Kenneth Richey Free After 21 Years In Prison - 1/7/2008
(AP) - A British citizen who spent two decades on Ohio's death row was released from jail Monday after pleading no contest to three charges and being sentenced to time already served in the death of a 2-year-old girl.
Ken Richey, who once came within an hour of being executed, walked free for the first time since he was convicted of setting a northwest Ohio apartment fire that killed Cynthia Collins in 1986.
Richey pleaded no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering.
Richey didn't smile during the hearing in Putnam County Common Pleas Court, but after he entered the pleas, he sat with his lawyers and let out a deep breath. His hands were cuffed at his waist and his ankles shackled, and he was clean-shaven and wore a black shirt and pants and a multicolored tie.
Visiting Franklin County Judge Alan Travis sentenced him to 21 years, which Richey has already served, and ordered his release from the Putnam County jail.
Richey remained expressionless as he was escorted from the courtroom by sheriff's deputies.
Prosecutors approved the deal after an appeals court overturned Richey's conviction and death sentence last year. It lets Richey, a U.S.-British citizen, go home to Scotland without admitting that he had anything to do with the fire.
Members of Richey's family were among those in a fairly full courtroom. Members of Collins' family also attended, some wearing pins bearing a photo of the girl smiling, with brown bangs.
In a statement read to the judge, Robert Collins, the father of the toddler who died, told the judge that he wishes his daughter "could appeal her death and come back to life."
"The situation surrounding the death of my little girl has haunted me for 21 years. The unthinkable reality of her choking, crawling, crying, and her little lungs filling with smoke has been etched in my mind since her death. It's and ongoing nightmare.
"I will never have closure now that the outcome has changed."
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt but a statement that no defense will be offered, leaving the defendant subject to being judged guilty and punished.
As part of the deal, Richey, 43, agreed to exit the country within a day, and plans to leave for Scotland Tuesday. Prosecutors told him they were worried about threats against Richey, his family and attorney said.
He'll be free, though, to return to the United States, because he's a citizen.
Richey had been set to get out three weeks ago until a trip to the hospital for chest pains delayed his release. He's been in a county jail in Ottawa since then.
Richey was convicted of setting a fire that killed Collins and stayed on death row until a federal appeals court determined in August that his lawyers mishandled his case.
The court overturned his conviction and sentence, saying expert testimony could have contended that the fire was an accident and not intentionally set.
Richey was sent to county jail after the decision, and the state was set to try him again in March and seek another death sentence.
Instead, Richey pleaded no contest to the state's charges accusing him of telling the toddler's mother he would baby-sit the girl, but failing to do so and leaving her in harm's way.
Richey had turned down every offer linking him to the fire.
He turned down a plea deal soon after his arrest in 1986 that would have got him out of prison years ago. And while in prison, he said no again when prosecutors offered to free him if he would admit starting the fire.
He came close to being executed in Ohio's electric chair in 1994. He had said his goodbyes and his head was shaved before a late stay came from an appeals court.
Richey planned to spend his first night of freedom playing video games and watching movies - "Superman III," "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix", and "Transformers" - said his brother Steve.
His lawyer said he'll also visit with his brother and nieces and nephews because he only has one day with relatives in the United States.
He'll leave for Scotland on Tuesday and stay with his mother in Edinburgh. He also wants to write a book and speak out against the death penalty.
Richey's case has generated limited interest in Ohio, but his name is a familiar one in Britain where there is no death penalty. He has drawn support from members of the British Parliament and the late Pope John Paul II.
Richey was nearly out of appeals until the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court ordered a new trial.
He came from Scotland to live with his American-born father in the early 1980s and became a British citizen while in prison.
Prosecutors said he set the fire at a Columbus Grove apartment complex in June 1986 to get even with his former girlfriend, who lived in the same building as the girl who died.
Richey's new defense team contended that investigators mishandled evidence used to convict Richey and that experts used nonscientific methods to determine that gas or turpentine started the fire.