13th appeal saves Richey from death after lawyer is deemed incompetent

Kenny Richey
Kenny Richey spent 19 years on death row and had 12 appeals turned down before yesterday's ruling by an Ohio court that fundamental mistakes were made at his trial.
"Mr Richey was clearly prejudiced by his attorney's deficiencies"

- appeal judges

Key points

  • Kenny Richey may soon be free after court ruling
  • Scot spent 19 years on Death Row
  • Authorities have 90 days for retrial or release

Key quote

"The state has 14 days to appeal but we imagine they won't appeal because the trial was flawed. They have 90 days to set a date for a retrial or to release Kenny. Obviously this is great news and we are absolutely thrilled."
— Rosemary Burnett of Amnesty International Scotland

Story in full

A. SCOT who has spent 19 years on death row protesting his innocence saw his conviction for murder overturned yesterday after a United States court ruled that grave mistakes had been made during his trial.
Edinburgh-born Kenny Richey "hooted" after receiving the call to tell him that, after 13 appeals, his ordeal looked finally to be coming to an end.
Prosecutors in Ohio now have 90 days to retry Richey, 40, or release him, after the decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio.
By a two-to-one majority, judges ruled his legal team committed fundamental errors during the 1986 trial in which he was found guilty of murdering his former girlfriend's daughter, Cynthia Collins, two, by setting fire to her family home. He was sentenced to death.
"Constitutional errors have undermined our confidence in the reliability of Mr Richey's conviction and sentence," the judges stated. "Mr Richey was clearly prejudiced by his attorney's deficiencies."
Kenneth Parsigian, Richey's Boston-based lawyer, who has conducted his appeals since 1993, called him in prison to tell him of the ruling.
"He was understandably very excited," Mr Parsigian said, "He just hooted ... and then said 'thank you, thank you, thank you'."
Richey's execution date had been on hold while the latest appeal was pending.
Mr Parsigian expressed the hope that Ohio state would decide not to retry Richey, given the court's conclusion that evidence was mishandled and the amount of time he has already served.
The lawyer went on: "It's been a long time. The evidence has been badly undermined. It would be a real injustice at this point to put Mr Richey through this again, based on what the court has said."
Richey's fiancée, Karen Torley, from Cambuslang, near Glasgow, had spent nearly ten years trying to win his freedom. Last night she was "shocked but delighted" that his conviction had been overturned.
Ms Torley, who plans to marry Richey upon his release, said: "I have just heard from the lawyer and am trying to download the judgment. I am shocked but obviously delighted.
"It has been a nightmare beyond words for Kenny himself, but this verdict shows that all our tireless campaigning was worth it and that our arguments against the conviction were perfectly justified. I can't think right now about the future but it would nice to see him coming out the prison door and through mine. We just want to be a normal family and set up home together here in Scotland."
British MPs and human rights campaigners had fought on Richey's behalf for years, pleading a "compelling" case of innocence. Alistair Carmichael, the MP for Orkney and Shetland, and Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, met Richey in Ohio last year.
His case won support from the European Parliament, the Pope and a host of celebrities. In March last year, 150 MPs signed a Commons motion backing his claim of innocence after Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, pledged to look into the case.
Richey was originally sentenced to die in Ohio's electric chair, nicknamed Old Sparky, though electrocution was banned in 2001. Had his appeal been rejected, he would have been put to death by lethal injection within six months.
The Scot, who has joint British-US citizenship, left this country in 1983 at the age of 18 to go and live with his father in Ohio. In June 1986, shortly before he was due to return home to take up a job as a nightclub bouncer in Edinburgh, he was arrested and accused of setting fire to the home of Hope Collins, his former girlfriend, in Columbus, Ohio. She told police that her daughter had died in a fire after she asked Richey to keep watch over her while she spent the night at her then boyfriend's home. Richey has always denied that he agreed to babysit, saying that he was at a party in a neighbouring flat at the time and would have been too drunk to do so.
He has had a string of appeals rejected since he was convicted and ten years ago he came within an hour of going to the electric chair before he was granted a stay of execution. He had even said his last goodbyes to his mother and family and his head had been shaved, ready for electrocution.
Speaking to The Scotsman at her home in Edinburgh, Richey's mother, Eileen, 60, said the verdict had taken her completely by surprise. She said: "I wasn't expecting to hear anything today. I never knew anything about this latest appeal hearing so it was a total surprise. I felt like bursting into tears. I just felt a mixture of relief and joy. I felt many a time that this wouldn't happen but now all I am doing is looking forward to him coming home. I've spoken to Kenny's brother, Steven, and he was choked with tears.
"It's just a really exciting day. My phone has never stopped since I got the news."
Richey's mother, who last saw him in prison two years ago, also paid tribute to Ms Torley, saying: "She has done a lot and if it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have got to where we are today. It's been a long time coming. I was never sure he would get out, but I just kept hoping. Sometimes Kenny was hopeful but other times he was very down, but he is coming home now and that is all I'm worried about.
"His health has deteriorated and that has been causing me serious concern of late."
Kim Norris, a spokesman for the Ohio attorney general's office, said last night: "We are disappointed in the ruling. A three-judge panel, the Ohio Court of Appeals, Ohio Supreme Court and Federal District Court all agree the evidence against Ken Richey proved his guilt in committing this terrible crime that killed two-year-old Cynthia Collins.
"At least three people heard Richey threaten to burn down the building. Richey admitted to one person after the fire that he set it, saying, 'Looks like I done a helluva good job, don't it'. Ohio law allowed for the death penalty based on these facts."
However, Rosemary Burnett, of Amnesty International Scotland, was thrilled with the outcome. "We don't have the judgment yet, but we have spoken to the lawyer on the phone and he said that the appeal court in Ohio has recognised that the original trial was flawed and has overturned the original trial," she said.
"The state has 14 days to appeal but we imagine they won't appeal because the trial was flawed. They have 90 days to set a date for a retrial or to release Kenny. Obviously this is great news and we are absolutely thrilled."
Richey's younger brother, Tom, 37, is also behind bars in the US. He was jailed in 1985 for killing Arlene Koestner at her home in Washington while high on drugs. He is not due for release until he is 83.
Source: The Scottsman

