Patriot Ledger Rebecca Riley's doctor now the target of a grand jury Little girl's parents to go on trial in her overdose death
By Lane Lambert May 01, 2009
BOSTON - Already the target of a civil medical malpractice lawsuit, the psychiatrist who prescribed the drugs that killed 4-year-old Rebecca Riley is now the subject of a grand jury criminal investigation.
The Plymouth County grand jury probe of Dr. Kayoko Kifuji came to light on Thursday, in court documents from the Suffolk County civil case.
It's not clear how long the grand jury has been examining Kifuji's action. A spokeswoman for District Attorney Tim Cruz declined to confirm or deny whether a grand jury is investigating Kifuji.
If the grand jury does find the former Tufts-New England Medical Center psychiatrist criminally liable for Rebecca's death, she could face involuntary-manslaughter charges.
Rebecca's parents, Michael and Carolyn Riley, will go on trial later this year on first-degree murder charges in the little girl's overdose death at their Hull home in December 2006.
Conviction for involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, though Massachusetts sentences typically are 3 to 5 years. But legal experts say a criminal conviction would be highly unlikely for Kifuji, given the circumstances of the Riley case.
"It's a very hard case to make," Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly publisher David Yas said. "You could get it out of the grand jury, but in court it would be an uphill battle."
Kifuji diagnosed Rebecca as bipolar with attention deficit disorder when she was 2½. Kifuji prescribed the powerful blood pressure medication Clonidine and anti-seizure drug Depakote.
A medical examiner ruled that Rebecca died from an overdose of those drugs and over-the-counter cold medicine. Carolyn Riley says her daughter died of pneumonia, not the drugs.
Kifuji voluntarily gave up her medical license in February 2007, soon after Rebecca's parents were charged.
Court evidence of the grand jury investigation surfaced amid fresh legal action in both the civil and criminal cases.
On Wednesday, Kifuji's lawyers asked a Suffolk County judge to postpone her deposition in the civil case indefinitely, and close the entire court record to the public.
Kifuji's attorney, Bruce Singal, said a deposition would force the doctor to claim her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself while the grand jury was looking at the case. But the judge denied both motions.
Ben Novotny, an attorney for Rebecca Riley's estate, says Kifuji is scheduled to give her deposition on July 6, after the grand jury is finished. She was to have given the deposition today.
For the deposition Novotny said Kifuji will be asked about "pretty much all her (medical) conduct," starting with explaining the bipolar diagnosis.
Singal couldn't be reached for comment. In the court document that mentions the grand jury, Singal says Kifuji "strenuously denies any allegations that her treatment of Rebecca was negligent, let alone criminal."