Kenneth (‘Kenny’) T. Richey (born
August 3, 1964 in Zeist, Netherlands) is a UK-US dual citizen, born to a
Scottish mother and American father, who was raised in Scotland but
moved to Ohio to join his father in late 1982. He has been on death row
for 20 years in Ohio, USA, after being convicted in 1987 of murdering
two year-old Cynthia Collins by arson in 1986.
On August 10, 2007, the United States
Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld its previous ruling that
overturned Richey’s conviction following the prosecution's appeal of
that ruling to the United States Supreme Court on a legal technicality
concerning the common law theory of transferred intent. The ruling means
that Richey must be re-tried within 90 days or released.
Grave doubts about the entirely
circumstantial evidence that convicted Richey, particularly the forensic
evidence, led to widespread calls for a re-examination of the evidence.
Described by Amnesty International as ‘one of the most compelling cases
of apparent innocence that human rights campaigners have ever seen”,
Richey's case has become something of a cause célèbre in the United
Around 4:15 a.m., on 30 June 1986, at
the Old Farm Village Apartment complex in Columbus Grove, Ohio, a fire
broke out in the second-floor apartment home of Hope Collins and her two-year-old
daughter Cynthia Collins. As a result of the fire, Cynthia died from
asphyxia related to smoke inhalation. Hope was not present at the time
of the fire as she had left to spend the night with a boyfriend
following a party held with neighbors from adjacent second-floor
apartments at the apartment complex. When the party was concluding, she
invited Kenny Richey to sleep in her apartment in return for minding her
The Fire Chief initially blamed the fire on an
electric fan, and the burnt remains of the interior of the apartment
were removed. The Fire Chief then asked the Assistant State Fire Marshal
Robert Cryer to investigate further. After investigating the scene,
Cryer told the prosecutor’s office that he believed that the fire had
resulted from arson, a conclusion that eventually led to Kenny Richey
being convicted and sentenced to death on charges of aggravated murder
with a specification alleging murder in the course of arson, aggravated
arson, breaking and entering (a greenhouse where he is alleged to have
acquired the materials to start the fire), and child endangering.
As result of her actions on that night, Hope Collins
pled guilty to the amended charge of involuntary manslaughter, and
served a total of 45 days in prison.
The prosecution case
The prosecution alleged that Richey
was angry with his ex-girlfriend, Candy Barchet, and her new boyfriend,
so he allegedly set fire to the apartment above theirs, hoping the fire
would burn through the concrete floor and injure them while they slept.
To do this, he stole gasoline and paint thinner from a nearby greenhouse,
which he brought to the scene of the crime by climbing onto the roof of
a utility shed below Hope’s living room balcony. Once inside, he
splashed gas and paint thinner throughout the living room and set it
alight before escaping back over the balcony with the empty cans.
Among a variety of other witnesses to the events of
the party at section “A” Old Farm Village Apartments, witness evidence
was given by the testimony of Hope Collins, Peggy Price (who lived in
the adjacent apartment) and Candy Barchet (Richey's ex-girlfriend).
Candy and her infant son moved into their apartment around 15 June, and
she met Richey. Within a few days, Candy and Richey formed a sexual
relationship. On 24 June, Richey learned that Candy had just been in bed
with John Butler, and Richey pulled a knife on Butler. In response,
Butler "bounced him around the room a little bit." Just after that
fracas, Richey broke his hand by punching a door, requiring a splint.
On Sunday evening, 29 June, Candy took her new
boyfriend, Mike Nichols, to a party in Peggy's apartment; during the
party, Candy kissed Nichols openly and told Richey that she wanted to
date Nichols. Testimony at the trial indicated that Richey became upset
at this news, according to other accounts the three discussed and Kenny
accepted the fact. When Candy went home, around 1:00 a.m., she asked
Nichols to spend the night with her, which he did.
That night, Richey wore his Marine Corps camouflage
fatigues and combat boots, and he still had his right hand bandaged in a
splint. Jeffrey Kezar testified he heard Richey saying, "If I can't have
her (Candy), nobody else can." Other testimony reveals that Richey had
told persons that "A" Building would burn that night and he would use
his Marine training to do that. Robert Dannenberger described Richey as
"very upset" and said Richey threatened to blow the place up since he
had "learned how to do explosives" in the Marines. Peggy Price became
upset, and Richey told her, "Well, instead of blowing it up, I'll torch
A Section." Price recalled that Richey said, "Before the night is over,
part of A Building is going to burn down." Shirley Baker also recalls
Richey saying, "A Building was going to burn * * *." Juanita Altimus,
while just outside her own apartment, overheard Richey say on the
landing, "Building A was going to burn tonight."
By 2:00 a.m., the party was breaking up, and Richey
kept asking Hope if he could spend the night on her sofa. Hope refused.
Around 2:20 a.m., 30 June, Richey offered to steal some flowers for
Peggy from a greenhouse across the street, but Peggy told Richey not to
bring them to her.
Between 3:00 and 3:30 a.m., Dennis Smith drove up and
asked Hope to go with him. Hope replied she did not have a baby-sitter,
but Richey said, "Well, I'll keep an eye on her (Cynthia), if you let me
sleep on your couch." A neighbour also overheard Hope say to Richey, "Go
upstairs with Scootie (Cynthia's nickname) -- she's asleep -- but don't
lock the door because I can't get back in because I don't have a key."
