Richey enters plea deal, set free after 21 years
Mon, 07 Jan 2008 19:12:35 GMT —
A British citizen who spent two decades on Ohio's death row pleaded no contest to three charges Monday and was sentenced to time already served, allowing for his release.
The plea means Ken Richey, who once came within an hour of being executed, will walk free for the first time since he was convicted of setting a a northwest Ohio apartment fire that killed a toddler in 1986.
Richey pleaded no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering. His hands were cuffed in front of him during the half-hour hearing in Putnam County Common Pleas Court and he was clean-shaven and wore a black shirt and pants and a multicolored tie.
Visiting Franklin County Judge Alan Travis sentenced him to 21 years and ordered his release Monday from the Putnam County jail.
Richey appeared expressionless as he was escorted from the courtroom by sheriff's deputies.
Prosecutors approved the deal after an appeals court overturned Richey's conviction and death sentence last year. It lets Richey, a U.S.-British citizen, go home to Scotland without admitting that he had anything to do with the fire.
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 plans to leave for Scotland Tuesday. Prosecutors told him they were worried about threats against Richey, his family and attorney said.
He'll be free, though, to return to the United States, because he's a citizen.
Richey had been set to get out three weeks ago until a trip to the hospital for chest pains delayed his release. He's 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.
Members of Richey's family were among those in a fairly full courtroom. Members of Collins' family also attended the court hearing, some wearing pins bearing a photo of the girl smiling, with brown bangs.
His brother Steve says part of Richey's first night of freedom will be spent watching movies, including the latest "Harry Potter."