I'm off to see Kenny as soon as I can

Karen Torley
The fiancee of former death row Scot Kenny Richey is planning to visit him after his murder conviction was overturned. Karen Torley said she was "stunned into silence" by the surprise decision by a US court after campaigning tirelessly for years to clear his name.
She said: "I hope to go over and see him in a few weeks."
Karen enlisted the support of politicians, lawyers and human rights activists, to free Kenny, 40, and finally saw her wish granted yesterday. After an emotional phone call from him in prison in Ohio, she said a celebratory pint of Scottish beer was foremost in her fiance's thoughts after learning he is set to be freed.
Speaking at her home in Cambuslang, she said: "All he wants is to get back and get a pint of McEwan's.
"I was telling him it's pretty much all American beer you get here now and he can't get his head around that."
Karen also revealed how Kenny was told the news.
She said: "He said his lawyer phoned him and said 'We've won'. Kenny's first response was to say 'We've won what?' I don't think it has started to sink in yet.
"Every morning I would wake up and say 'is today going to be the day he's going to be freed'. This was the one day I didn't wake up thinking that."
Karen admitted that she could still hardly believe Kenny had finally won and said that he would be coming home to a hero's welcome when he arrives back on Scottish soil. She said: "I was totally stunned into silence, which Kenny would say is probably a first.
"My friend plays in a pipe band and he says he'll have the full band ready to play for Kenny when he arrives."
Karen heard the news in a call from a representative of Kenny's London-based UK lawyers as she battled to repair a computer.
She said: "I was busy, cursing and swearing, and then the phone rang.
"The voice said 'you had better sit down' and then I was told the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had phoned to say he could free within 90 days.
"When I heard that, there was crying, shouting, screaming, the lot.
"The whole time has been an absolute nightmare for both of us.
"But we both fought long and hard for this moment.
"At last, it's all been worth it."
Karen admitted that there were times Kenny thought he would never be freed.
Richey was born in Holland, but moved to the Sighthill, Edinburgh, when he was three.
He left as a 17-year-old to follow his father to the US.
But four years later, he was sentenced to death after being convicted of arson and the aggravated murder of two-year-old Cynthia Collins in Ohio in 1986.
Supporters say the case was flawed in several ways - chiefly that he was incapable of starting the fire, while two-year-old Cynthia had a known tendency for playing with matches.
Kenny had a broken hand at the time of the incident and claims that petrol was used to start the fire were later proven to be untrue.
Source: Newsquest (Herald & Times) Limited.