Around 4:15 a.m., neighbours reported bright orange
flames and smoke coming out of the Collins apartment, and the fire
department responded. Firemen saw several feet of flames from the
apartment and deck curl up over the roof. A resident and a fireman both
started into the apartment, but the heat and fire were too intense. A
fireman then went back in, with oxygen, but he could not find Cynthia
and soon ran out of oxygen.
Ultimately, several firemen, with fire hoses and
oxygen masks, succeeded in removing Cynthia's body from her burning
bedroom. Cynthia died from asphyxia related to smoke inhalation. When
the firemen arrived, Richey was either at the Collins apartment or he
arrived shortly thereafter; he was screaming that a child was still
inside. One fireman saw him coming out of the apartment, helped him up,
and had to restrain him to keep him from going back in. Richey was
combative, argumentative, and interfered with efforts to fight the fire
and rescue Cynthia. Two deputy sheriffs overpowered Richey and turned
him over to Police Chief Thomas Miller to keep him out of the way.
During the fire, Richey asked Nichols, "Why don't we
finish it now, since you think you're so bad?" Richey also asked Candy
if the fire had scared her. When she replied it had, Richey told her, "if
he couldn't have me, that nobody would * * *." Altimus reported that
Richey, as he looked over the fire damage, drank a beer, laughed, and
said, "It looks like I did a helluva good job, don't it." Richey
admitted that he had earlier gotten two plants from the K & J Greenhouse
for Candy, and police found those plants outside Candy's apartment. The
K & J owner identified them as having been stolen from his greenhouse.
Richey had also offered to steal two plants for Peggy that evening. The
K & J owner confirmed that paint thinner and gasoline were kept in two
unlocked storage sheds. Gasoline and paint thinner could have been
stolen from these sheds; the owner did not know if any was missing.
As part of its investigation, the State eventually
retrieved six samples of debris remaining from the fire. Several of
those samples came from the carpet that had first found its way into the
garbage dump. On the afternoon of 1 July, nearly two days after the fire
broke out, the Deputy Sheriff retrieved the carpet from the dump. One
piece of carpet was recovered from atop the garbage pile, and another
was partially covered by trash. Once removed, the carpet was placed in
the sheriff’s parking lot. The carpet stayed in the parking lot -
located no more than forty feet away from gasoline pumps - for three
weeks, before it was finally taken to the State Arson Lab for testing.
Similarly, a wood chip sample was not removed from Collins’s apartment
for testing until 17 July, nearly three weeks after the fire. With
regard to the possibility of contamination, the prosecution pointed out
that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the possibility of
contamination goes to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility.
At the original trial, the judges accepted that "other
evidence established that the arsonist had used accelerants, including
dominant pour patterns to the burning on the wood deck and living room
concrete. An accelerant was also found in wood chips from the deck floor.
Thus, even if the rug had been wrongfully admitted, other evidence of
arson rendered any error harmless.” Cryer concluded from the physical
evidence and burn patterns that an accelerant had been used. An
accelerant had been poured on the apartment's wooden deck, the fire's
point of origin, as well as the living room rug. A smoke detector had
been pulled from the ceiling before the fire. The fire was a very fast,
hot, intense fire because of the accelerant. Gregory DuBois, a
consulting engineer, agreed that the fire had been caused by arson and
that accelerants had been used. One rug sample from the Collins
apartment contained gasoline, and another rug sample revealed paint
thinner. Wood chips from that apartment's deck also contained paint
These samples were analysed by the State Arson Lab
using gas chromatograms, which one of the State’s forensic chemists, Dan
Gelfius, described at trial as "scientific instrumentation that allows
the differential migration of the components of hydrocarbons to separate
and to give . . . a pattern similar to the identification of
fingerprints." Gelfius testified that both a sample of carpet from
Collins’s living room and a sample of wood from her balcony contained
paint thinner, and that another sample of the living room carpet
Chief Miller interviewed Richey as a witness on the
morning of 30 June and also obtained his statement in the afternoon
after advising him of his rights. By 1 July, the investigation had
focused on Richey, and police arrested Richey for arson and took further
statements after advising him of his rights. Police tape-recorded an
interview of Richey on 1 July. (Fire Marshal Cryer and Assistant
Prosecuting Attorney Randy Basinger participated in that interview.)
In these statements, Richey maintained that he had
been drunk on 30 June and did not remember much. However, he denied
starting the fire or knowing how it started. He also denied that Hope
had asked him to baby-sit Cynthia, and claimed that he had been at his
father's apartment when the fire began. Richey did admit that he knew
Cynthia was in Hope's apartment; he had stopped and looked in on her
while she was sleeping during the party. Richey also claimed that he had
secret ways with witnesses so they would not testify against him. In a
later statement, he said he would cut the prosecutor's throat.
Richey told Deputy Roy Sargent on 19 November that "Randy
Basinger (the prosecutor) was a dead man "and that "whoever testified
against him had better hope he's six feet under." On 17 August, Richey
told Deputy Mike Ball to take a message to Randy Basinger, "that when he
got out he was going to cut his throat."
While in pretrial custody, Richey wrote to a friend
in Scotland that police in the United States did not scare him. The
letter was quoted in the pre-sentence investigation as follows: "If one
ever pulls a gun on me he'd better shoot to kill. * * * Remember that
day when I shot Gog's in the head with your gun, I laughed so hard I
almost ripped my sides! (If the police in Scotland) ever found out about
1/2 the stuff we done they'd bring back the death penalty just for us! *
* * If they just give me prison time they better hope to hell I die in
there, cause when I get out I won't stop hunting them all down until
everyone who is involved in this case is dead!"
