Kenny Richey to walk free after plea deal
By Auslan Cramb, Scottish Correspondent
Last Updated: 1:39am GMT 20/12/2007
A British man who has been on Death Row for 20 years for the murder of a two-year-old girl is to be set free after striking a deal with American prosecutors.
Kenny Richey, 43, whose conviction was overturned earlier this year, will be sentenced to time he has already served and could be back in Scotland on Saturday
He has agreed to plead “no contest” to involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering.
The plea is a statement that no defence will be presented and does not amount to an admission of guilt, but is treated like a guilty plea by the courts.
Richey was convicted in 1987 of an arson attack on an apartment block that killed two-year-old Cynthia Collins, the daughter of his former girlfriend.
Prosecutors said the former US marine started the fire in Columbus Grove, Ohio, in a jealous attack on his ex-girlfriend and her new lover, who lived in the flat below.
But he has always protested his innocence, and previously refused a plea bargain that would have led to an 11-year sentence for arson and manslaughter.
In 1994, he came within an hour of going to the electric chair before a stay on his execution was granted.
An appeal court finally overturned his conviction in August, on the grounds that he had received inadequate legal representation at his original trial, and ordered that he should be re-tried or set free.
A date was set for a new trial next March, but in a surprise move his solicitor Ken Parsigian announced that he would plead no contest to the reduced charge.
The lawyer said the outcome was “a complete victory and more than Kenny and I could ever wish for”, adding: “Kenny is thrilled but a little nervous.
“It is the greatest Christmas present that I or Kenny could have asked 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.”
Mr Parsigian said Richey had spoken to his mother Eileen, who lives in Edinburgh, his father and his brother, who were all delighted with the news.
He added that the deal was “as close to the state admitting it was wrong as we are going to get”.
"This is what we have been fighting for, for the last 22 years, to prove that he did not commit murder and he did not commit arson.”
Karen Torley, Richey’s ex-fiancée, said the plea was a face-saving exercise for prosecutors, adding: “I always knew this day would come, it is just that it happened so quickly and out of the blue it took your breath away.”
Clive Stafford Smith, a human rights lawyer, said the case epitomised all that was wrong with the capital punishment system.
He added: “Kenny didn’t commit the crime he was charged of, and thank goodness now the American prosecutor recognises it.
"On Saturday he will get to be home with his mother for the first time in 21 years. That’s wonderful news.
"This poor child died in a fire that was an accident and this man has spent 21 years 173 days in prison facing the death penalty for a crime he didn’t commit.
"An innocent man gets a death sentence because he had an incompetent lawyer at trial, his conviction is reversed two decades later, and then he has to enter a plea to avoid a second death sentence.”
Richey was born in Holland to an American father and Scottish mother and moved to Edinburgh with his parents as a baby.
After they divorced he moved to the US at the age of 18 to live with his father in Columbus Grove.
He has always pleaded his innocence and his case became a cause celebre for miscarriage of justice campaigners.
Amnesty described it as “one of the most compelling cases of innocence that human rights campaigners have seen”.