COLUMBUS — He does not look like someone whose case triggered international attention, including a plea from the pope.
Kenneth Richey is 51 but is tired and looks much older. Drinking, smoking, five heart attacks, a stroke, diabetes and spending half your life in prison will do that.
Now, the native Scotsman and former death row resident says all he wants to do is go to Great Britain to see his dying mother. And maybe get married to his girlfriend in Scotland.
“I just want to get back before she passes,” Richey said about his mother in an interview. “I’m going to stay this time. I won’t be coming back.”
But Richey, who was convicted for murder only to be released from prison in January 2008 following a plea deal, still has nine months on parole before he will be allowed to leave the U.S. He was placed on parole after serving a three-year sentence for threatening a judge, a crime he committed after he got off death row in 2008.
Richey said parole authorities won’t give him an emergency release to see his mother, who has had cancer and severe dementia. His parole expires Nov. 14, according to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction records.
Prison spokeswoman JoEllen Smith confirmed Richey made an official request to travel overseas. “The fact that he is on supervision does not in and of itself preclude him from overseas travel, however it does require approval by the Adult Parole Authority. The Adult Parole Authority considered the fact that he has engaged in violation behavior in their decision to deny his request,” Smith said.
Richey was convicted in 1987 of aggravated murder and sentenced to death for a 1986 apartment fire that killed Cynthia Collins, 3, of Columbus Grove, in Putnam County. The toddler was the daughter of his girlfriend at the time. Richey proclaimed his innocence from the beginning.
Because of his dual Britiish-U.S. citizenship, Richey’s case garnered worldwide attention, particularly in Europe where capital punishment is outlawed. There were 150 members of British Parliament who signed a letter opposing his execution, as did the late Pope John Paul II.
He had a dozen execution dates and came within an hour of being put to death. But his conviction was eventually overturned on appeal and after continued court fights, a plea deal was worked out under which Richey was released, with credit for the 21 years he spent in prison, most of it on death row.
He headed home to Scotland, but quickly got in trouble there for breaking into an Edinburgh man’s apartment and beating him with a metal rod.
Richey returned to the U.S. and moved to Tupelo, Mississippi. But even several states away from Ohio, Richey couldn’t keep his hands clean. He was convicted for verbally threatening the Putnam County judge who presided at his original trial, and spent three years in an Ohio prison.
Now living in Columbus, Richey is anxious to leave.
His mother, Eileen Richey, 71, has had lung cancer and now suffers from severe dementia, he said. She now lives in England, having moved there from Scotland.
Richey said he thinks often about Cynthia Collins, the girl who died in the fire. He said he did not set the blaze, but regrets leaving the apartment. “If I would have stayed, I would have been able to save her.”
“I just want to gain some happiness in the next few months or years or whatever I’ve got left,” he said.