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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2005

Richey's betrothed eagerly awaits convicted man's new day in court

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kenny Richey has been on death row in Mansfield, Ohio, since 1986 for the death of a 2-year-old girl who died in an apartment fire, which prosecutors said he set. Kenny Richey has been on death row in Mansfield, Ohio, since 1986 for the death of a 2-year-old girl who died in an apartment fire, which prosecutors said he set.
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It's a rare warm summer in Scotland, where Karen Torley Richey awaits the new trial of her fianc several thousand miles away in Ottawa, Ohio.

Kenny Richey, who has been on death row in Ohio since his 1987 conviction for an arson fire in which a 2-year-old Putnam County girl died, is expected to have charges against him presented to a grand jury next month.

Richey was born in the Netherlands to a Scottish mother and American father and grew up in Edinburgh. He moved to Putnam County in 1982 when he was 18 to be with his father, who was divorced from his mother.

Ms. Torley Richey has imagined a new day in court for Richey ever since she inadvertently took up his cause a decade ago, when she was a divorced, unemployed mother of four.

"Kenny and myself, as well as the family, have always wanted a new trial," Ms. Torley Richey said.

"Being simply freed was never enough for Kenny. He wants to be able to prove his innocence in a court. So we are excited about the prospect of being able to have this."

An ocean and about a third of the way across the North American continent away, Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers is not as excited as the Richeys are about the pending trial.

"The next six months is going to be pretty ugly, I'm afraid," said Mr. Lammers, just back from a family vacation he called too short.

A three-judge panel in Putnam County ruled in 1987 that Richey, who prosecutors said was baby-sitting the 2-year-old girl for her mother, started a fire in the apartment to murder his former girlfriend, Candy Barchet, and her new boyfriend, Mike Nichols. The couple were in the apartment below.

A U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Cincinnati overturned Richey's conviction Jan. 25 on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated because he was inadequately represented by his attorney, William Kluge of Lima, on the arson charge.

Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers walks through the county courthouse. Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers walks through the county courthouse.
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In June, U.S. District Court Judge Patricia Gaughan in Cleveland upheld the 6th Circuit decision. That provided a 90-day window for the 41-year-old Mr. Lammers to decide whether to retry Richey, also 41, or set him free.

On June 30, Mr. Lammers opted for a new trial.

"In the interests of justice, I cannot ignore the facts and cruel acts which led to the death of this child," he said at the time.

On Friday, the Canton-based 5th District Court of Appeals ordered the warden at Mansfield Correctional Institution to transfer Richey to the Putnam County Jail by Aug. 3 or provide a good reason why he shouldn't.

Cynthia Collins died in an fire that broke out at 4:15 a.m. on June 30, 1986, at a Columbus Grove, Ohio, apartment complex. Prosecutors said Richey set the blaze to kill his former girlfriend and her new boyfriend, Mike Nichols. Ms. Barchet and Mr. Nichols were in the apartment below.

Richey told fire investigators he was drunk at the time of the fire and remembered little, but denied starting the blaze.

At the time of his trial, Richey declined a plea bargain that would have freed him years ago. Over the years, in numerous appeals, Richey's lawyers have successfully raised doubts in the case and Richey's subsequent conviction.

Mr. Lammers said Thursday he would present his case to a Putnam County grand jury during the second or third week of August. He would not disclose what charges he would seek against Richey, but hoped the death penalty remained an issue.

"We will ask [the grand jury] to consider under the capital section if there exists the possibility for [a death penalty case]," Mr. Lammers said. "I'm not saying it's there or not there. We'll present the facts and let them make the determination,"

Kenneth Parsigian, Richey's Boston-based attorney, is perplexed by the state's decision to move forward with the case.

"His case is much weaker," Mr. Parsigian said.

In particular, he said, the state's strongest evidence in the first trial was related to the arson charge. "But we [have since] exploded that case. It was the deciding part in the 6th Circuit Court turning the case."

Further, Mr. Parsigian noted, of the four key witnesses, one is dead; another, Robert Cryer, a former state fire marshal, is in poor health; and a third, Peggy Villareal, recanted her original testimony. A fourth witness, Mr. Nichols, whom Richey purportedly tried to kill with his ex-girlfrind, is unreliable in Mr. Parsigian's view.

Mr. Lammers, an amiable man who has been Putnam County's prosecutor since January, appears undaunted by the challenge.

"It will be difficult," he said. "It doesn't take a lot of consideration to know that if you lose a key witness - or any witness - it can change the complexion of your case," he said. "We feel that with the testimony and the transcripts, if we dig a little deeper we come up with evidence that wasn't used at the trial. We'll look at all those possibilities, and we'll try to put together the most persuasive case we can."

Meanwhile, Mr. Parsigian is steamed Richey remains on death row.

"There's absolutely no basis to hold him [there] anymore. They don't even have an indictment, let alone a conviction, so how can they hold him in the most extreme position in a U.S. prison?" said Mr. Parsigian, who has filed a pair of motions to get Richey transferred to the county jail in Ottawa.

Mr. Lammers said that an appeal of the 6th Circuit decision filed in the U.S. Supreme Court last week allows the state Department of Rehabilitation and Correction to keep Richey at the Mansfield Correctional Institution.

If the grand jury indicts Richey next month, he will be moved to Putnam County, Mr. Lammers said.

Trial venue is another issue. Mr. Lammers would like it to stay in Ottawa. Mr. Parsigian hasn't decided whether he will ask to have the trial moved

"We haven't done the research yet to determine what the attitudes are in Putnam County," he said.

For Mr. Parsigian, 49, a constitutional law and white collar crime expert, it will be his first potential murder trial. Joining him will be his partner at Goodwin Procter, Paul Ware, who has considerable experience trying capital cases, Mr. Parsigian said.

The trial will be viewed on a world stage. Richey's Scottish heritage has made his case front-page news for years in Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair has taken an interest in the case, documentaries have been filmed, and books written. The Richey family has hired an agent to handle the bidding war for exclusive interviews with Richey, a common practice in Britain.

Mr. Lammers and Mr. Parsigian said they receive numerous calls from British reporters when there are key decisions being made in the case. They say they are unbowed by the magnitude of the case.

"Frankly, if it puts pressure on anyone, it puts pressure on [Mr. Lammers], not us," Mr. Parsigian said.

But Mr. Lammers has said on a number of occasions he will not allow the publicity surrounding the case to interfere with his handling of the matter.

Ms. Torley Richey, who changed her last name to gain visitation rights to see Kenny at Mansfield Correctional, also is besieged by reporters, who turn up regularly at her suburban Glasgow home. So well-known she and the Richey case have become, she's stopped in grocery stores, the post office, banks - wherever she goes - by people curious about the case. She said she's used to the attention, but added that the situation has reached a level that even she has had trouble handling.

"The waiting since Jan. 25 has been the worst time ever," she said. "It has been stressful beyond belief for us all. It has taken its toll on every single one of us emotionally. However, we have fought for a new trial, and to get one is a victory really."

Contact George Tanber at: gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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