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Trial and Tribulations, Part Two

This is the conclusion of Joanne Cordova's story. For part one, see www. westword.com.

Riggan dropped out of high school in the tenth grade. His grades were below average, and he'd had 32 unexcused absences. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, he joined the Navy.

Three years later he fell down a set of steps on a ship and suffered a head injury that seemed to set off a new rash of psychiatric problems. He complained of suffering from paranoia and auditory hallucinations, some of which encouraged him to hurt himself.

Over the next eight years, Riggan was in and out of mental institutions in California, Wyoming and Iowa. He suffered from depression, sleeplessness, crying spells and suicidal ideation. He became threatening to physicians and counselors and was diagnosed as having a schizophrenic personality disorder.

In 1989, back on the outside in Des Moines, he met Sandy Wilson. Eleven years younger, she soon was pregnant with their first child. That same year, Riggan was indicted by federal authorities on gun charges after he was seen trying to sell submachine guns to gang members in Omaha.

The couple fled to Denver, where Riggan was a suspect in a sexual assault and car theft. But after Riggan was caught on the gun warrant, the Denver case was apparently dropped.

With Riggan convicted and serving time in a federal pen, Sandy Wilson tried to distance herself from him. He'd been increasingly jealous and kept accusing her of "being a whore." But unable to support herself back in Iowa, Wilson took a job in a nude massage parlor, where, on several occasions, she accepted money for sex.

Riggan tracked her down after his release from prison in 1992. He burst into her house, tied her hands behind her back and, using a knife, forced her to leave with him. He took Wilson out to an old abandoned shack off a dirt road and raped her.

After Wilson convinced him that they would get back together, she managed to escape. Riggan was charged with sexual assault and kidnapping, but the counts were dropped after a witness who saw him abduct Wilson disappeared and Wilson refused to testify. ("I didn't want his defense attorney to call me a prostitute in front of my family," she says.)

In January 1997, Riggan was again accused of sexually assaulting a woman. A prostitute named Pamela Kay Hart told police that he'd driven her down a dead-end street, parked, and then, threatening her with a knife, tied her up and raped her. When she screamed, she told police, Riggan said, "Shut up, mother," and gagged her.

Hart escaped but later refused to press charges. Who was going to believe a prostitute who cried rape? After police discovered the truck Riggan was driving was stolen, though, he was charged with vehicle theft.

But by then Riggan was on the run again. Fleeing warrants for the car theft and another forgery charge, he arrived in Denver in the spring of 1997 driving a dark-blue minivan with Wyoming plates. He immediately began haunting the Capitol Hill area, picking up prostitutes with offers of clothing and crack cocaine.

He met Debbie Johnson in a bar and asked her to pretend to be his wife. It was while driving "Debbie Davis" around to find cocaine that he first came across Joanne Cordova. And it was through Cordova that he met Anita Paley.

Robert Lee Riggan Jr. was charged with two counts of first-degree murder for the death of Anita Paley. Count One contended that he killed her after deliberation. Count Two contended that he killed her to hide a felony, sexual assault.

Jefferson County investigators Jim Burkhalter and John Lauck had led the hunt for evidence, working with Gilpin County officers. They'd found no crack pipe by the road, no blood on the highway south of the turnoff for the Old Hughesville Road.

But there was plenty of blood in the cabin, where it had soaked deeply into the plywood floor. Also found in the cabin was a pair of gray sweat shorts intertwined with a pair of lacy maroon panties.

There was blood leading from the door up the path. If Riggan was taking Anita to the stream to clean her up, as he'd claimed, he'd passed the easiest spot to access the water and continued dragging her further along the trail.

The van also had several spots of blood, although no "blood splatter pattern" that indicated she'd been beaten in the vehicle. The largest concentration of blood lay just behind and between the seats; Riggan had said he'd placed her head there after picking her up off the highway. But there was no blood where her pelvis would have been, and the investigators concluded that she was not bleeding from her vagina when she was in the van.

Inside the van they found a sharp, fish-filleting knife. But while there were two blood spots on the sheath, none were found inside on the blade. That meant the knife probably wasn't the weapon used to cut Anita Paley. Nor could they find a weapon that might have crushed her skull. (Another prostitute who'd been with Riggan, Charlene Snow, told them she'd seen a hatchet with a blunt end in the van. That hatchet had disappeared--but then so did Snow, who didn't want to testify.)

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