Also, several mental health professionals concluded
that Richey suffered from borderline and antisocial personality
disorders. Richey's counsel at the original trial reasoned that this
evidence was strongly mitigating and that the trial court and court of
appeals erred by imposing a death sentence.
According to Dr. Leena Puhakka, a psychologist,
Richey displayed classic symptoms of those personality disorders. Dr.
Puhakka found Richey functioned at the emotional level of a ten- or
eleven-year-old. Dr. Antoine Demosthene, a psychiatrist, found no
evidence of psychosis or mental disease, although Richey was very
socially maladjusted, and suffered antisocial personality disorder.
Dr. William McIntosh, a psychologist, testified that
Richey frequently lied to manipulate the results of mental evaluations.
He stated that Richey had come from a chaotic family background, had an
early history of violence and drug abuse, and displayed erratic
behaviour and poor impulse control. Although not psychotic, Richey did
have mental disorders, according to Dr. McIntosh.
Dr. Thomas Sherman, a board-certified psychiatrist
testifying by deposition for the state, found Richey "extremely
impulsive, self-centred, and hedonistic." He stated that Richey did not
display any psychosis or inability to understand the criminality of his
acts or to refrain from those acts.
Evidence by psychiatrists and psychologists also
revealed Richey's preoccupation with death, blood, and violence, and his
acts of self-mutilation and attempts at suicide resulting in over six
hundred self-imposed scars and cuts on his body. Richey received his
first mental health evaluation in January 1978, when thirteen years old,
and was briefly treated and evaluated for erratic behaviour in various
Social worker Judith Tolliver described Richey as a
blustering young man who suffered from a "histrionic behaviour disorder"
in addition to his other personality disorders. She found Richey not
delusional, mentally impaired or actively psychotic but severely and
The central premise of Richey's
appeals was that no arson took place, and therefore no crime. Richey's
counsel argue that the death of Cynthia Collins was instead a tragic
accident. According to this view, dubious and conflicting circumstantial
evidence combined with widely discredited forensic evidence resulted in
an unsafe conviction.
Richey steadfastly maintained his innocence
throughout his incarceration. Before his trial, he declined a plea
bargain involving pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter in return
for a lesser sentence of eleven years and four months. Had he accepted,
he would have been released by the year 2000. In the late 1990s he also
rejected an offer of transfer to a Scottish jail and eventual release
under Scottish probation law. Meanwhile, concern
surrounding the evidence and the perceived incompetence of Richey's
counsel during the original trial led to an international campaign to
secure his exoneration and release.
One of the central issues of concern to believers in
Richey’s innocence was the prosecution’s controversial interpretation of
forensic evidence, particularly chromatograms, and the incompetence of
the expert witnesses for both sides. Prosecution witness Mr. Dan Gelfius
used a chromatogram analysis technique that had never been reviewed by
any of his peers to conclude that carpet samples from Collins's living
room contained gasoline and wood samples from the balcony contained
paint thinner – allegedly the accelerants used by Richey. In a later
commentary on Mr. Gelfius’ testimony submitted as an affidavit at the
appeal stage, Mr. Tony Cafe, an Australian international authority on
forensic laboratory analysis of fire debris, stated: “I am sure that
most of the world's leading forensic scientists in this field would be
horrified if they saw the chromatograms used to convict Kenny Richey. If
Kenny Richey were executed on the basis of this scientific evidence,
then these chromatograms will become historical documents, examined by
scientists all over the world to show just how wrong forensic evidence
can be. It would be a great tragedy for the future of forensic science."
Richey, the defense counsel at his original trial used a newspaper
advertisement to hire Mr. Gregory DuBois, a metallurgist specializing in
metal fatigue, as its expert witness. Mr. DuBois, who had undergone only
four days training in arson investigation, was ordered to limit his
investigation to ten hours to save costs. Without carrying out any tests
of his own, DuBois’ conclusions mirrored those of the prosecution to
such an extent that during the trial he was called to give evidence for
the prosecution, an event that defense counsel William Kluge failed to
prevent. During Richey's appeals, Richard Custer, a specialist in fire
reconstruction testified that the burn pattern at the apartment could
have resulted from a fire that occurred naturally and that Mr. Gelfius's
"theory of the accelerant's pour pattern and location would have
required the use of 10 gallons of fuel."
original trial, conflicting and inconclusive witness evidence was
further undermined by recantations such as that submitted in an
affidavit on appeal by Ms. Peggy Villearreal, who lived next door to
Hope Collins, in which she reversed her trial testimony that she had
heard Richey threaten to burn down the apartment building, and recalled
how Cynthia Collins played with matches and lighters, once placed a lit
cigarette between sofa cushions, and had twice set fire to her bed.
Richey’s campaigners also asserted the
following points of fact:
Fire Marshall Cryer who investigated the fire
declared that the fire had started accidentally and authorized the
building owner to gut the flat. Had he suspected arson, the flat would
have had to be sealed off for investigation. Instead, vital evidence
was removed first to the dump and then to the local sheriff's
forecourt and placed near a petrol pump.
