My first days off death row have given me a new taste for freedom in Scotland
For too long, "home" to Kenny Richey has been a windowless cell in a maximum security prison block in Mansfield, Ohio, where the death chamber has beckoned. Over the years, many like him have been marched into the building; few ever leave it alive.
For him, however, the prospect of returning to the place he calls his real home - Edinburgh - finally seems a reality. The 43-year-old Scot, who was convicted in 1987 of starting a fire that killed a two-year-old girl in Ohio, was on Monday freed from Mansfield and moved to a county jail, far from the threat of the executioner's needle, following a ruling in his favour by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
"I'm no longer on death row, now I'm just an ordinary Joe - and let me tell you, it feels good to be able to say that," he said yesterday.
"I've had my hopes raised so many times before, but now I'm on my way. I'm finally out of that hell-hole, I'm going to clear my name and I'm going to go home to Scotland."
Fellow inmates on death row - including James Filiaggi, a convicted murderer who he counted as his best friend - have left Mansfield in body bags. For Richey, feeling the wind in his hair during the ride out of there and being able to see the sky from his new cell, feels like relative luxury.
"I have my own TV, my own sink and there's a window I can see out of. That's a big, big deal," he said, speaking from the county jail in Ottawa, Ohio.
"I get treated a lot better by the guards here. I can exercise every day - it's been a long time since I was in trim - and I get to use the phone from 6am to 11pm. The bed's a little bit more comfortable too.
"They're basic things to most people, but they're things that mean a lot when you've been stuck where I have, thinking you're going to die."
Richey was 18 when he left Edinburgh in 1982, where he had lived with his mother, Eileen, and moved to Ohio to be with his American father, James, and join the US military.
The course of his life changed forever in 1986, when a fire broke out in a block of flats in Columbus Grove, Ohio, where his ex-girlfriend, Candy Barchet, lived. The flames engulfed the flat above Barchet's, claiming the life of a two-year-old, Cynthia Collins. Richey was convicted of murder and arson the following year and sentenced to death.
MORE than two decades later, during which time he has been scheduled for execution 13 times, the threat was finally lifted last month after the appeal court upheld its 2005 decision to overturn his conviction and sentence and ordered that he must be set free or granted a new trial.
Prosecutors in Putnam County, Ohio, have indicated that they intend to retry him, though such a hearing is unlikely to begin before the end of the year.
Amnesty International has described Richey's case as "one of the most compelling cases of apparent innocence" it has ever seen, pointing to flawed forensic and dubious witness evidence.
But the prosecution insists otherwise, saying that it will prove for a second time that Richey - who had allegedly threatened to burn the building that night out of jealousy, after his ex-girlfriend struck up a relationship with another man - was the culprit. The case appears set to be additionally handicapped by the deaths of key witnesses, and powerful forensic evidence.
"They say they are going to go for a new trial, but I can't see them being that stupid, to be honest," said Richey.
"We have some of the top arson experts in the world saying the fire was accidental. We have forensic experts saying the same thing. The prosecutors have sweet nothing.
"If I'd been guilty, I could have done a plea deal at the time and I'd have been walking free around Edinburgh years ago. But I didn't. I stayed and I fought, because I'm not going to lie and say I did it when I know I'm innocent.
"We're anxious to get going on a new trial. We're going to embarrass the hell out of this county. Those prosecutors, they're going to look like a bunch of idiots in the eyes of the world," he said.
RICHEY, who broke off his engagement to Karen Torley - a Scottish mother of four with whom he struck up a relationship from behind bars after she wrote to offer her support - has maintained close touch in the last couple of years with his American ex-wife, Wendy. The pair were married for two years before divorcing in 1986, but have resurrected their relationship.
"When it's done, I'll go back to Scotland and take my wife with me. She's waiting for me to get out. Her and my son will be coming back to Scotland to start a new life with me," said Richey.
Ken Parsigian, his lawyer, will apply for bail next week. It is unclear whether that will result in his freedom; Richey has no money to make bail even if it is granted, though his brother Stephen - who lives locally - has offered his house as collateral.
"The factors that cut in Kenny's favour are that he's got a very stable family member living right there, he's got a good relationship with Stephen and his wife and family and they are willing to put up their house because they believe in Kenny. He always wanted an opportunity to prove his innocence - he has never shown any desire to run away from this stuff, but rather to fight for an opportunity to prove he didn't do the crime.
"We have never been closer to winning freedom for Kenny than this."
The Boston-based lawyer describes Richey's case, which he has conducted pro bono, as the most significant and fulfilling case he has ever handled.
He added: "This is a defining case; we can get Kenny home where he belongs. I think it will be the crowning moment of my career the day Kenny walks free."
Being in the custody of the county jail, rather than death row, does have one down-side for Richey, however. He must now wear a green and white striped jail uniform.
"It makes me look like a bloody Celtic supporter - and I don't even like Celtic," he joked.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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