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Arkansas to execute first woman in more than 150 years

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- A former Oklahoma nurse who says she wants to die is to get her wish Tuesday night when is to be executed with a lethal injection similar to the one she had planned to use when killing her two children.

Christina Marie Riggs, 28, is to be the first woman executed in Arkansas in more than 150 years and the fifth female executed nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban on capital punishment in 1976.

Riggs, who attempted suicide when killing her children Nov. 5, 1997, has told police, prosecutors, judges and jurors that she wants to die. She has withdrawn all appeals and chosen not to seek clemency from Gov. Mike Huckabee, who nonetheless has the authority to issue a 30-day reprieve on her execution. Two groups have asked him to intervene.

Riggs is to injected with a mixture of drugs, including potassium chloride, which stops the heart. She told authorities that she intended to use the same drug to kill her children, 5-year-old Justin and 2-year-old Shelby Alexis.

She gave the children an antidepressant in hopes it would make them drowsy, then injected Justin with the drug. She was unaware, however, that it must be diluted and fed intravenously into the body, or else it burns the skin and veins without reaching the heart.

When Justin began crying, Riggs told police, she injected him with some leftover morphine she had used on a hospital patient and then smothered the boy and his little sister. Riggs then took 28 antidepressant tablets, intending to commit suicide.

The children were found dead in Riggs' bed by her mother, CarolThomas, and Riggs was found on the floor nearby.

Riggs pleaded with jurors in 1998 to give her the death sentence, saying: "I want to die. I want to be with my babies. I want you to give me the death penalty."

After her conviction, she pursued appeals at her family's request but withdrew them this year after a judge ruled that she could. The Arkansas Supreme Court later upheld her request.

Her attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr., said he wanted to fight for Riggs' life, but went along with her decision out of respect to her.

"I find it grossly distasteful to be involved in the death machinery of this state, but as a defense lawyer, you have to do this sometimes," Hall said.

Initially, Riggs' mother and lawyer said she suffered post-traumatic stress after working as a nurse in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. The matter was soon dropped and never came up at her trial.

Riggs worked at the Veterans Administration hospital in Oklahoma City from 1990 to July 1995, but the hospital says she was not one of the employees who was sent to the bomb site. She later worked at the Arkansas Heart Hospital.

Prosecutors told jurors that Riggs' children had become an inconvenience to her. They said she left the children by themselves while she competed in karaoke contests and plotted their deaths for two or three weeks.

Hall contended during trial that Riggs was suffering from depression and thought of their deaths as an act of love to prevent them from living under the stigma of a mother who committed suicide.

A woman has never been executed under state authority, the Arkansas Correction Department said, but Lavinia Burnett was hanged in 1845 for being an accessory to murder. Counties handled executions at that time.

Just two other Arkansas death row inmates have chosen to drop appeals and not ask the governor for clemency. Both have since been executed.
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