Axis of Logic

Civil Rights/Human Rights
The American dream that died in a cell waiting for execution

By Jennifer Veitch
Jan 26, 2005, 15:35

- Britta Slopianka, Axis of Logic
Correspondent in Germany

KENNY RICHEY left Edinburgh for the United States on Christmas Eve 1982, a skinny, fresh-faced teenager, filled with dreams of starting a new life with his American father, Jim.

By the time I visited him on Death Row in Ohio in the summer of 2000 - after he had already spent 13 years waiting for the state to execute him - he was barely recognisable from the photos I’d seen in the fading newspaper clippings.

The trademark moustache was still there, but his frame was bloated and heavy.

He looked utterly exhausted, his skin was extremely pale and blotchy, his eyes were red-rimmed.

He walked slowly, his gait hampered by the shackles he was forced to wear throughout the interview.

He had made an effort to spruce himself up, though, and smelled strongly of aftershave.

I was there to discuss his case, and to ask him what really happened on the night the state prosecutors said he had started the fire which caused the death of two-year-old Cynthia Collins.

At first, Kenny obliged, and painted a picture of wild parties, drinking and drug-taking which did not reflect well on anyone involved in the events leading up to the fire - including him.

But his steadfast refusal to admit guilt - even though he was offered a plea bargain which would have reduced his sentence to 11 years - never once wavered.

It became obvious Kenny had his own agenda for the interview, though.

Visits on Death Row were a rarity; visits from two young women from his home town even more so.

Not surprisingly, he wanted to chat, and to flirt - and some of the jokes he made about the handcuffs he wore certainly made me and our photographer blush.

It was undeniable Kenny had retained what he described as his “Scottish sense of humour”, but the deep bitterness he felt towards the US authorities was a constant theme.

”I heard about America, a great country and all the rest of it, but it’s nothing of the sort,” he told me.

”It’s not a great country, it’s a poxy country. I don’t want to be bloody American no more.”

To survive Death Row and the constant battles to prove his innocence, Kenny has clung to every shred of his Scottish identity. He clearly liked the fact that the other Death Row inmates called him “Scottie.” His accent was pure Sean Connery - with the odd American vowel thrown in - and he made himself a tartan hat.

He said the old prison he could see from his cell reminded him of Edinburgh Castle, and he told me he wanted to tour Scotland taking photos for a book on castles, lighting them up with halogen lamps.

”It’s my idea - dinnae take it,” he joked.

Following the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision yesterday, there is no doubt that the first thing on Kenny’s mind will be getting back to Scotland on the first available flight.

He will be desperate to see his mother Eileen, who still lives in Edinburgh, and his fiancee, Karen Torley, from Cambuslang, who has spent the best part of a decade fighting for his release.

There is no doubt that his love and gratitude towards Karen are genuine and heart-felt.

Few people outside his immediate family have been prepared to endure this exhausting fight for justice, and no one else has done so much to keep his dreams of freedom alive.

When I asked him what he would have done without Karen, his answer came in a single word: “Died.”

But the reality is that Kenny is now 40 and has been incarcerated for most of his adult life. It is stating the obvious to say he can never recapture those lost years.

Whether he can prevent the past from wrecking his future remains to be seen, but one thing is sure - he won’t want to let the state of Ohio win.

Death Penalty Issues
Innocent Imprisoned

Truth in Justice