For the first time since Nancy Lee Riggins vanished a little over a year ago, Howard County police have publicly labeled the case a "possible homicide."
Police consistently had termed the Elkridge woman's disappearance a suspicious missing-person case. But in a hearing Friday in Howard County Circuit Court, Cpl. Mark Miller testified that detectives in the violent crimes unit approached the investigation as a possible homicide.
The hearing was held to determine whether taped conversations could be used as evidence in a sex-offense trial scheduled to begin Monday against Riggins' husband, Paul Stephen Riggins Jr.
Riggins, 40, is accused of having an illicit long-term sexual relationship with his daughter's baby sitter that began in 1992, when the girl was 14 or 15 and Riggins was 34.
The conversations between Riggins and the baby sitter were taped by police beginning days after Nancy Riggins' disappearance on July 1, 1996.
Howard State's Attorney Marna McLendon would not comment directly on whether the case is considered a homicide. However, McLendon said yesterday in a written statement that prosecutors in her office were reviewing "an extensive amount of material."
On Friday, Circuit Judge James B. Dudley denied Riggins' motion to suppress the taped conversations, saying there was not a hint of evidence to support defense assertions that the baby sitter may have been coerced into helping police.
Riggins' attorney, Howard E. Goldman, argued that police intimidated the baby sitter into secretly taping the conversations with Riggins. Dudley ruled without playing the tapes in open court.
The baby sitter, now 19, testified Friday that she agreed to allow police to tape telephone conversations with Riggins beginning four days after his wife disappeared.
Riggins told police that he came home from his job about 6 a.m. July 2, 1996, to find his daughter, Amanda, 5, asleep and his wife missing. He reported the disappearance July 3.
When detectives contacted her, the baby sitter said she "told them about everything that happened between Stephen and I because I wanted to help find out what happened to Nancy.
"All I knew was that Nancy was missing," she continued, "and that she never would have left like that."
Miller testified that the first conversation was taped during a telephone call the baby sitter made from inside police headquarters. He also said she put a police tape recorder the size of a computer disc in her backpack during a face-to-face NTC meeting with Riggins at his Elkridge home a few days later.
The tapes are expected to be played in open court during the sex offense trial next week.
Nancy Riggins' parents, Robert and Delia Cunningham, who live in Pennsylvania with their granddaughter, now 6, sat silently in the courtroom Friday, listening to the baby sitter's nervous testimony.
The Cunninghams have been involved in a contentious custody battle with their son-in-law. They have temporary custody of Amanda, but her father is allowed to see her under strict rules.
After the ruling to allow the taped conversations into evidence, Delia Cunningham said she was encouraged by the baby sitter's testimony.
"I'm very proud of her," she said. "Nancy was always very good to [her], and I'm pleased that she wants to help."
Robert Cunningham added: "At first, I was very angry at her [the baby sitter] for what she did, but I'd say that what she did today was very brave."
Pub Date: 8/19/97