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Slain Soldier's wife involved with another man, cousin says

By
JAMES R. CAMPBELL

DETROIT -- A cousin of Toni Riggs, charged with killing her husband within days of his homecoming from the Persian Gulf, said Friday the woman told her she was sexually involved with another man and had picked up venereal disease while her husband was away at war.

Riggs, 21, and her brother, Michael Cato, 19, are charged with the March 18 shooting death of Spec. Anthony Riggs, 22, first widely portrayed as random street violence. The Patriot Missile Crewman was shot in the head less than a day after returning to Detroit to move his wife and stepdaughter, Ambere, 3, to an apartment.

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Fifteen witnesses were scheduled for the pair's preliminary hearing before District Judge Vesta Svenson on first degree murder and felony firearm charges. Authorities have alleged Rigg's was slain for insurance money, and the prosecution produced evidence Friday of $200,000 in death benefits.

After finding Riggs' car less than two miles away, locked, undamaged and filled with vaulables, investigators say they traced the weapon to Michael Cato through a series of sales and swaps.

Saundia Cato, a cousin of the defendants, testified Toni Riggs told her she contracted a venereal disease while 'she was at a party and it just happened.'

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'I don't know where. It was at a party,' Cato said. 'She was involved with a guy and that was it,' she said.

'She was sexually involved,' prosecutor Kym Worthy asked.

'Yes,' she replied.

Cato said Riggs told her she first told Anthony Riggs she had been raped and 'I told her she should just tell the truth.' She said the defendant later wrote Riggs telling him how it happened and the soldier then told Cato he was upset by the lie, 'but he felt he didn't make her feel comfortable enough' to tell the truth.

Worthy said testimony by the cousin and others would establish marital discord and a motive for premeditated murder.

But defense attorney James McGinnis said the soldier's response did not show marital discord 'but established that he was forgiving.'

The judge said she would reserve judgment on whether the testimony about marital discord or the victim's state of mind was relevant until she heard other witnesses.

'We have a witness that we flew in from Texas for that reason, that will testify about marital discord,' Worthy said.

Saundia Cato also told of going to Ft. Bliss, Texas, with the defandants and the 3-year-old to greet Riggs on March 8.

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'We all hugged. Then we went back to the car. Anthony had to go to outprocessing or something. He was in a long line.'

Defense attorney James O'Connell contended it was a normal hero's homecoming.

'They came back like a couple in love? They took off to a hotel together? They hugged and kissed?' he asked. 'Yes,' Saundia Cato replied.

She described a series of ordinary events the day the group returned to Detroit and in the hours leading up to the shooting.

'We talked about getting something to eat. We all wanted something different,' she said, adding that Anthony Riggs went out for his own 'because he wanted a potato and didn't want it be cold.'

Sgt. Lester Owen Reed of the Tank Automotive Command in Warren, Mich. , produced copies of Riggs' military insurance carrying $50,000 death benefits, showing a change of beneficiaries on Aug. 13, 1990, to his mother, Lessie Riggs, of Las Vegas, Nev., and Toni Riggs.

John Miller of Massachusetts Independent Life Insurance Co. in Duluth, Ga., testified $150,000 in death benefits became effective for Riggs on Aug. 16, 1990, when he applied for the policy. Toni Riggs was the primary beneficiary, with her grandmother Joan Cato the contingent beneficiary.

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Court records indicate Toni Riggs was still married to Marcus Butler of Detroit when she married Riggs.

Joan Cato, at whose home Toni Riggs had been staying, testified that while Riggs' car was being loaded for the move to the apartment she turned on the porch light. Seconds later, she heard 'five shots.' She said she then turned off the porch light so she could see across the street and saw Riggs' car 'pulling away.' She said she could not see who was driving because it had tinted glass.

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