By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - The parents of a 4-year-old girl with psychiatric problems who died after overdosing on powerful drugs are about to face first-degree murder charges in a Boston area courtroom.
Prosecutors in the Brockton Superior Court charge that Michael and Carolyn Riley of Hull, Massachusetts, deliberately overmedicated their daughter to keep her quiet. The parents have said they are innocent and attribute her 2006 death to pneumonia.
The two will be tried separately. A 16-person jury was selected for Carolyn Riley's trial on Wednesday and opening arguments are expected in that trial next week.
The trial is likely to rekindle a debate about the diagnosis and treatment of very young children with serious psychiatric conditions -- diagnoses that have become more common in the past decade.
The girl, Rebecca Riley, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder. She was prescribed the drugs before her third birthday and was 4 when she died.
A state medical examiner concluded that Rebecca died of a combination of Clonidine, a blood pressure medication sometimes given to ADHD patients; Depakote, an antiseizure and mood stabilizing drug for bipolar disorder; and two over the counter drugs including a cold medicine.
Carolyn Riley has said she and her husband, now 35 and 37, were following the directions of Rebecca's child psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist, Kayoko Kifuji of Tufts Medical Center, was not charged after a grand jury review that ended in 2009 and was also cleared in a review by the state's medical licensing board.
Kifuji diagnosed Rebecca when she was 2-1/2 with bipolar disorder, characterized by severe mood swings, and ADHD, a condition often associated with inattentiveness
David Rossman, director of criminal law clinical programs at Boston University and a criminal defense attorney, said the trials' outcome could hinge on Kifuji's cross-examination.
"That's going to be the high drama point," Rossman said. "The psychiatrist will respond in cross-examination to implicit, not explicit, charges of wrongdoing."
Clonidine and Depakote are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in adults, although doctors can legally prescribe them to children.
In the months before Rebecca's death, teachers and social workers at her preschool repeatedly raised concerns about her sluggish physical and mental condition.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny)