A 30-year-old Little Rock man, who said his dog was responsible for the molestation injuries of a 4-year-old girl he was baby-sitting, was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison by a Pulaski County jury that heard expert testimony that such an attack was "medically implausible."
The jury of seven men and five women seated before Circuit Judge Chris Piazza deliberated less than an hour to convict Kiari Riggins of rape. Because the girl was so young, the minimum penalty is 25 years in prison. Deciding on a sentence took jurors a little more than an hour.
The 40-year sentence was the harshest available, short of the life sentence prosecutors had asked them to impose. Riggins, a father of two, will have to serve at least 28 years before he can qualify for parole.
Riggins, who told police and doctors the dog story, did not testify, and his attorney, Daryl Brown Jr., did not explicitly argue that the dog, a pit bull named Blitz that Riggins euthanized after the reported attack, was responsible for the girl's "horrific" intimate injuries.
The girl also told authorities that she had been attacked by the animal, and Brown told jurors that Riggins had relied on what the girl told him because he believed her. She did not change her story and blame Riggins until more than a year later.
"He chose to tell the truth, and [she] chose to lie," Brown said in his closing statement, describing the girl's trial testimony as a "trained statement" and "contrived."
He accused authorities of condemning Riggins without considering that the girl could have hurt herself. Brown said the girl had gotten in trouble before for putting a Barbie doll in her underwear.
Prosecutors, Ashley Clancy and Michelle Quiller, said the girl, now 6, lost 10% of her blood supply after the April 13, 2017, sexual assault and required emergency surgery.
Citing medical testimony, prosecutors said the girl could not have mutilated herself and called on jurors to reject defense assertions that the dog or normal childhood exploration could have caused her wounds.
"He caused this," Clancy said in her final remarks, holding up a photo of the girl's injuries. "He had to stick with it. He had told that [dog] story too many times."
The girl told jurors that Riggins hurt her. He threatened to hurt her and her mother if she told anyone, the girl said. Through a long-time arrangement, Riggins cared for the girl and two of her siblings overnight while their mother worked. Then the woman took care of his and her children by day while Riggins was at work.
The girl did not appear in court but testified through a video link. Prosecutors asked for the arrangement, saying that making the girl answer questions in the same room with Riggins "would be harmful or detrimental."
The girl's mother told jurors that Riggins called her at work to return home because the girl was hurt. She said she arrived to find her daughter bleeding and asleep in blood-soaked bedding with Riggins crying and hysterical. They rushed the child to the hospital where doctors were immediately suspicious and alerted police.
Authorities doubted Riggins' dog story from the beginning because the girl did not have any external injuries, like bite marks or scratches, but with the child also telling everyone she had been hurt by the dog, police did not have sufficient evidence to make an arrest.
After more than a year of therapy, in May 2018, she told another relative that Riggins had hurt her. He was arrested two months later.
The girl's mother told jurors that she had never known Riggins to be abusive and that the dog had always been friendly with her children. When asked whether she believed Riggins injured her daughter, the 31-year-old woman told jurors that she did not know what to think.
Dr. Rachel Clingenpeel, a pediatrician at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, who specializes in child abuse, told jurors that a dog could not have inflicted the injuries the way Riggins said it had.
The injuries "could not have been caused by a dog under the circumstances described," she testified, saying his story about the dog as "medically implausible."
Animals' sexual aggression with humans is rare, she told jurors, and she could not find any documented report of one.
The doctor said she was not surprised that the girl did not immediately tell anyone that Riggins had molested her. She said talking about sexual assault is "extremely difficult" for children.
Clingenpeel also said she would be "shocked" if the girl had immediately spoken up and contradicted Riggins' version of events.
Metro on 07/19/2019
Print Headline: Little Rock man who said dog was responsible for 4-year-old's molestation injuries gets 40 years in prison