An investigation by a local newspaper the Toledo
Blade in 1998 pointed to the following "crucial errors" in the trial
In writing the three-judge panel's opinion on why
Richey deserved the death penalty, Judge Michael J. Corrigan, the
presiding judge, cited "unrefuted evidence" that Richey disconnected a
fire alarm in the apartment. In fact, no evidence linking Richey to
the fire alarm had been raised; only the fact that the alarm was
disconnected. Judge Corrigan inferred two things – that Richey did the
disconnecting, and that he did it to prevent the fire being discovered
- from a neutral fact that the alarm was disconnected.
Richey's attorney, public defender William Kluge,
has admitted to making mistakes. The petition by his new attorney, Ken
Parsigian, makes a compelling case that there were numerous errors in
Attorney Kluge's most obvious
mistake was not asking Peggy Price Villearreal, a neighbor of Richey,
how the fire alarm had been disconnected. She now says she and other
residents of the apartment complex regularly disconnected the alarms
in their own apartments.
This evidence would undermine Judge Corrigan's
crucial conclusion regarding Richey's responsibility for disconnecting
the fire alarm".
Internationally, Richey's case
attracted appeals on his behalf from Scottish celebrities such as Irvine
Welsh, Robbie Coltrane, Charlie and Craig Reid, members of the Scottish
Parliament, Pope John Paul II, former British Home Secretary Jack Straw
(who promised to intervene on his behalf), former UK Prime Minister Tony
Blair, actress Susan Sarandon, and organizations such as the European
Parliament and Amnesty International.
A grand jury indicted Richey for
aggravated murder with a specification alleging murder in the course of
arson, aggravated arson, breaking and entering (the greenhouse where he
is alleged to have obtained gasoline and paint thinner to start the fire),
involuntary manslaughter, and child endangering. A panel of three judges,
sitting without a jury, convicted Richey of all charges, save the
manslaughter charge, which was dropped. Following a pre-sentence
investigation, mental evaluation, and mitigation hearing, the panel
sentenced Richey to death for aggravated murder and consecutive prison
terms for the other offenses.
In 1992 a direct appeal was lodged with Ohio Supreme
Court and denied by four votes to three.
In March 1997 an appeal lodged with the same judge
who sentenced Richey to death was rejected. A 1998 appeal to the Ohio
Supreme Court was also denied.
Throughout the appeals process efforts by Richey's
counsel to secure a re-examination of the forensic evidence that
convicted him were resisted by the prosecution. At one stage prosecutor
Dan Gershutz commented: "Even though this new evidence may establish Mr.
Richey's innocence, the Ohio and United States Constitutions nonetheless
allow him to be executed because the prosecution did not know that the
scientific testimony offered at trial was false and unreliable."
In June 1998 a stay was granted for
the last in a series of 13 scheduled execution dates, and the case was
transferred to the federal courts.
During this stage of appeal, on 25 January 2005, the
United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned his
conviction and sentence, ruling firstly that Richey's original legal
counsel had been incompetent and secondly questioning the application of
the principle of 'transferred intent'.
Subsequently, on 28 November 2005, the United States
Supreme Court partially reversed the appellate court's decision
following an appeal by the prosecution upholding the prosecution view
that the Sixth Circuit ignored a constitutionally valid state law and
thus overstepped its authority.
In upholding the prosecution's argument on the legal
principle of transferred intent, the Supreme Court stated that the
“explanation of Ohio law was perfectly clear and unambiguous. We have
repeatedly held that a state court’s interpretation of state law … binds
a federal court sitting in habeas corpus”.
It remanded the case to the Sixth Circuit for
reconsideration in light of the new instructions. On 5 September 2006,
Sixth Court scheduled oral argument on the remanded issue of ineffective
counsel for 24 January 2007. Under this procedure, the Sixth Circuit
panel of three judges heard arguments for one half hour each by both the
Ohio Attorney General and Richey's defense counsel, Mr. Ken Parsigian.
On 10 August 2007, United States Court of Appeals for
the Sixth Circuit upheld its January 2005 overturning of Richey's
conviction and death sentence due to ineffective counsel and once again
ordered Kenny Richey to be re-tried within 90 days or released.
On 24 August 2007, Brian Laliberte, Ohio deputy first
assistant attorney general announced that the prosecution had decided
not to appeal the Court of Appeals's ruling to the Supreme Court, and
therefore accepted a retrial. Richey was moved off death row and back to
the Custody of Putnam County Jail.
Richey's second trial was scheduled to commence at
Putnam County Common Pleas Court on 28 March 2008.
At a bail hearing in Putnam County on 2 October 2007,
a bail bond of $10 million was issued in order for Richey to be released,
under strict limitations, until his new trial is held. Despite an
anonymous donation of $900,000 and his father and brother's willingness
to sell their homes to raise bail, Richey's counsel accepted that
because any bail bond is non-refundable, they would not be able to
secure his release until the new trial is held.
Richey's counsel originally applied for a change of
venue to Columbus instead of Putnam County. In support of their argument
that media attention would make a fair trial impossible, Richey's
counsel presented 426 newspaper articles, letters to the editor or
editorials about the case since it began. Putnam County Prosecutor Gary
Lammers resisted this application, arguing that to do so would be
premature and that the proper way to handle the matter is to try first
to seat a jury to determine whether the jury pool has been tainted.
On 26 October 2007
Richey's counsel requested that the prosecution provide an account of
what they intend to prove at trial, and applied for funds to hire an
investigator and a mitigation expert, to be used only if Richey was re-convicted
on death penalty charges and his case proceeded to the penalty phase.
