State to retry Kenneth Richey for 1986 arson murder


COLUMBUS The state is opting not to appeal a recent federal court ruling overturning the conviction of Scotsman Kenneth Richey and will proceed to retry him in the 1986 arson death of a 2-year-old Putnam County girl, the Ohio attorney general s office said this morning.

Brian Laliberte, chief of the criminal division, said a late Friday brainstorming session led the office to the conclusion that it would be unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court would agree to hear an appeal in the case a second time.

He said he expects the U.S.-British citizen to be transferred from death row to the county jail pending retrial. But Mr. Laliberte said the prosecution will oppose his release from jail on bond. Richey has spent 21 years in prison for the crime.

Mr. Richey was convicted once, he said. We realize the 6th Circuit ruled that his counsel was inadequate, but Mr. Richey has been proven a dangerous individual. He s got some ability to flee. He has become a cause celebre for some folks who might help him flee jurisdiction.

He s been in prison a long time, Mr. Laliberte said. Letting him stay in prison until we retry him, especially considering that the crime caused the death of a 2-year-old girl, is warranted.

Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers, however, said this afternoon that he has not bought into the plan, saying he wants a meeting with the attorney general's office and a discussion with members of the victim's family before a final decision is made as to whether to ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal in the case a second time.

"We're dealing with a new guard in Columbus as opposed to who we have been dealing with ,'' said Mr. Lammers. "It's an all new group down there, and I want to make sure we all have the facts and details.''

He said his first inclination, absent an appeal, is to retry the case.

The state has maintained that Richey set the fire to kill his Columbus Grove ex-girlfriend and her lover, but unintentionally killed 2-year-old Cynthia Collins in the apartment above. He has said he was intoxicated that night and could not remember what happened, but he has insisted he did not set the fire.

In 2005, the Supreme Court overturned a prior decision by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the state and Putnam County to retry Richey, 43, or release him within 90 days after determining that his defense counsel had been inadequate.

The Supreme Court sent the case back for the 6th Circuit to answer a technical question on whether it should have considered new evidence of inadequate counsel. The court decided that it could and reinstated its retry-or-release order earlier this month.

The state is waiting for the U.S. District Court to formally issue its retry-or-release order in line with the 6th Circuit s directive. That would start a 90-day clock for the state to retry him.

Mr. Laliberte said the state believes it must begin proceedings toward trial and does not have to have the trial underway or completed in that time. Mr. Richey s lawyer, however, has taken the opposite view, and the dispute will likely be decided by a judge.

Mr. Lammers office would retry the case, but the attorney general s office has offered its assistance as special counsel.

Mr. Laliberte said the state still expects to introduce arson evidence, but he declined to say which evidence will be presented. The 6th Circuit had been highly critical of the defense attorney s failure to adequately challenge what it characterized as questionable arson evidence.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.comor 614-221-0496.

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