Riggins sentenced to 18-month term for child abuse He admitted having sex relationship with teen baby sitter

November 14, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Paul Stephen Riggins -- the man Howard County police say is their only suspect in the disappearance of his wife -- told a circuit judge yesterday that he made a terrible mistake when he began a lengthy sexual relationship with the family's 15-year-old baby sitter.

That four-year-long mistake netted him 18 months in jail for child abuse as the former baby sitter, now 20, and a courtroom filled with friends and family of his missing wife looked on yesterday.

"It never should have gone as far as it did," said Riggins, 40. "Whatever I can do to prove I am not really as bad as it seems I will do."

But Riggins' troubles may be deepening. Yesterday, Timothy McCrone, attorney for the parents of Riggins' missing wife, Nancy, said Howard prosecutors plan a grand jury investigation into her disappearance -- a case police have labeled a possible homicide.

Deputy State's Attorney Les Gross would not confirm a grand jury investigation was going to take place, saying that all grand jury proceedings are secret.

The attorney for Stephen Riggins, as he is known to family and friends, said he had not heard any direct information about a grand jury. "I don't think they have any evidence whatsoever," Howard B. Goldman said.

Pressure on the state's attorneys office to charge Riggins in his wife's disappearance has been building for months. Nancy Riggins' friends and family say they are frustrated that a lengthy and thorough police investigation has not resulted in action.

"We're satisfied he got this sentence, but we will not rest until he is put in jail" for Nancy Riggins' disappearance, said Denise Keenan, her sister.

Nancy Riggins, a cashier at the Burtonsville Giant, was last seen at a Columbia swimming pool the evening of July 1, 1996. She and her husband lived in Elkridge.

Stephen Riggins told police that when he arrived home about 6 a.m. July 2 from his job as a driver for a trucking company working at Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant in Southwest Baltimore he found his daughter sleeping and his wife missing, police said. He did not tell police of her disappearance until July 3.

Nancy Riggins' friends at the supermarket where she worked have mounted a campaign to solve the riddle of her disappearance. They have combed woods with dogs, posted a billboard and appeared on a nationally televised talk show.

Her parents, Bob and Delia Cunningham, say they are convinced their daughter is dead because she has not tried to contact them in the past 14 months. She would never leave her daughter, Amanda, they say.

Police have investigated the case for more than a year. While doing so, they uncovered the illicit affair between Stephen Riggins and the baby sitter. Police have also charged him with felony theft in the alleged stealing of clothes from a load he was delivering. The trial in that case is scheduled next week. If convicted, Riggins could receive as much as 15 years in jail.

At the request of police, the baby sitter taped conversations with Stephen Riggins by hiding a recorder in her book bag four days after Nancy's disappearance. The content of those tapes -- and what they mean to the investigation -- remain a mystery because Stephen Riggins pleaded guilty to the affair in August and avoided a trial where they could have been played as evidence of his relationship with the teen-ager.

Yesterday, the baby sitter's chin went taut and she looked as if she might cry when Stephen Riggins' attorney, Howard Goldman, told Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. that her involvement with her former boss had been consensual.

L "This was not an innocent 15-year-old victim," Goldman said.

Assistant State's Attorney Eileen McInerney said Stephen Riggins has not accepted responsibility for his actions in "exercising a significant amount of influence and control" over a ninth-grader.

McInerney said that despite Riggins' guilty plea, he denied in an interview that he had ever had sexual contact with the victim. Once he described her as just a friend.

"Certainly we know this was much more than a friend," Mc-Inerney said. "It's consistent with him not accepting responsibility for the choices he made.

As part of his sentence, Riggins must undergo sex offender treatment and be on supervised probation for five years after he is released from jail.

Riggins asked the court to begin his sentence at a later date, but the judge denied the request.

Watching her daughter's husband led out of the back of the courtroom by a sheriff's deputy was satisfying, Delia Cunningham said.

"I thought, 'Finally, justice. The wheels are turning.' I was getting a little impatient," she said.

Pub Date: 11/14/97

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