In response to the
Defense counsel's requests, the prosecution filed with the court a list
of evidence that they intended to use at the trial. Prosecution
witnesses would have included Cynthia Collins's mother, members of the
emergency services who attended at the scene, and former neighbors and
friends of Richey. Statements from the five witnesses who died since
1986 were to be read to the jury. Richey's clothing from the time and
items from his days in the US Marine Corps were to be submitted as
evidence, together with Cynthia Collins's medical records and death
On 19 December 2007
it was announced that Richey had agreed a plea bargain and would be
freed. Richey pleaded 'no contest' to involuntary manslaughter, child
endangering and breaking and entering. The charges of arson and murder
were dropped, and Richey was released after being sentenced to time
served. Part of the agreement was that Richey leave the U.S. immediately.
Reaction to Richey's acceptance of
the plea bargain was mixed. Richey's counsel, Mr. Ken Parsigian, had
from the outset been extremely confident that his client would be
exonerated at the retrial, stating that the prosecution had a "snowball's
chance in hell" of securing a conviction a second time around, and that
the prosecution case "is 10 times weaker that it was 19 years ago and it
wasn't that strong a case then".
However, when the plea bargain was
announced, he described it as "complete victory and more than Kenny and
I could ever wish for... the State wanted him to plead guilty and he
would not do that. They have agreed to drop murder, to drop the arson
and took the most basic minor face-saving deal of no contest. There was
nothing left for them to fight about".
One of the effects of accepting the
plea bargain is that Richey is ineligible for a theoretical $1 million
compensation payout for his 20-year incarceration. Under Ohio law, a
wrongfully convicted person can receive $40,330 per year of wrongful
incarceration (or an amount determined by the state auditor), in
addition to lost wages, costs and lawyers' fees, as long as the claimant
did not plead guilty. However, according to Richey's defence lawyer, Ken
Parsigian, any such compensation would in effect be almost impossible to
obtain: "There is a statute that allows a wrongfully convicted person to
sue the state and collect, but the standard is very, very high, and the
amount you can recover is limited. It is not enough to show that the
government's case was wrong we would have to prove that he was innocent,
and that the prosecutors knew or should have known that".
Karen Torley, the
organizer of the 'Kenny Richey Campaign', urged his supporters not to
feel let down by the bargain: "What Kenny always said was that he would
never plead to starting the fire or trying to kill anyone. And he hasn't.
The State has caved in and dropped those claims because it can't prove
them. What he is pleading "no contest" to is failure to baby-sit and
stealing a plant. After 21 years in prison for an unconstitutional
conviction on charges the State has now dropped, what sense did it make
to spend six more months in prison to fight about a failure to baby sit
and stealing a plant?".
An editorial in the Ohio newspaper
the Toledo Blade lamented that the full details of the procedure that
led to his conviction would not now come to light: "News that Kenneth
Richey plans to cop a no-contest plea to lesser crimes in the 1986 fire
death of a 2-year-old Putnam County girl is a keen disappointment to
those of us who expected the 43-year-old Scotsman would finally get full
and fair disposition of the charges against him. Moreover, the plea
bargain in this internationally watched case won't satisfy critics
abroad who claim, with ample justification, that Richey was a victim of
a rush to justice in a small U.S. town. What the deal does do, however,
is remind us that American law does not require that criminal suspects
prove themselves innocent. The prosecution must prove guilt, and the
case against Richey collapsed under the weight of some very shaky
Criminal charges in Scotland
Richey has been
arrested several times since his return to the UK. Most seriously, he
was charged with assaulting and robbing 63-year-old Robert McCall at his
Edinburgh apartment on July 11 2008 and another assault six days later
and faced trial in March 2009. However, the judge
presiding over the case dismissed the charges explaining that he felt
Richey "had suffered enough". Most recently, he
was charged with stealing a woman's purse.
Freed death row
Scot arrives home
Wednesday, 9 January 2008
Kenny Richey, the Scot who spent 20 years on
death row in the US, has arrived back home in Edinburgh and said "it
Richey, 43, was freed after reaching a plea deal with
prosecutors in Ohio over an arson attack in which a two-year-old girl
died in 1986.
His flight touched down at Edinburgh Airport at 1736
He said: "It's good to be back home." Richey left
Edinburgh aged 18 to live with his American father in Ohio.
Richey's return was delayed by several hours when his
flight from Chicago to Heathrow was cancelled because of bad weather.
He managed to board a flight to Frankfurt in Germany,
where he caught a connecting flight to Edinburgh.
On arrival at Edinburgh Airport he said: "I would
like to thank everybody who supported me all those years."
When asked if he had anything to say to those who
convicted him, he said: "I don't think you want to hear that."
Wearing a grey jacket, jeans and white trainers, and
accompanied by his brother Steven, he was confronted by a gathering of
around 80 media representatives and onlookers and 16 police officers.
He paused briefly for photographers and nodded
towards a group of supporters holding banners from the human rights
charity Amnesty International as he made his way to an awaiting car,
followed by the media crowd.
Asked what he thought of the US justice system, he
replied simply: "It sucks."
Richey held up a large Scottish Lion Rampant flag
before going into the silver vehicle and being whisked away from the
PR guru Max Clifford, who is representing Richey,
revealed the 43-year-old had sold his story to two newspapers.
Richey was convicted in 1987 of the arson attack on
an apartment block in an Ohio town in which two-year-old Cynthia Collins
But in August last year the sentence was overturned.
On Monday, he pleaded no contest to charges of
attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and
entering at the Putnam County Common Pleas Court in Ottawa, Ohio.
