Man admits helping destroy murder evidence

Sep. 11, 2013 @ 08:12 AM

A Patterson man who is the adult son of a sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Tuesday to helping destroy evidence in a killing in 2011.

Zachary Bentley, 21, has told investigators he rode in a pickup with Joshua Kelly Riggs, 23, on the night of Oct. 4, 2011, to the Lower Creek Drive house of Riggs' father, Ned Jones Riggs, but stayed in the pickup truck while Joshua Riggs went inside, according to testimony Tuesday in a hearing in Caldwell Superior Court. After Riggs' came out, the two went to a field near Bentley's house on Patterson School Road and burned a knife and Joshua Riggs' clothing with a can of aerosol body spray. Bentley also showed the hat and boots he says Joshua Riggs wore that night.

Bentley, originally charged with first-degree murder, was convicted of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and sentenced to five to seven years in prison. Bentley is the son of Caldwell County Deputy C.J. Bentley.

District Attorney Jay Gaither said the plea deal was justified because there is no evidence linking Bentley to Ned Riggs' death.

"There is nothing that puts Bentley in the home," Gaither said after the hearing. "The district attorney's job is to take the evidence, and seek further evidence if there is any doubt about the mutual culpability, or if there is a person who was caught up in a web and really shouldn't be charged. That is the case here."

A neighbor of Ned Riggs called Lenoir police on Oct. 4, 2011 just before 11:30 p.m., concerned because he hadn't seen or heard from Ned Riggs in a few days and was looking into the windows to look for signs of Ned. Police summoned Riggs' family, including his ex-wife, Karen Riggs, and then 19-year-old Joshua Riggs, who had a key and let police in. Ned Riggs' body was on the floor in a pool of blood, with deep wounds to the neck and body, Assistant District Attorney David Swanson said.

"It was a severe stabbing, close to a decapitation," Swanson said.

Detective Christal Taylor of the Lenoir Police Department testified that Joshua Riggs denied involvement in his father's death. But investigators learned he had told some people in Burke County that he stabbed his father. One man said Joshua Riggs said he killed his father with the same knife he had bought his father as a Christmas present the year before, Taylor said.

Riggs has not yet stood trial. Bentley's plea deal calls for him to testify at the trial.

Riggs' next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 28.