girl to infection.

Prosecutors reiterated their contention that the Rileys ignored pleas from two people who lived with them to take their daughter to the pediatrician or emergency room in the last days of her life.

“The malicious failure of these defendants to get medical care for their sick child in the days before her death has always been one part of this complex case,” the Plymouth District Attorney’s Office said in a statement released Friday.

“These allegations constitute murder in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Judge Charles Hely scheduled a hearing Monday on the motion to dismiss.

The girl’s death inflamed a long-running debate in psychiatry over whether young children can accurately be diagnosed with serious mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and whether they should be treated with powerful drugs used for adults.