by Rebecca Doran – February, 2005
On Jan. 25, Ohio prisoner Kenny Richey—internationally known as the Innocent Scot on Death Row—was granted a victory by the federal courts.
This ruling in favor of Richey, which overturned his disputed 1987 conviction and sentence of death, was handed down by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
This long-awaited judgment follows 18 years of imprisonment, 13 failed appeals, and a death warrant that carried Richey to within one horrifying hour of execution—when his head was shaved in preparation for electrocution.
Richey’s conviction, which was heavily pursued by a prosecutor with personal career interests, was based upon an implausible theory that turned this innocent working-class immigrant from Scotland into a monster deemed unworthy of life. He was convicted not by a jury of his peers but by a panel of three Ohio judges. (See details in the July 2004 issue of Socialist
The prosecutor in this case, Randall Basinger, who at the time of the criminal trial was also running for judge, captured headlines for months with his zealous, well-funded campaign to convict what he called a “psychopathic killer.”
Richey’s conviction was based on an incident that was known by human rights groups as the crime that never was. It rested on the false accusation that, in order to seek revenge and ultimately death upon his former lover who was lying asleep in her bed with a new boyfriend, he set fire to the apartment directly upstairs.
The prosecutor alleged that Richey knew that a two-year-old child was sleeping in that same apartment while her single mother was out with friends. Although Richey’s former lover and new boyfriend escaped unharmed, the child, Cynthia Collins, died in the blaze.
Richey’s unqualified defense attorney, in a deal with the prosecution, forfeited his client’s right to a jury trial. He then sat in silence while Prosecutor
Basinger buried Richey with witness testimony, much of which has since been recanted or proven untrue.
Another critical mistake made by Richey’s defense attorney was the failure to provide the court with a vital bit of information that would have altered the
outcome of the trial: two-year-old Cynthia Collins had a history of starting fires. In the weeks preceding her death, the child started at least three separate
fires, all of which were documented by the local fire department.
According to the Jan. 25 decision by the Sixth Circuit, there is insufficient evidence against Richey on the charge of aggravated felony murder. The appeals court also stated that the trial counsel was ineffective in his handling of an expert witness who openly admitted to spending only 10 hours on the
defense investigation while testifying, perhaps unwittingly, on behalf of the prosecution.
The Sixth Circuit decision presented the state of Ohio with an ultimatum to set a date within 90 days to retry the 40-year-old Richey or release him from
custody. At the time of this writing, the state has not announced its intentions, but a spokeswoman for Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro said that lawyers were reviewing the 26-page ruling to determine whether or not to appeal. In the meantime, Richey waits behind bars, still on death row, awaiting word on his
With the bright light of freedom beginning to shine for Richey, the Edinburgh native is full of hope. Richey told GMTV (UK television) in an emotional
interview, “I want to lay on the grass and watch the stars. Just being able to walk out of my front door and go where the hell I want to, whenever I want to,
without some guard telling me I can’t, or some steel door or bars stopping me.”
Kenny Richey’s wants are simple: to meet his son, hug his mother, kiss his fiancée for the first time, and live once again in his beloved Scotland. He dreams of a pint of beer and a dinner of haggis; he hopes to take a job as a truck driver or find work in a pub.
But above all, this modest man plans to continue to devote himself to the cause that will put an end to the death penalty.
Richey also has vowed to seek justice against those who stole 18 years from him. “You will never meet a more bitter or angry individual than me. Hate and rage seethe through my blood,” he told GMTV. “They took from me what can’t be given back.”
Richey’s case, which has received international attention, has been the subject of heavy campaigning by his fiancée, Karen Torley, along with Amnesty
International and a number of devoted supporters and death-penalty abolitionists. Richey’s release depends upon continued efforts to put pressure on the courts and draw international attention to the human rights violations committed by the U.S. justice system.