It was a solemn Paul Stephen Riggins Jr. who faced a Howard County Circuit Court judge yesterday morning to plead not guilty to charges that he killed his wife, Nancy, who disappeared four years ago.
Less than 24 hours after a grand jury handed up an indictment for first-degree murder and the 43-year-old Dorsey man ran from police who had come to arrest him, Riggins made his first appearance in court and was ordered held without bond by Judge Lenore R. Gelfman.
Riggins, who appeared without a lawyer, spoke in a barely audible voice in a nearly empty courtroom. None of his family attended the brief hearing.
His case has been scheduled for a status conference Oct. 11 and for trial in early January.
His younger brother, Chris, said yesterday that his brother, who goes by Stephen, and his family had been expecting the charges. Family members and Riggins' girlfriend were among the approximately 30 people subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury that began investigating the case in June, and detectives had been to his Savage home in the past few months, he said.
"My mother's in denial. She says they don't have anything," Chris Riggins said. But detectives have told the family they have a strong case, he said.
"I'm hopeful he didn't do it, but ... somebody doesn't just disappear," he said.
Since 1996, investigators have been steadily building the case against Riggins, a case they will not talk about in detail.
But sources familiar with the investigation and witnesses called to testify before the grand jury have said the case will likely include testimony from inmates who knew Riggins during his yearlong prison stay on other charges. Riggins allegedly told those jail mates what happened to Nancy Riggins, sources have said.
Another witness, a former co-worker, has said that he told grand jurors that Riggins asked him, before Nancy Riggins disappeared, how "a friend of his" could get rid of his wife's body.
Riggins was charged in the indictment Thursday, four years after he called police to say he had returned to the couple's Elkridge home on Adcock Lane one July morning to find his wife gone and their 5-year-old daughter home alone.
Riggins didn't report his 37-year-old wife missing until the day after he said he discovered her gone; her purse, keys and car were at the house. She was last seen the night of July 1, 1996, and Chris Riggins said yesterday that he has been told he was among the last people to talk with her on the telephone - between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.
He would not say what he and his sister-in-law talked about because of the investigation and indictment. But he said he knew there was tension in the marriage.
Charging documents filed in the 1997 case against Stephen Riggins that resulted in the one-year prison term say Nancy Riggins had learned of her husband's long-running sexual relationship with their teen-age baby sitter just before her disappearance. Stephen Riggins pleaded guilty to a child abuse charge stemming from that relationship.
Despite Nancy Riggins' family's frustrations that an indictment was four years in the making, Howard County State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon said yesterday that "it couldn't have happened sooner."
"It happened when it was the right time," she said. Indictments can only come "when the evidence is there."
On Thursday night, after hearing about the arrest and indictment, Nancy Riggins' friends gathered at the home of Margie Speake, a friend and co-worker from the Burtonsville Giant, to talk about their friend.
"I miss her every single day," Tina Leisher, another friend and co-worker, said yesterday. "But you know what? It's like Christmas, now that he's gone."
Sun staff writer Sarah Koenig contributed to this article.