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Woman Faces 20 Years For Killing Daughter With Salt, Husband Set Free

December 14, 1988

SALEM, Va. (AP) _ A woman faces 20 years in prison for force-feeding her 4-year-old daughter a fatal dose of salt as punishment for stealing sugar.

Charges against the woman’s husband, who also was accused of murder, were dismissed by the judge Tuesday.

″Jack Riggs is going to have to live with his conscience,″ Commonwealth’s Attorney Skip Burkart said after Beth Michelle Riggs was convicted of murder in the May 17 death of Heather Riggs, who suffered heart failure caused by the salt.

Burkart said he probably will seek the maximum prison term at sentencing in February.

Mrs. Riggs, 36, hoped to give her daughter a bad taste to stop her from eating sugar and gave the 26-pound child more than enough salt to kill a 170- pound adult, according to testimony.

Witnesses described how a three-inch lump of salt in her adoptive daughter’s stomach was observed through X-rays to be shrinking as the salt dissolved into her comatose body and her heart failed.

″There’s no indication she intended to hurt that child,″ said defense attorney James Swanson. ″We’re dealing with table salt. We’re dealing with a substance available on every table in the country. She had no idea of the lethal effect.″

Mrs. Riggs entered a plea agreement that called for her to be convicted of either second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter. After hearing the evidence, Judge Kenneth Trabue convicted Mrs. Riggs of the more serious offense.

Thomas Blaylock, the father’s lawyer, successfully argued that Riggs had nothing to do with the crime and that he immediately took his daughter to the hospital after telephoning a poison hotline.

Burkart said Heather Riggs was routinely locked in her room so she could not get out and eat large quantities of sweets.

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