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Defense lawyer says DA to argue money was reason parents poisoned 4-year-old

Rebecca Riley died from a fatal overdose. Rebecca Riley died from a fatal overdose.

Prosecutors will allege that Carolyn and Michael Riley poisoned their 4-year-old daughter because she was not providing them with sufficient money from government assistance programs, the mother's defense lawyer said yesterday.

Michael Bourbeau, a Boston lawyer representing Carolyn Riley, called the alleged motive insane.

"It's not only insane; it's totally contradicted by the evidence that the family did their very best to care for this child," Bourbeau said in a telephone interview.

The couple from Hull have been charged with murdering their daughter Rebecca on Dec. 13 by intentionally giving her an overdose of a powerful prescription drug.

An autopsy concluded that she died from the combined effects of two drugs in her system. It also indicated that Rebecca's heart and lungs were damaged by "prolonged abuse of these prescription drugs, rather than one incident."

Prosecutors in the Plymouth district attorney's office have not publicly explained the alleged motive in Rebecca's death, and a spokeswoman declined to comment on Bourbeau's assertions.

The Rileys are due in Hingham District Court today for a pretrial hearing, Bourbeau said.

Bourbeau said that Frank Middleton, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, told him yesterday his office will argue that the Rileys sought out Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, a child psychiatrist at Tufts-New England Medical Center, believing she would classify their daughter as disabled and make her eligible for government aid.

Kifuji had also diagnosed the Rileys' other children, ages 6 and 11, with bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, making the family eligible for government assistance for children with disabilities. Rebecca, who Kifuji diagnosed with the same illnesses, did not receive state disability aid, Bourbeau said.

Kifuji has stopped practicing medicine while officials investigate her role in the case.

"The prosecutor's theory of this case, in support of the [charge of] intentional overdose, is that the family wanted to get rid of Rebecca, because they weren't getting the same amount of money from Social Security that they were getting for the older children," Bourbeau said.

Bourbeau, whose comments about the alleged motive were first reported by The Associated Press, said the parents' actions in the weeks before Rebecca's death contradict prosecutors' arguments.

"They took her to the doctor and followed the doctor's advice, just six days before her death," he said.

"Two days before her death, they were buying her new dresses. Is that somebody who intentionally desires to kill their child?"

Valerie Berio, Carolyn Riley's mother, said state troopers who came to interview her last month suggested the same motive. She said they asked whether her granddaughter was worth only $2, what she said the state had last sent the parents for Rebecca.

"I wanted to slap [the trooper] across the face," Berio said.

"They adored their children," Berio added, "and they would do anything to have their happy family back."

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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