Tapes revealed in Riggins sex case Baby sitter aided police after his wife vanished

August 08, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Howard County prosecutors revealed yesterday that police arranged to secretly tape conversations between Paul Stephen Riggins and the teen-age girl with whom he is accused of having an illicit sexual relationship.

In addition to the sex offense charges that Riggins faces, he has been the center of controversy since his wife, Nancy, mysteriously disappeared more than a year ago.

Although police have never publicly labeled Riggins a suspect in her disappearance, Riggins acknowledged under oath last fall that he was the target of a homicide investigation.

The existence of the tapes came to light in a hearing yesterday in Howard Circuit Court. Riggins, 40, who lived in Elkridge with Nancy, is trying to bar a jury from hearing the tapes in the trial he faces on charges that he had a long-term relationship with his daughter's baby sitter, now 19.

It is unclear exactly what the tapes reveal; they were not played in court. Lawyers said the baby sitter allowed police to tape telephone conversations she had with Stephen Riggins, as he is called by friends and family, beginning four days after his wife disappeared in July 1996.

Riggins' attorney, Howard Goldman, told Judge James B. Dudley that he wants to determine whether the baby sitter agreed to cooperate with police voluntarily or was threatened by police.

Goldman laid out a hypothetical situation: Police come to the baby sitter's house investigating Nancy Riggins' disappearance and warn her that if she does not reveal all she knows, she could face a charge of accessory to murder. They order her to call Stephen Riggins and ask questions about his wife and their relationship.

"That consent doesn't meet the benchmark of voluntary consent," Goldman told the judge.

A hearing to decide the issue is scheduled for Aug. 15. The baby sitter was not in court yesterday.

Nancy Riggins' disappearance has pulled on the heartstrings of Howard County residents for the past year. Riggins' family and friends from the Burtonsville Giant store -- where she was a cashier for years -- have mounted a tireless campaign to find her.

After erecting a billboard along U.S. 1 and appearing on the "Geraldo" television show to tell her story, Nancy Riggins' friends continue to work with police.

A year after her disappearance, they still search the woods for her body. A plaque will soon be erected outside the grocery store reading: "Absent From Our Side But Always In Our #F Thoughts."

Yesterday, Nancy Riggins' parents, Robert and Delia Cunningham, drove from their Pennsylvania home to the hearing in Ellicott City.

Wearing a white hat with the words "Journey for Justice" on it, Robert Cunningham said he still thinks about his daughter every day and cries for her at night.

"She's definitely dead," Cunningham said.

The Cunninghams have been involved in a contentious custody battle with Stephen Riggins over their granddaughter, Amanda, who was 5 when her mother disappeared. The Cunninghams have temporary custody of the girl, but her father is allowed to see her under strict rules.

Yesterday, the tension between the Cunninghams and their daughter's husband was clear.

"You destroyed everything," Delia Cunningham screamed at Riggins as he stood outside the courtroom. A friend then led her, sobbing, into the bathroom.

Riggins looked at her and shook his head.

It was during the custody battle that Riggins said he was a suspect in a police investigation.

In a deposition taken Oct. 29, Riggins invoked his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself on dozens of questions about the disappearance of his wife, who was last seen at a Columbia pool.

In refusing to answer the questions, according to a transcript of that deposition, he said repeatedly from a written statement: "Upon advice of counsel, I am invoking the Fifth Amendment privilege because I am the target of a homicide investigation and any response I give may tend to incriminate me."

As a result of the police investigation, Riggins was charged in February with having the illicit sexual relationship.

Prosecutors allege that Riggins began a sexual relationship with the baby sitter, then 14 or 15, in 1992, while she was baby-sitting for his daughter, then 2. Riggins was 34 at the time.

The baby sitter told police that she and Riggins had sex at least once a week for the next four years, according to court documents.

Pub Date: 8/08/97

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