DETROIT — A judge dismissed a first-degree murder charge Monday against the wife of a Persian Gulf War veteran who was shot to death less than 24 hours after returning to his family from his tour of duty in the Saudi desert.
District Judge Vesta Svenson freed Toni Cato Riggs, accused in the March 18 death of Army Spec. Anthony Riggs. Her brother confessed to the killing, saying it was part of a plot to reap insurance benefits.
The brother, Michael Cato, 19, was ordered to stand trial on charges of murder and felonious use of a firearm. He was returned to jail without bond.
Svenson had ruled earlier in April that the confession could not be used against the 22-year-old woman, and said Monday that there was otherwise insufficient evidence for the charges against her.
"This defendant is discharged," Svenson said.
Toni Riggs showed no reaction when Svenson announced the dismissal but later hugged her brother before leaving court.
The Wayne County prosecutor's office indicated it would appeal the dismissal and the judge's ruling on the confession.
"There is no reason at all for Michael Cato to kill Anthony Riggs except for insurance gain" and no way he could expect to share in the money unless his sister was in on the killing, assistant prosecutor Kym Worthy told the judge.
Toni Riggs' attorney, Athina Siringas, said: "I'm very pleased with the judge's decision. It's long overdue. The system may have jerked my client around a little bit, but justice finally prevailed."
Riggs, 22, a member of a Patriot missile crew in Saudi Arabia, was shot to death in front of his in-laws' home 10 days after returning to his Army base in Texas from the Persian Gulf and less than 24 hours after arriving in Detroit to move his wife and 3-year-old stepdaughter to an apartment.
Cato confessed to the killing, saying he did it because his sister offered him part of $175,000 in life insurance benefits.
In the ruling earlier this month, Svenson said Michael Cato's statement was "in essence the only substantive evidence against Toni Cato Riggs." The judge said using the statement against her would violate her constitutional right to confront her accuser.
It was originally thought Riggs had been the victim of random urban street crime, but investigation into the shooting revealed disturbing details and criminal charges followed.
During the probe, it was disclosed that Toni Riggs was still married to another man when she married Riggs.
A native of Las Vegas, Riggs was stationed at Ft. Bliss, Tex., before being deployed to the Persian Gulf last September.