Kenny Richey death sentence overturned – again

August 10, 2007

UK Charity Reprieve, which fights for prisoners on death row, is delighted by the news that Kenny Richey, a Scot who has been on Ohio’s death row for more than 20 years, has had his conviction overturned on appeal.

The appeal was decided by the United States Court of Appeal for the Sixth Circuit, the second highest court that can hear the case, on the grounds that Mr Richey received inadequate legal representation during his trial in 1987. The Court ordered that Mr Richey should be retried or released within 90 days. However, it is likely that the prosecution will appeal this decision, further delaying justice for Mr. Richey.Mr Richey was convicted of starting a fire in which a two year old girl died, and was sentenced to death in January 1987. He always protested his innocence, and compelling new scientific evidence completely undermines the prosecution’s case that the fire was deliberately started.

This is the latest development in a case which has had many twists and turns in the last 20 years. In January 2005, the same court overturned Mr Richey’s conviction and announced that Mr Richey should be retried or released. However, the prosecution appealed. The US Supreme Court held that the decision to overturn Mr Richey’s conviction may not have been procedurally correct and so asked the Court of Appeals of the Sixth Circuit to reconsider. This was in November 2005 and Mr Richey has been stuck on death row, waiting for the decision Sixth Circuit’s decision until today.

Reprieve, provides frontline investigation and legal representation to prisoners facing the death penalty, particularly in America or when British nationals are involved. US law firm Goodwin Procter represented Kenny before the Sixth Circuit and has represented him pro bono for nearly 15 years in an effort to right the injustice of an innocent man sitting on Ohio’s death row.

Commenting today Reprieve’s Legal Director Clive Stafford Smith who has assisted with Mr. Richey’s case for the past 10 years, said:

“It’s time for the new UK Government to step up the pressure to end this farce. The Ohio prosecutors have spent thousands and thousands of dollars trying to keep this plainly innocent man on death row, rather than admit that they made a mistake 20 years ago. Let us hope that they do not waste thousands more appealing the decision made by the Sixth Circuit today, but rather let him return to the UK and re-start his life.”

Mr Richey has also been the subject of a longstanding campaign from Scottish anti-death penalty campaigner Karen Torley. On hearing the decision Ms Torley said:

“I am delighted that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeal has once confirmed that Kenny’s conviction should be overturned. I would hope that they will not drag out endless appeals for more months. This has gone on for over 21 years now and enough is enough. It is time for Kenny to come home to Scotland and be declared legally the innocent man that he has always maintained he is.”

Alastair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, who has led the political campaign for Mr Richey said:

“This is excellent news. Kenny Richey has been on death row for over two decades. The US courts are right to rule that he should either be released or have a full retrial. Kenny’s original trial made a mockery of justice. Today’s decision is a step in the right direction which will hopefully mean that justice is at long last secured.”

Notes to editors:

1. Mr Richey first presented scientific evidence proving his innocence in July 2002. This includes an appraisal of the findings of the State Fire Marshall and the Ohio Arson Crime Laboratory. This evidence shows that the decision to consider the fire an arson was “based on unsound scientific principles”, and was most likely started by a carelessly discarded cigarette.

2. Upon discovering this new evidence, Ohio Prosecutor Dan Gershutz stated: “Even though this new evidence may establish Mr Richey’s innocence, the Ohio and United States constitution nonetheless allow him to be executed because the prosecution did not know the scientific testimony offered at the trial was false and unreliable”.

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Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900 Registered Company No. 5777831 (England) Registered Office 2-6 Cannon Street London EC4M 6YH; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner