Briton facing execution after accident of birth hits appeal

Sophie Goodchild,Home Affairs Correspondent
Sunday 01 December 2002 01:00

A British man facing execution in the US may now have to die because of a bureaucratic bungle in the UK that has jeopardised his appeal.

On Tuesday, Kenny Richey, a 38-year-old from Edinburgh, will spend his 6,000th day on death row for an arson attack that killed a toddler in Ohio.

With high-profile backing from Susan Sarandon, who won a best actress Oscar for her role in the anti-capital punishment film Dead Man Walking, Richey's case has become something of a cause célèbre. He also has the support of the Pope and Dr George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

But a quirk of British law has jeopardised Richey's chances of escaping the death penalty in the US. Although brought up in Scotland by his British mother, he is not recognised as a British citizen because he was born in Holland. That has prevented the UK Government lobbying for a stay of execution.

Richey was sentenced to death in 1987 for an arson attack in Ohio that killed three-year-old Cynthia Collins. His defence lawyers have now uncovered fresh evidence that they say casts doubt over his conviction. Human rights campaigners have called on Bob Taft, the Governor of Ohio, to release Richey or at the least stage a new trial.

The death-row prisoner, who has always protested his innocence, was brought up in the UK by his British mother and lived with his long-term partner in Scotland before moving to the US in 1981.

Until now, Richey has been denied British citizenship because of a bureaucratic bungle. While the anomaly has now been resolved under new laws introduced this month, Richey will not receive UK government assistance until his citizenship is officially recognised in March 2003. And that is after his appeal case is heard in the US courts.

The UK fully abolished the death penalty with the 1998 Human Rights Act, and it is Government policy to "oppose the death penalty in all circumstances". British citizens, including those on death row, are entitled to assistance from the Foreign Office and to high-level intervention from the Government. It formally intervened for Tracy Housel, a British citizen born in Bermuda who was convicted of beating and strangling a woman to death in Georgia.

He was executed despite a last-minute appeal for clemency by the Foreign Office on the grounds that Housel was suffering from a mental illness at the time of his crime.

Three years ago, Pope John Paul II wrote to the governor of Mansfield Correctional Unit in Ohio, where Richey is being held, asking that he be saved from execution. Susan Sarandon has said that she wants the entire case to be re-examined.

Jim Richey, Kenny's father, has accused the US authorities that prosecuted his son of falsely convicting him to further their own careers.

"My opinion of the investigation was that the result was a foregone conclusion," said Mr Richey, who is 64 and lives in Washington state. "It was political – the assistant prosecutor was running for judge and wanted to prove himself. I don't want to think of the possibility he could be executed."

Lovells, the law firm in London representing Richey, has worked on several death-row cases. It said that his case was "highly disturbing" and that he had been deprived of British nationality because of "anomalies in nationality law".

"It seems absurd that Kenny has been left on death row, with all the fear and anxiety that entails, for over 6,000 days before his conviction is examined in detail," said Yasmin Waljee, who has been involved in his case.