Search for body leads to inquiry

Ex-detective probed after pressing killer for victim's location

October 26, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,Sun reporter

The two detectives never gave up on the killing of Nancy Lee Riggins. On the day the jury returned its verdict six years ago, both officers were in the courtroom, one of them carrying a photo of the victim and her daughter in his shirt pocket.

Their five-year investigation had paid off: The jury convicted her husband, Paul Stephen Riggins, of murder.

The Howard County detectives then went their separate ways, Sgt. Chuck Jacobs landing a promotion to lieutenant and Lt. Greg Marshall to captain before he retired to work for a federal agency. But the case stayed on their minds, as did their failure to find the victim's body.

This month, Riggins agreed to show Jacobs and Marshall where his wife's body was. The breakthrough brought comfort to Nancy Riggins' family - but it has raised questions about the former detectives.

Jacobs apparently undertook the mission without the knowledge of superiors or prosecutors - who had tried to coax Riggins into cooperating earlier this year - and he is now the subject of an investigation by his own department.

"While we are happy that this may bring closure for the family of Nancy Riggins, the police department is investigating internally the circumstances under which the information was obtained," said Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for Howard County police.

Llewellyn declined to make any further comment. Jacobs also declined a request for an interview through Llewellyn. Marshall did not return phone messages left at his office and his wife's office.

Nancy Riggins' three sisters, however, said they have no reservations about what the former detectives did.

"We are extremely grateful and fully supportive of the decisive action," they said in a written statement.

Breakthrough

Jacobs obtained a court order for Riggins' brief release from a state prison in Jessup. On Oct. 11, Riggins directed Jacobs and Marshall to a spot about 100 yards into a wooded area at Ridge Road and Corporate Center Drive in Anne Arundel County, about a 3-mile drive from Riggins' former home.

Jacobs then contacted colleagues to notify them of Riggins' cooperation and the location of the remains.

The next day, Howard County police and a team of experts began digging. The remains lacked a skull, making a simple identification via dental records impossible. Police are awaiting DNA results to confirm a match with Nancy Riggins.

Howard County State's Attorney Timothy J. McCrone confirmed that negotiations with his office and Riggins stalled earlier this year.

McCrone said that prosecutors did not offer Riggins any benefits in exchange for revealing the location of the remains. Riggins will be eligible for parole in 2016, and such cooperation might work to his advantage, however.

One expert on police procedures, who is not involved in the investigation of Jacobs, said circumventing the chain of command or involving investigators no longer with the agency carries risks for police and their cases.

"This would be highly unusual," said Wayne Livesay, director of the criminal justice and legal studies program at Carroll Community College.

Livesay, who was chief of the Howard County police during the 2001 Riggins trial, said, "If someone operates alone, they run a great risk of jeopardizing any future actions, including prosecutions. And you never share information with someone outside the agency, even if they're retired."

In their initial investigation of Nancy Riggins' disappearance in July 1996, the detectives learned that Stephen Riggins had been having an affair with the family's baby sitter, which started when she was 14 and had lasted four years. Nancy Riggins had threatened to tell the baby sitter's mother and had scheduled a meeting with a divorce lawyer.

Stephen Riggins reported his wife missing, telling police he didn't know where she was. Later, he asked the baby sitter to move in with him and to marry him.

"Every officer has a case of their career - this was their case," said Tina Leisher, who worked with Nancy Riggins at a Burtonsville Giant food store. "[Jacobs and Marshall] never stopped caring. They never gave up."

Marshall would carry five thick three-ring binders filled with case materials home with him every night, said I. Matthew Campbell, one of the two prosecutors on the case.

"Greg would stop by the office and brainstorm with Mary Murphy and me," Campbell said. "He was willing to go anywhere and do anything. He would interview anybody, wherever they might be."

At the trial, prosecutors Campbell and Murphy convinced a jury that Stephen Riggins had plenty of motive and that his wife would never have walked away from her life or her 5-year-old daughter, Amanda. He was sentenced to life.

Keeping case alive

Nancy Riggins was a well-liked manager at the Giant.

Her colleagues kept Nancy Riggins' disappearance in the public eye, plastering her photo on a billboard along Stephen Riggins' route to work, appearing on Geraldo, holding annual vigils and searching for her themselves.

At the end of the trial, Nancy Riggins' friends and relatives got together at a hotel. Jacobs and Marshall walked in with a box of Nancy Riggins' possessions, mostly photos of herself and Amanda, Leisher said. Stephen Riggins had sold almost everything else, Leisher said.

Leisher said she talked to Jacobs on the phone Monday evening and thanked him for his efforts. She told him the discovery left her calm and finally at peace.

"He said he felt the same way," Leisher said. "We're at peace. Amanda has her mother. That's the most important thing."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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