A few days after he reported his wife missing, Paul Stephen Riggins asked his girlfriend - the family's teen-age baby sitter - to marry him and gave her his wife's ring, a Howard County police investigator testified yesterday.
That moment was recounted by police Lt. Greg Marshall during the second full day of testimony in the Riggins murder trial as defense attorneys tried to chip away at the prosecution's case and at the credibility of its witnesses.
Stephen Riggins, 43, is being tried in Howard County Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree murder in the disappearance July 1996 of his wife, Nancy Lee Riggins. Nancy Riggins has not been seen since.
Prosecutors continued yesterday to build their case that Nancy Riggins must have met an untimely end. They offered testimony of investigators who detailed computerized searches for her and from Nancy Riggins' first husband, who testified that she chose to divorce him - not just disappear.
They also presented the transcripts of two taped conversations between the sitter and Riggins - and played one for the jury - from the days after Riggins reported his wife missing July 3, 1996.
What was said in those conversations has remained a public mystery for the past four years. A guilty plea by Riggins to a child abuse charge in 1997 forestalled a trial during which they could have been played to prove that he had a sexual relationship with the sitter beginning when the girl was 14.
Yesterday, the tape played in court revealed Riggins and the sitter discussing whether she would move into his house because Nancy Riggins was gone, what the sitter should tell police when they questioned her and the sitter's fears that Nancy would return.
"How do you know she's not coming back, Stephen?" the sitter asked.
"I don't know, OK?" Riggins said.
"You don't know?" she asked.
"I really don't know. But as it stands right now? She's missing. She won't be coming back," he said, adding later that if she did return, he would accuse her of desertion.
Defense attorneys asked investigators who testified yesterday whether any of 13 tapes made with the sitter's consent include admissions from Riggins that he killed his wife.
Investigators said they did not. They noted, instead, that Riggins admitted in one conversation to mentioning to the baby sitter before his wife's disappearance that he could kill her if she didn't leave.
Defense attorneys also asked Marshall why the department focused on Riggins so quickly. The first conversation was taped four days after investigators believe Nancy Riggins was killed and three days after Stephen Riggins said he arrived home to find his wife missing and their then 5-year-old daughter alone and sleeping.
Marshall said it was the information they had learned, including that Stephen Riggins was having an affair with the sitter and that Nancy Riggins talked about consulting a lawyer and telling investigators about her husband's affair with the sitter.
Defense attorney George Psoras also used Marshall's testimony to continue to hammer home what has quickly become a defense theme: How is it, he asked, that Riggins could have killed his wife and not left a shred of forensic evidence?
Strangulation, Marshall replied, adding that at least one witness said Stephen Riggins admitted choking his wife.
In what room of the family's Adcock Lane house would the killing have occurred? he asked.
"You'd have to ask Mr. Riggins," Marshall said.