Jessica Riggins

From time to time I come across a case where someone claims the crime they committed was in self defense that I could have bought, if it were not for their actions after the crime. This is just such a case.

On August 7, 2007 police in Flagstaff Arizona received a call from Rusty Riggins' mother.  She was concerned about him as she had not heard from him and asked that he be checked on.  He was house sitting for a friend, and he was going through a divorce.  She was concerned.  Police would go to the home they were directed to and they would find Rusty there, dead, shot in the back by a .22 caliber handgun.

Police would soon learn that Rusty's wife, Jessica was no where to be found and neither was Rusty's mother's car that she had loaned him to use.  They would learn that Jessica's first stop was in California where she saw her ex-husband and her son and then they learned she had gone into Mexico.

The investigation continued and a week later when Jessica was seen crossing the border back into the United States she was arrested for the murder of her husband.  She would go to trial in February of 2009.

Now, as is the case in nearly every case that goes to trial, the prosecution has a theory as to how and why a murder was committed and the defense has either a vastly different story or an easier explanation than the one given by the prosecutors.

In this case prosecutors were claiming that Jessica had gone to the home to bait her husband so that his probation in a domestic violence case would be revoked and she would get her hands on $30,000 that she was convinced he had. Several witnesses would claim that Jessica brought up this money often and the thought was since the couple was due back in court to address their divorce later that week that she would ask for the money and without him being able to be present it would automatically be granted to her.  For her part Jessica dispute this information from witnesses.  

The defense had a little bit on their side.  Jessica would admit to shooting her husband but would claim it had been in self defense.  There had been several domestic violence incidents with the couple and Rusty had been convicted at least one (some say twice) for abuse against Jessica.  The couple had started dating in 2001 and had married in December of 2004 but it appears they had more than a few separations in there but would always get back together. Jessica had filed for divorce and she had moved away but when they went to a divorce hearing in June they asked that it be delayed as they were looking into reconciliation.  The judge had rescheduled that hearing until August.  Jessica would claim that the initial idea was that they were going to continue working on their marriage and in fact the plan for that day was for the two of them to go together and pack up her things. But according to her things had not proceeded as planned and Rusty had attacked her.

But then it seems the defense had to explain several things.  First they would have to explain how Rusty Riggins was shot in the back.  That may not have been a huge hurdle depending on their spin on things but it is always one of the first things that would be pointed out in a "self defense case."  Then the defense would almost be required to explain why, after claiming to have shot her husband in self defense that instead of reporting the crime she had basically stolen a car and left the country.  

To be honest I did not find a whole lot of information about specifics in this trial, which I know for some readers is a blessing.  However, for me I like to have these details to give me a better idea of what went on in the courtroom and who said what.  

According to Rusty's family he had been doing "better" since his domestic violence conviction(s) and was "in a good place."  There were those that testified that Jessica "got as good as she gave" indicating that she was not one that just sat back and "took it" as so many abused women often do.  However, I am unsure if that testimony helped or hurt the prosecution.  I am not one to bash on the dead but I am also not one who believes everyone who dies is a saint and I felt strongly in this case as if everyone seemed to be making excuses for Rusty's past behavior.  Do not get me wrong, murder is rarely justified and in my opinion only valid in the extreme cases of self defense, which to be honest I do not see here.

The jury would convict Jessica, who's own mother had testified for the prosecution, and apparently said some very nasty things about her daughter. Jessica was found guilty on the charges of 1st degree murder, auto theft and two counts of credit card theft.  While she was facing a life without parole sentence the judge did admit that he believed Jessica to have been a "long time victim" of domestic violence and sentenced her to life with the possibility of parole after twenty-five years.

As I said in the beginning, this was a case in which self defense or not, her actions after the crime is what convicted her in my opinion.  Even if she had shot her husband in cold blooded murder, as some believe, had she stayed and reported the crime she may have been acquitted at trial.  It would have been much harder for the prosecution to show her guilt.  


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