Kenny Richey, the Scot who spent two decades on death row for a crime he insists he did not commit, was freed from prison yesterday after entering a plea deal ensuring all further charges against him will be dropped.
The proceedings went off without a repeat of the health scare that postponed his release, originally set for last month in time to send him home for Christmas. That hearing was put off at the last minute when he was rushed to hospital with a heart scare.
Richey, 43, was escorted last night from the Putnam County jail in north-west Ohio to the local court where he entered a plea of no contest on charges of attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment and breaking and entering. His lawyers says he does not believe he committed any of those offences but preferred to plead no contest now rather than wait several more months to face a full trial. The plea, which is not an admission of guilt, resulted in him being sentenced to 21 years time already served.
Back in 1986, Richey was accused of deliberately setting a fire that killed the two-year-old daughter of a former girlfriend. His lawyer at the time failed to present any exonerating evidence and did not question the prosecution contention that the girl died as the result of arson.
Over the years, as civil rights lawyers and death penalty opponents became interested in his case and started campaigning, he successfully demonstrated that there was no conclusive evidence the fire was arson at all and that he actually made strenuous efforts to save the baby.
He left death row five months ago after a federal appeals court said he must either be retried or released. Ohio prosecutors said at first they would retry him for murder in March, then offered the plea deal in which all mention of arson or murder was dropped.
In his 20 years on death row, he faced 13 appointments with the executioner and, on one occasion, came within an hour of being killed by lethal injection. He has suffered ill health in prison, including at least one heart attack.
He is due to fly home to Edinburgh today, where his mother, Eileen, says she will cook him a celebratory meal of haggis before putting him on a strict diet.
The plea deal requires him to leave the United States immediately. He is, however, a dual citizen his father is a former American serviceman and will be able to return.
For Amnesty International and other campaigning groups, Richey's case has been a prime example of the failings of the US criminal justice system and its culture of capital punishment.
They argued successfully that he did not have adequate representation at his original trial, in violation of the US Constitution's Sixth Amendment.Reuse content