St. Petersburg man accused of setting girlfriend on fire fails to have $1.5 million bail reduced

Published April 18, 2017

LARGO — John Riggins has been in jail for eight months, held since police charged him with setting his girlfriend on fire last year. He appeared before a judge Monday to ask that his $1.5 million bail be reduced.

Riggins' public defender said his client would address the court directly.

The 38-year-old defendant spoke haltingly. He said his mother was ill and he wanted to be by her side if she passed away.

"My mother — they don't know if she's going make it," he said.

A prosecutor argued that the judge should actually revoke his bail, that if convicted, Riggins could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico said he found no reason to reduce Riggins' bail. The St. Petersburg man is set to go on trial on charges of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree arson on July 24, almost to the day of his arrest last year.

The incident began July 5, 2016, when officers investigated a report that a man had set his girlfriend on fire in the Highland Oaks neighborhood. But due to conflicting witness statements, St. Petersburg police did not arrest Riggins until three weeks later, after girlfriend Sheron Pasco was finally able to speak from her bed at Tampa General Hospital. She suffered third-degree burns across 60 percent of her body, police said.

Since Riggins' arrest, Pasco and witnesses have given sworn testimony that offered new details about the case.

Pasco, testifying from her hospital room in October, said Riggins was "furious" and called her a liar before pouring a can of gasoline on her. She tried to take off her shirt, she said, but Riggins sparked his lighter, put it to her shirt and blew the flame.

"I could see her skin just coming off of her. The epidermis was coming off, the top layer was coming off," said Earnest Neal, Pasco's uncle, who helped Riggins douse the flames. Neal is also Riggins' stepfather.

Riggins told police he had the gas can with the intent to set himself on fire, not Pasco, but poured the gas on her after they continued arguing. He told police he did not intend to set her on fire, according to an arrest affidavit.

In 2012, a jury acquitted Riggins in another arson case. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of witness tampering and battery.

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