He was sentenced to a total of 21 years - time which
he has already served, most of it on death row.
Richey spent his first day of freedom in the US being
reunited with family members, including his brother Steven.
His lawyer Ken Parsigian said that, despite fears
Richey would be overwhelmed by the outside world after years in prison,
he appeared to be adjusting well.
UK-based charity Reprieve, whose legal director Clive
Stafford Smith has been a member of Richey's legal team for 15 years,
said he was thrilled about his return home.
Mr Stafford Smith said: "What matters most now is
that Kenny finds the support he needs to rebuild his life.
"For many of the people I have known in his position,
adjusting to freedom turned out to be the hardest battle of all."
The Case of Kenneth Richey
Update Jan 2005: Conviction overturned
In 1981, at the age of eighteen, Kenny Richey left
his home in Scotland to live with his American Father in Ohio State. In
June 1986, one week before his return to the United Kingdom, Kenny was
arrested for a crime the evidence shows was not a crime at all. Since
his conviction some months later, he has been sitting on death row,
waiting to be strapped into old sparky, Ohio's electric chair.
The State remains keen to execute him.
Denied Right to prove innocence
During the months preceding 21 March 1997, evidence
was presented to the Ohio Court of Common Pleas, conclusively
establishing the innocence of Kenny Richey. This compelling evidence was
submitted to support a bid for a hearing to allow Kenny’s defence team
to show that the case was a tragic miscarriage of justice.
The state prosecution did not dispute the accuracy of
the new evidence. Prosecution Dan Gershutz said, "Even though this new
evidence may establish Mr Richey’s innocence, the Ohio and United States
constitution nonetheless allow him to be executed because the
prosecution did not know that the scientific testimony offered at the
trial was false and unreliable"
Without setting any reasons, Judge Michael Corrigan
agreed, (Judge Corrigan was the foreman of a panel of three judges who
convicted Kenny then sentenced him to die by electrocution). He refused
the defence’s request for an ‘evidentiary hearing’ and dismissed Kenny’s
appeal. Thus Kenny was denied the right to prove his innocence of the
crime for which was convicted.
In the early hours of 30th June 1986, a
fire started in an upper flat in a Columbus Grove apartment building in
Ohio. The flames rapidly spread, engulfing the living room then the
hallway before firemen extinguished the blaze. Minutes later, the body
of a child carried out, confined in her room she died of smoke
Hope Collins, the divorced mother of the child, had
left her flat after midnight, driving off with her boyfriend to spend
the night at his house. It is well documented that Hope regularly left
her child unattended, sometimes feeding the child adult sleeping pills
before doing so, the Putnam Child Welfare Services contacted her on two
occasions regarding her practices that were reported by a neighbour.
However, no action was taken.
After the fire, when threatened with arrest for
neglecting her child, thereby being responsible for the girl’s death,.
Hope claimed that she left her child in the care of Kenny Richey, a
friend and one of several people who attended a party that occurred on
the breezeway between Hope and her participating neighbour’s flat before
the fire. Hope claimed she asked Kenny to watch her child moments before
she climbed into her boyfriend’s truck. Kenny Richey maintains that he
did not agree to baby-sit Hope’s child because he was too drunk from the
Two witnesses were present: Hope’s boyfriend and his
friend who sat in the passenger seat. Both men denied hearing Hope ask
Kenny to watch her child.
A third witness, a resident of the building, observed
from behind her bedroom window. Although this witness heard nothing but
roar of the truck’s engine that awoke her, she observed Hope climbing
into the truck then saw Kenny (who was obviously drunk) stumble from the
pavement and collapse in some bushes where he lay for ten minutes.
Becoming concerned, this witness testified that she was about to leave
her flat to check on Kenny’s condition when finally got to his feet and
wobbled from her view.
This was the last person who saw Kenny before the
fire caused pandemonium in the apartment complex.
Hours later, when Hope Collins was told about the
fire and the death of her child, she did not make any comment nor ask
the police officer about the whereabouts of any babysitter who she would
much later claim had been caring for her child.
Given the circumstances, wouldn’t the first natural
question to ask be, "Why didn’t the babysitter protect my child?"
Upon arriving at St. Rita’s Medical Centre in Lima,
where her child had been taken, Hope told a Doctor Thomas Dickey that
her girl had previously set fires in her flat (although this fact became
known to the prosecutor, it was never mentioned during Kenny’s trial).
The local fire chief (who had been called to Hope’s
flat on three occasions less than a fortnight before the fire to
investigate the sudden mysterious appearance of smoke in the flat)
arrived to inspect the flat first. However the investigation was soon
taken over by the State Fire Marshal, Robert Cryer (State law demanded
that the State Fire Marshal’s Office investigate the scene of a fire
when a life had been taken). After a brief inspection, Fire Marshal
Cryer declared that the fire started "accidentally". It should be noted
that Fire Marshal Cryer insists that he never considered the fire an
"accidental" occurrence. Yet, it is a claim that is both disputed by the
building owner, and by the facts.
It is a fact that, after a brief inspection, Fire
Marshal Cryer authorised the building owner to gut the flat. Within
hours, its charred furnishings were thrown into a lorry then carried to
the local dump. Obviously, had the fire marshal truly suspected the flat
had been torched by an arsonist’s match, any layman knows that the flat
would have been taped off and preserved for further investigation, for
the gathering of evidence.
