British death row inmate walks free

Published: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 8:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 8:14 p.m.

OTTAWA, Ohio - A British citizen who spent two decades on Ohio's death row was released from jail Monday after pleading no contest to three charges related to a fire that killed a 2-year-old girl.

Kenneth Richey
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Kenneth Richey

Kenneth Richey, right, a U.S.-British citizen who was on Ohio's death row for two decades until his sentence was overturned, walks into Putnam County Courthouse Monday, Jan. 7, 2008 in Ottawa, Ohio.

J.D. Pooley/The Associated Press

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 the toddler in 1986.

"It's great to finally be free at long last, and I'm looking forward to going home to Scotland," said Richey, wearing a blue, yellow and green Scottish cap called a glengarry. "It's been a long time coming."

He spoke with a thick Scottish accent at an Applebee's restaurant, where he stopped to have a steak lunch with his family and attorneys.

"He's told me that for 15 years that when he gets out that's what he's going to get," said his attorney, Ken Parsigian.

Prosecutors approved the deal after an appeals court overturned Richey's conviction and death sentence last year. The deal lets Richey, a dual U.S.-British citizen, go home to Scotland without admitting that he had anything to do with the fire.

Richey pleaded no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering, and breaking and entering. His hands were cuffed at his waist and his ankles shackled during the half-hour hearing in Putnam County Common Pleas Court.

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 he plans to leave for Scotland on Tuesday. Prosecutors told him they were worried about threats against Richey, his family and attorney said.

He'll be free to return to the United States because he is a citizen, but he must stay out of Putnam County for five years and have no contact with any witnesses or others involved in his trial.

Richey had been set to get out three weeks ago until a trip to the hospital for chest pains delayed his release. He has been in a county jail in Ottawa since then.

Richey was convicted of setting a fire that killed 2-year-old Cynthia 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.

Robert Collins, the father of the toddler, told the judge he wishes his daughter "could appeal her death and come back to life," according to his statement read by victim advocate Shelly Price.

"The situation surrounding the death of my little girl has haunted me for 21 years," Collins said. "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 an ongoing nightmare. I will never have closure now that the outcome has changed."

Valerie Binkley, Cynthia's aunt, told the judge she had prepared a six-page statement but was too emotional to read it. She then turned to Richey.

"I want you to know you fooled nobody not me, not that baby, not any of these people," she said. "You will fry in hell."

Members of Richey's family declined to comment after the hearing. His brother, Steve, said he couldn't talk because he is "under contract."

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 drew support from members of the British Parliament and the late Pope John Paul II.

He'll leave for Scotland on Tuesday and stay with his mother in Edinburgh. He has said he might live on a farm, travel around Scotland or open his own nightclub. "I don't know what I'm going to do," he said.

He also wants to write a book and speak out against the death penalty.

"That's something I've got to do," he said. "There's still a lot of innocent people on death row that don't have a voice."

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