Sunday, May 9, 2010

Baltimore, MD: Boyfriend charged in strangling of pregnant woman

Illinois native, 29, was five months pregnant, worked at city jail in food services

By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

7:17 PM EDT, May 8, 2010

Betsy Sue Riggin, an affable 29-year-old, told her family she met her boyfriend Andrew Jackson at a salad bar in Baltimore three years ago. He was a "wonderful man," and they were expecting their first child in September.

But on Thursday, Riggin was found dead behind the locked door of her Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello home, strangled. Jackson was charged Saturday in her death, and the woman's family is now learning about the long criminal history of a man authorities believe Riggin actually met at her job as a food services manager at the city jail.

"She loved him, and they were never apart," said her father, Wildon Riggin, of the Eastern Shore town of Eden. "They really looked happy together."

Riggin grew up in Scales Mound, Ill., a town of 400 people near the Wisconsin line, and came to Maryland to study business at Salisbury University. She worked at a restaurant on the Eastern Shore and volunteered her time with troubled children at an after-school program before making her way to Baltimore and landing a job at the Baltimore City Detention Center. That environment worried her mother, Cathy Staver.

"She always said, 'Mom, I'm safer in this jail than I am in my own house.' She was right," Staver said.

Staver said Riggin and Jackson were discussing marriage. She never mentioned Jackson's criminal past, which according to court records includes several theft and drug convictions, as well as domestic violence allegations and paternity cases.

Though Riggin said the couple met at a restaurant, the relationship started in early 2008, around the same time Jackson would have entered the jail on auto theft charges. He pleaded guilty and received a sentence of eight years in prison, but all but about a month of that sentence was suspended. Jackson, of the 4100 block of Eierman Ave., was scheduled for a May 25 hearing on a probation violation charge.

Riggin's father said Jackson was always well-mannered and respectful, and said his other daughters say their sister never alluded to any troubles in the relationship. But Wildon Riggin's guard was raised three weeks ago, when Jackson was driving late at night and got into an auto accident. Jackson said he had stopped to give three men a ride, and they tried to take the vehicle. He wondered how Jackson could have gotten into such a situation.

He didn't get time to pursue his suspicions further.

Police said they were called Thursday evening to Riggin's home in the 3200 block of The Alameda and found Riggin unresponsive in her bedroom. A spokesman said there were no clear signs of trauma other than some scratches, but the autopsy determined that she had been strangled.

Police quickly zeroed in on Jackson, and Wildon Riggin said detectives told him Jackson gave a confession consistent with the evidence collected from the scene. Jackson was driving Riggin's new vehicle at the time he was picked up, Wildon Riggin said.

The case could prompt prosecutors to consider the state's "viable fetus" law, which allows for prosecution of a "person who intended to cause the death of a viable fetus." A fetus is considered "viable" if doctors believe there is a "reasonable likelihood of the fetus' sustained survival outside of the womb," according to the statute, though the issue of when that would occur has been hotly debated. Riggin was five months pregnant.

The bill become law in 2005 and was not used until 2008, when a Baltimore County man was charged and later convicted of killing his mistress and their child. She was seven months pregnant.

Thirty-eight states have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Riggin was remembered for her smile, blue eyes and outgoing personality. Before working at the jail, she was involved with a mentoring project in the Salisbury school system, her mother said. According to court records, Riggin never had any run-ins with the law.

"She very seldom met anyone she didn't like," Staver said.

Upon learning that her daughter was pregnant, Staver sent baby clothes and purchased books such as "What to Expect When You're Expecting." Those books sit on a computer stand in her home, where they will likely stay as the family works out funeral services in Maryland and Illinois.

"If nothing else comes out of this, people need to be aware [of who they trust]," Staver said. "I talked to my daughter [earlier in the week], and now I have nothing."

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