That being 1986, an election year, Prosecutor
Basinger was one of several candidates hoping to be elected to fill the
vacant position as a county judge. It was to Basinger’s benefit to build
a big case, a headliner to promote his name on the front page of the
county newspaper, and he took charge of the case personally.
Kenny Richey became the suspect. He was arrested and
charged with arson, aggravated murder, child endangerment and breaking
and entering. At the onset, Kenny stated he was innocent of the charges.
He also demanded he be permitted to take a lie detector test. However,
Prosecutor Basinger refused.
And so began the case of:
THE STATE OF OHIO -v- KENNETH RICHEY.
Prosecutor Basinger announced that he was seeking the
death penalty, that instantly gained front-page attention; it was the
first capital case in Putnam County since the eighteen-hundreds when a
pig thief dangled from the end of a rope.
The capital case against Kenny dominated the local
news for months, in turn, generating Basinger publicity as Election Day
neared. It can be argued that the case he built against Kenny served its
purpose, for it came as no surprise that, after votes were tallied,
Prosecutor Basinger was elected to a new position of power; Judge
Following Basinger’s successful election, he offered
Kenny a "plea bargain". If Kenny would plead guilty to second-degree
murder, Basinger informed him that he would receive a sentence of ten
years with the possibility of parole after six years had been served.
Still maintaining his innocence, Kenny refused to
accept the plea bargain.
Basinger then decided to continue to prosecute the
case against Kenny, and don his judge’s robe after the trial.
It was a trial that lasted only three days. A trial
that was void of a jury, substituted by a panel of three judges, led by
Judge Michael Corrigan.
The State’s Theory
According to Prosecutor Basinger, Kenny is a
calculating murderer. The prosecution contended that, after Kenny picked
himself up from the bush he collapsed in, he did not walk to his
father’s flat and go to sleep as Kenny claimed, but broke into a
commercial greenhouse that stood one hundred years from the apartment
complex. There, the State asserted that Kenny stole cans of petrol and
paint thinner. Kenny then allegedly returned to the front of Hope
Collins’ building. A utility shed stood below the living-room of Hope’s
living-room balcony (CHANGE THIS!), and the prosecution insisted that
Kenny silently climbed upon the shed, gaining access to Hope’s balcony
and into her living-room. Once inside, the prosecution claimed Kenny "splashed"
petrol and paint thinner throughout the living-room then set it alight
before escaping back over the balcony with the empty cans.
Below Hope’s flat resided Kenny’s former girlfriend
who was sleeping with her new boyfriend. Prosecutor Basinger contended
that, in a jealous rage, Kenny set Hope’s flat on fire to burn his ex-girlfriend
and her new boyfriend in the flat below.
Forensic tests performed on the carpet revealed
traces of petrol and paint thinner.
The smoke detector had been disconnected,
preventing an early warning of the fire.
Witnesses stated that they heard Kenny threaten to
"blow up" or "burn" the apartment building.
A witness claimed that, after the fire, she heard
Kenny brag, "I did a good job, didn’t I?"
It is the "theory", "motive" and the "evidence"
presented by the prosecution that led the three fudge panel to find
Kenny guilty and sentence him to die in the electric chair. Also
responsible was the poor showing offered by Kenny’s court appointed
defence lawyer who had never before represented a man accused of murder.
The Flaws in the State’s Theory
The claim that Kenny broke into the greenhouse and
stole cans of petrol and then climbed into the flat is flawed from the
start. The greenhouse owner testified that, to the best of his knowledge,
no cans were missing from his greenhouse. Moreover, no empty cans were
ever discovered anywhere near or around the apartment complex.
The second problem with the prosecution’s theory
arises when you consider the shed that Kenny was supposed to have
climbed upon to gain access to Hope’s balcony. The roof was slanted at a
sharp angle, making it difficult to balance cans upon it (they would
slide off). Also, Kenny broke his hand one week before, and it was in a
cast. He was also so drunk a witness saw him collapse in bushes. It
would be practically impossible for Kenny to climb onto the slanted roof
then onto the balcony while intoxicated, one hand disabled, and to do so
without making a sound.
A hot, humid night, the bedroom window of Kenny’s ex-girlfriend
was only five feet from the shed, and the window had been left open. The
young woman and her new boyfriend, both of whom stated they were light
sleepers, heard no sound.
Inside the living-room, the flaws of the
prosecution’s theory persist. Basinger claimed that Kenny "splashed"
flammables over the carpet. However, Kenny’s trousers and boots were
taken by the police and the state forensic lab tested them. No trace of
flammables were found on the trousers or on the boots. Not even a speck.
Even a sober person would find it impossible to splash petrol and paint
thinner around a room without leaving a trace on their attire.
Flaws in the State’s Motive
The prosecution’s theory that Kenny started the fire
to burn his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend in the flat below makes
little sense. Kenny lived with his father in the apartment complex, and
he would know that the flats had concrete floors. Fire cannot pass
through concrete. Even if the floors were made of wood, fire burns up
faster than it burns down, and any fool would know that the fire would
be reported before it could possibly torch the flat below. Additionally,
as Kenny’s ex-girlfriend testified, she opened her window that hot
night. If Kenny wanted to harm her, he could have easily achieved this
by throwing a can or bottle of petrol with a burning wick into her room.
Despite the flaws revealed in the prosecution’s
‘theory’ and ‘motive’, it was mainly the circumstantial physical
evidence the judges relied on to convict Kenny. It is the flaws of this
physical evidence which Kenny’s defence team tried to introduce by
requesting the hearing that Judge Corrigan denied.
