District Attorney Micheal Murray believed Ryan Riggs deserved to be executed, and at a “gut level,” that outcome seemed the only just punishment, Murray said in a written statement.
But considering numerous legal aspects involving Riggs, his young age and a thorough investigation of his life, seeking the death penalty would have been “an extremely risky legal step and unlikely to be successful,” Murray said in the statement.
Murray released the lengthy statement Friday afternoon after Riggs pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to life in prison with no parole.
“This was a heinous, violent and utterly heartbreaking crime,” Murray said. “The appalling nature of Riggs brutalizing a vulnerable young woman in this way cannot be put into words.
“My office supports capital punishment for crimes of this cruel nature. There was never a doubt in my mind that this murderer deserves to be executed. At a gut level, this outcome seems like the only just result for someone who murdered a young and vulnerable woman in such a horrific manner.”
Murray said his office was bound to enforce the law, and the law for deciding wither to impose the death penalty or a life sentence “is not simply a question of whether the killer deserves to be executed,” Murray said.
“My office had to focus on current developments in death penalty law, the particular facts of this case as well as the relentless and perilous appeal process.
“Our primary concern was to ensure to the best of our ability that Riggs will never be able to place law-abiding citizens in danger again. Given that there is no possibility of parole for Riggs through this plea agreement, we believe that this outcome will achieve our goal of justice, public safety and closure for the family of Chantay.”
Murray also referenced several “weighty secondary concerns” in reaching the agreement. The economics and burden on local resources of a long trial can cost taxpayers millions of dollars — especially considering the likelihood of ongoing mental health evaluations that could continue even after a trial, Murray said.
The appellate process can also span decades and subject victims’ families to “painful lack of closure,” Murray said.
The death penalty can only be imposed when 12 jurors and the appellate courts are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant will likely pose a future danger to society, Murray said. They must also unanimously find that there are no mitigating circumstances that warrant a life sentence instead, he said.
The issue of future danger is usually based on a defendant’s repeated violent criminal behavior, Murray said. The question of mitigating circumstances focuses on the defendant’s entire life to determine if life or death is the appropriate sentence.
The defendant’s lack of a “sufficiently lengthy criminal records would carry considerable weight with courts in the determination of whether Riggs poses a future danger to society,” Murray said.
“Likewise, the fact that Riggs voluntarily confessed, first to his church congregation and later to law enforcement, and his history of mental illness, are significant considerations that could not be ignored in this analysis.”
Riggs was earlier hospitalized for depression, it was revealed in Friday’s sentencing hearing.
“Finally, we also took into consideration the wishes of the victim’s family,” Murray said. “While my job is to make the final decision on what justice dictates in any given crime, the victim’s family’s desires are an important consideration to me.”
The Riggs case demonstrates the intense injury families suffer from a defendant’s conduct and from reliving the offense during a trial, Riggs said.
“In this case, Chantay’s family consented to and approved of the plea agreement. They are relieved to finally have closure almost three years after losing her and thankful that they will not have to endure a trial, or the state and federal appeals that Riggs would be entitled to after a trial.”
Murray said his office is grateful for Assistant Attorney General Jane Starnes for her assistance. Starnes brought extensive capital murder litigation experience and was able to provide specialized knowledge, he said.
“My mission of ensuring that the citizens of our community cannot be harmed has been accomplished as Ryan Riggs will never set foot int he free world again,” Murray said.
Murray concluded by thanking the efforts of the sheriff’s office including Sheriff Vance Hill, Lt. Scott Bird and the Texas Rangers including Jason Shea. Murray also thanked assistant district attorney Elisha Bird for her “hard work and exceptional organizational skills,” other officers and volunteers who assisted and his entire staff.