Supreme Court judges were today branded “inhumane” and faced demands to reconsider their verdict after condemning Scot Kenny Richey back to Death Row.
Edinburgh-born Richey now faces at least another 18 months in prison after the United States’ most senior judges overturned his appeal and ordered that he be kept in jail as a convicted killer.
The US Supreme Court said an appeal court had wrongly ruled in favour of Richey, who has spent 20 years on Death Row after being convicted of murdering a toddler.
Human rights groups today described Richey’s lengthy incarceration as “barbaric” and said they were stunned that Supreme Court judges had overturned
the appeal on a technicality. Mr Richey’s family today vowed not to give up the fight to free him despite yesterday’s crushing verdict.
Supreme Court judges ruled that a previous decision by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Richey’s conviction was inadmissible because they had considered fresh evidence.
The justices said the circuit judges had made mistakes in dealing with Richey’s appeal and the case will now return to the appeals court in Cincinnati.
In January this year, the Appeals Court in Cincinnati overturned Richey’s murder conviction after deciding grave mistakes had been made during his original trial, based on new evidence they had received. The court was aware that, technically, it should not have taken into account any fresh evidence, but felt it was so compelling it would do so and based its judgement on this.
By a two-to-one majority, the judges ruled Richey’s defence team committed fundamental errors at the 1986 trial.
At the original trial, William Kluge, the public defender assigned to the case, made a number of serious mistakes which Richey’s supporters said amounted to incompetence.
He persuaded Richey to waive his right to jury trial in favour of a three-judge panel. He chose his arson expert from a newspaper ad and advised the expert to spend no more than ten hours in research on grounds of cost.
When the expert’s conclusions mirrored those of the prosecution, Mr Kluge also failed to prevent the prosecution calling him to the stand to support their own case. After just three days, Richey was found guilty and sentenced to death.
“Constitutional errors have undermined our confidence in the reliability of Mr Richey’s conviction and sentence,” the appeal court judges stated. “Mr Richey was clearly prejudiced by his attorney’s deficiencies.”
But the Supreme Court yesterday asked the appeals court to revisit its concerns about Richey’s defence lawyer.
A spokeswoman for Amnesty International said: “The 6th circuit judges were probably aware that they shouldn’t be considering new evidence, but they felt it was so compelling they were duty bound to look at it.
“This is inhumane and the decision is typical of the US justice system where judges are elected to get convictions.
“This latest setback is set against a background of inhumane treatment that Kenny has suffered for the last 20 years. To keep someone on Death Row for this long is simply barbaric.”
Mr Richey’s family, including his fiancee, Karen, who has led the campaign for his release, said Richey would be devastated by the latest setback, which is likely to see him stay on Death Row for at least another 18 months. His mother Eileen Richey, who still lives in Orwell Terrace, Dalry, said she was shocked at the court’s decision.
She said: “I am just going to have to see what his lawyers have to say now. I will be speaking to my other son, Steven, who lives in America, and see what can be done. I just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Fiancee Karen Richey added: “It is a total shock because we were expecting a decision in our favour – we were about 95 per cent certain.
“Basically what has happened is that the state has won something on a legal technicality to keep an innocent man on Death Row. The fight will still go on.”
MSP Margo MacDonald, independent MSP for Lothian region, said: “I feel really devastated on his account.
“I feel it is undeniable that he is the pawn in a fairly elaborate game of power chess being played out in Ohio between people who over the years have had a decisive part to play in this whole saga.”
Ken Parsigan, Richey’s lawyer, said the decision had come as a major setback to the appeal, but added he remained “cautiously optimistic” about the Scot’s future.