Missing woman legally dead

Husband guilty of murder, though body never found

Nancy Riggins disappeared in '96

Court order to let daughter collect death benefits


June 15, 2004|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Nearly eight years after Nancy Lee Riggins disappeared and three years after a jury held her husband responsible for her disappearance and presumed death, a Howard County judge has declared the Elkridge woman legally dead.

Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr.'s order dates Riggins' death to the date of her disappearance, July 1, 1996, and would provide her family with the death certificate that has eluded them for years.

Family members said the certificate would allow Riggins' daughter, Amanda, now 13, to collect death-related financial benefits.

But the certificate cannot tie up the case's most important "loose end:" the location of Riggins' body.

Although Riggins' husband, Paul Stephen Riggins, 46, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2001, he maintained his innocence throughout the trial. Investigators have never found Nancy Riggins' remains.

"It's been so long, but the feelings never go away," Nancy Riggins' sister, Denise Keenan, said yesterday. "I hope [investigators] talk to him, and he does tell, finally. That will be the thing that brings finality."

How long it will take to get the death certificate was unclear yesterday. Tobey Glee Brehm, the court-appointed lawyer for Nancy Riggins and her daughter, declined to comment on the case without discussing it with Micki Cunningham, another of Riggins' sisters and Amanda's guardian. Cunningham was unavailable yesterday.

Nancy Riggins' mother, Delia Cunningham, said that while Stephen Riggins' conviction was the most important part of the case, getting the death certificate is important "because it's the final document, and you know Amanda is going to benefit from it."

Kane's ruling, issued Thursday, notes the criminal case and orders the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to issue a death certificate that lists Nancy Riggins' cause and manner of death as "undetermined."

Amanda was 5 when her mother, a well-liked cashier at the Burtonsville Giant grocery store, disappeared from the family's home on Adcock Lane.

Stephen Riggins told investigators that his wife was gone and his daughter was sleeping when he came home July 2, 1996.

But authorities later learned he had been having an affair with the family's teenage baby sitter - an affair that had been recently discovered by Nancy Riggins - and that he had asked the sitter to marry him after his wife disappeared.

Stephen Riggins was convicted of sexual child abuse in 1997 as a result of his relationship with the sitter.

Four years after Nancy Riggins was reported missing, a grand jury returned a murder indictment against her husband. Ten months later, a jury found Stephen Riggins guilty in Howard County's first no-body murder case.

Stephen Riggins was sentenced to life in prison in November 2001.

The state's intermediate appellate court, the Court of Special Appeals, upheld the conviction in February.

A clerk with the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals, said that court declined Friday to hear the case.

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