Theresa Riggi Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter; Sentencing Next Month

Last August, American Theresa Riggi killed her three children in their apartment in Scotland.  This article gives some details (Daily Record, 3/8/11).

She and her engineer husband Pasquale had separated four years before and she’d gotten primary custody.  But her increasingly alienating behavior caused judges to grant Pasquale ever-greater time with the children.  Toward the end, Theresa’s behavior had become extreme enough that it looked like he would be given primary custody.  In their last telephone call, Theresa asked Pasquale if he was going to “take” the kids and he replied that she gave him no choice by continuing to alienate the children.

Theresa’s last words to him were “then say good-bye.”  With that, she hung up the phone.  Less than 48 hours later, they were dead.

The three children were Austin and Luke age eight and Cecilia, five.  Theresa took a kitchen knife to them, stabbing each eight times.  Most terribly, the police investigation revealed the presence of defensive wounds to their little hands and arms as they vainly fought to fend off the blows of their much stronger mother.

As an aside, prior to the deaths, a court order to have the family interviewed by social workers was delayed in being sent to the local council in charge of carrying it out.  Curiously, the order was finally faxed five minutes after the children’s deaths.

Though charged originally with murder, Theresa Riggi this week pleaded guilty to homicide with diminished capacity, the equivalent of manslaughter in the U.S. 

Defense attorneys say that psychiatrists found Riggi to be paranoid and suffering from narcissistic personality disorder, which, I assume forms the basis for the diminshed capacity plea.

I don’t know about the paranoia, but the narcissism sounds accurate enough.  A psychologist I know once gave me his quick and dirty definition of a narcissist.  He said narcissists think of other people as extensions of themselves and no more expect other people to have free will and autonomy than they would their own hand or arm.

Riggi at first refused Pasquale any contact with his kids.  When he got a court order for unsupervised visitation, she made the kids wear electronic monitoring devices.  The twin boys slept with her.  She homeschooled the kids and told them she would be with them always.  She tried to kill herself when she killed them.

Her inability to see the children as autonomous beings or their need for their father fairly shouts “narcissism.”  So does her dogged desire to keep them from Pasquale.

Sentencing is set for next month, so we don’t yet know what her punishment will be.  Still, the question arises “would a father get off so lightly?”  Would a father who did everything in his power to keep a mother from her children up to and including taking their lives, be seen as mentally incapable of murder?

There’s as yet no clear bias in favor of Riggi due to her sex or her motherhood.  Presumably the judge’s bench book that instructs English jurists to give leniency to women because of their sex is inapplicable in Scotland.  Here’s my piece on that from last year.

Still, I can’t shake an uneasy feeling.  I’m having a hard time convincing myself that, come next month when Riggi is sentenced, I won’t be unfavorably comparing her sentence to that of a pot possessor or dad unable to pay his child support.  I hope I’m wrong.

We’ll see.

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