The Flaws of the Physical Evidence
1) THE CARPET.
The forensic tests performed on the carpet that
revealed traces of petrol and paint thinner were false.
New tests were performed by America’s leading
scientists in the field; Professor Richard Custer and Dr Andrew
Armstrong. Two significant results were produced. First, the
characteristics left by the fire in the flat were not consistent with
arson but with an accident (in addition to the mysterious appearance of
smoke in the flat during the weeks preceding the fire, it has also
emerged that the child started three separate fires in the weeks
preceding her death). Second, the carpet actually contained no ignitable
substances at all. The State forensic lab had produced false positives
by using defective and archaic techniques. The carpet then, was never
splashed with petrol, paint thinner, nor any other flammable substances.
2) SMOKE DETECTOR
It was the belief that Kenny pulled down the smoke
detector which persuaded the judges to sentence him to die. However, no
proof was ever submitted by the prosecution showing that Kenny disabled
the smoke detector.
On the contrary, months before the trial, Hope’s
friend Peggy Villereal , informed Prosecutor Basinger that Hope had been
cooking steak before the party on the night of the fire, and that she
burnt the meat. Normally, the sensitive smoke detector would have
squealed, but Mrs Villereal noticed the smoke detector had been
disconnected. This information was never mentioned during Kenny’s trial.
Nor was it mentioned that Mrs Villereal also reported that Hope often
disconnected the smoke alarm, especially when she smoked drugs in her
flat. Hope admitted she smoked drugs in her flat during the party.
Mrs Villereal testified that, during the party, she
heard Kenny threaten to burn down the apartment building. However, Mrs
Villereal has since recanted her testimony, swearing that, on the stand,
she was very nervous and agreed with what she thought the prosecution
wanted to hear.
Another person at the party, Robert Dannenburg,
testified that he heard Kenny threaten to "blow up" the building.
However, it is also apparent that this witness succumbed to the pressure
of the trial. Mr Dannenburg had booked a room at the LEE BELL MOTEL
three days before trial, and he told the motel manager to send the bill
to Basinger at the prosecutor’s office. He then stated that he was
living and working in the State of Missouri and did not wish to attend
the trial, but that he was only doing so for the sake of the child,
because she had been raped.
It explains the inducement Prosecutor Basinger used to create a hostile
Finally, a Juanita Altimus testified that she was
standing beside Kenny when the flat was being gutted, and that he
bragged to her, "I did a good job, didn’t I?" However, Kenny was not
present when the flat was being gutted. He was in the custody of the
police, being questioned about the party and the whereabouts of Hope
None of the evidence relied upon to support Kenny’s
conviction is sound. Neither the prosecution’s "theory", "motive" nor
the circumstantial evidence survive scrutiny. Amnesty International’s
Piers Bannister, who keeps tabs on America’s death row, said Kenny "has
one of the most compelling cases of innocence" human rights campaigners
have ever seen.
What can you do?
Offer your support by contacting;
The Kenny Richey campaign
210 Hamilton Crescent
Telephone: 0141 400 7229
(born in the Netherlands to a Scottish mother)
Richey was born in 1964 in Zeist, Netherlands, where his father was
stationed with the US military. When he was a few months old, the family
moved to his mother's native Scotland. His parents divorced in his late
teens and his father returned to the United States. Soon after, in
December 1982, Richey joined his father in Ohio in the hope of finding
employment. In 1984 he joined the US Marine Corps where he served for 14
months before being honourably discharged.
January 1987, Richey was convicted and sentenced to death in Ohio by a
three-judge panel for the murder of 2-year-old Cynthia Collins in June
1986. The child died in a fire in the apartment she and her mother
Although it acknowledged in open court that Richey had not
intended to harm Collins, the prosecution argued that he had
deliberately started the fire in an attempt to kill an ex-girlfriend and
her new boyfriend as they slept in the apartment below.
Richey made repeated attempts to save Cynthia Collins was undisputed at
trial. Firemen who arrived at the scene found Richey distraught,
hysterically repeating that a child was still in the apartment. Police
officers were forced to overpower and restrain him after he entered the
blaze in a desperate effort to rescue Cynthia.
At sentencing however,
the three-judge panel found this powerful mitigating factor to be
outweighed by their unsubstantiated theory (never suggested by the
prosecution) that Richey had disabled the smoke detector alarm while
starting the fire. Scientific evidence submitted by the defence has
since challenged this assumption.
Approximately two weeks before his trial was due to begin, the
prosecution offered Richey a plea bargain: in exchange for a guilty plea
on four counts including aggravated arson and involuntary manslaughter,
the prosecution would have recommended a maximum sentence of 11 years
and 4 months. Insisting on his innocence, Richey refused to plead
guilty; had he accepted the bargain he would now be free.
1992, Richey's conviction and sentence were upheld in a 4-3 decision by
the Supreme Court of Ohio. The dissenting judges held that Richey's
death sentence was ''clearly inappropriate'' on the grounds, above all,
that it was excessive and disproportionate to the penalty imposed in
In June 1998, five days before he was scheduled to die in
the electric chair, a US District Court judge issued a stay of execution
pending further review.
his British nationality is disputed, a number of British MPs have urged
the authorities in Ohio to grant a new trial in the Richey case. He has
attracted substantial public and media attention in Europe as well as
appeals on his behalf from Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of
Canterbury. In a resolution passed in June 1992 the European Parliament
expressed its doubts concerning the validity of the sentence.