The Case of Kenneth Richey

Update Jan 2005: Conviction overturned

Kenneth Richey


In 1981, at the age of eighteen, Kenny Richey left his home in Scotland to live with his American Father in Ohio State. In June 1986, one week before his return to the United Kingdom, Kenny was arrested for a crime the evidence shows was not a crime at all. Since his conviction some months later, he has been sitting on death row, waiting to be strapped into old sparky, Ohio's electric chair.

The State remains keen to execute him.

Denied Right to prove innocence

During the months preceding 21 March 1997, evidence was presented to the Ohio Court of Common Pleas, conclusively establishing the innocence of Kenny Richey. This compelling evidence was submitted to support a bid for a hearing to allow Kenny’s defence team to show that the case was a tragic miscarriage of justice.

The state prosecution did not dispute the accuracy of the new evidence. Prosecution Dan Gershutz said, "Even though this new evidence may establish Mr Richey’s innocence, the Ohio and United States constitution nonetheless allow him to be executed because the prosecution did not know that the scientific testimony offered at the trial was false and unreliable"1

Without setting any reasons, Judge Michael Corrigan agreed, (Judge Corrigan was the foreman of a panel of three judges who convicted Kenny then sentenced him to die by electrocution). He refused the defence’s request for an ‘evidentiary hearing’ and dismissed Kenny’s appeal. Thus Kenny was denied the right to prove his innocence of the crime for which was convicted.

The Case

In the early hours of 30th June 1986, a fire started in an upper flat in a Columbus Grove apartment building in Ohio. The flames rapidly spread, engulfing the living room then the hallway before firemen extinguished the blaze. Minutes later, the body of a child carried out, confined in her room she died of smoke inhalation.

Hope Collins, the divorced mother of the child, had left her flat after midnight, driving off with her boyfriend to spend the night at his house. It is well documented that Hope regularly left her child unattended, sometimes feeding the child adult sleeping pills before doing so, the Putnam Child Welfare Services contacted her on two occasions regarding her practices that were reported by a neighbour. However, no action was taken.

After the fire, when threatened with arrest for neglecting her child, thereby being responsible for the girl’s death,. Hope claimed that she left her child in the care of Kenny Richey, a friend and one of several people who attended a party that occurred on the breezeway between Hope and her participating neighbour’s flat before the fire. Hope claimed she asked Kenny to watch her child moments before she climbed into her boyfriend’s truck. Kenny Richey maintains that he did not agree to baby-sit Hope’s child because he was too drunk from the party.

Two witnesses were present: Hope’s boyfriend and his friend who sat in the passenger seat. Both men denied hearing Hope ask Kenny to watch her child.

A third witness, a resident of the building, observed from behind her bedroom window. Although this witness heard nothing but roar of the truck’s engine that awoke her, she observed Hope climbing into the truck then saw Kenny (who was obviously drunk) stumble from the pavement and collapse in some bushes where he lay for ten minutes. Becoming concerned, this witness testified that she was about to leave her flat to check on Kenny’s condition when finally got to his feet and wobbled from her view.

This was the last person who saw Kenny before the fire caused pandemonium in the apartment complex.

Hours later, when Hope Collins was told about the fire and the death of her child, she did not make any comment nor ask the police officer about the whereabouts of any babysitter who she would much later claim had been caring for her child.

Given the circumstances, wouldn’t the first natural question to ask be, "Why didn’t the babysitter protect my child?"

Upon arriving at St. Rita’s Medical Centre in Lima, where her child had been taken, Hope told a Doctor Thomas Dickey that her girl had previously set fires in her flat (although this fact became known to the prosecutor, it was never mentioned during Kenny’s trial).

The Investigation

The local fire chief (who had been called to Hope’s flat on three occasions less than a fortnight before the fire to investigate the sudden mysterious appearance of smoke in the flat) arrived to inspect the flat first. However the investigation was soon taken over by the State Fire Marshal, Robert Cryer (State law demanded that the State Fire Marshal’s Office investigate the scene of a fire when a life had been taken). After a brief inspection, Fire Marshal Cryer declared that the fire started "accidentally". It should be noted that Fire Marshal Cryer insists that he never considered the fire an "accidental" occurrence. Yet, it is a claim that is both disputed by the building owner, and by the facts.

It is a fact that, after a brief inspection, Fire Marshal Cryer authorised the building owner to gut the flat. Within hours, its charred furnishings were thrown into a lorry then carried to the local dump. Obviously, had the fire marshal truly suspected the flat had been torched by an arsonist’s match, any layman knows that the flat would have been taped off and preserved for further investigation, for the gathering of evidence.

That being 1986, an election year, Prosecutor Basinger was one of several candidates hoping to be elected to fill the vacant position as a county judge. It was to Basinger’s benefit to build a big case, a headliner to promote his name on the front page of the county newspaper, and he took charge of the case personally.

Kenny Richey became the suspect. He was arrested and charged with arson, aggravated murder, child endangerment and breaking and entering. At the onset, Kenny stated he was innocent of the charges. He also demanded he be permitted to take a lie detector test. However, Prosecutor Basinger refused.

And so began the case of:


Prosecutor Basinger announced that he was seeking the death penalty, that instantly gained front-page attention; it was the first capital case in Putnam County since the eighteen-hundreds when a pig thief dangled from the end of a rope.

The capital case against Kenny dominated the local news for months, in turn, generating Basinger publicity as Election Day neared. It can be argued that the case he built against Kenny served its purpose, for it came as no surprise that, after votes were tallied, Prosecutor Basinger was elected to a new position of power; Judge Basinger.

Following Basinger’s successful election, he offered Kenny a "plea bargain". If Kenny would plead guilty to second-degree murder, Basinger informed him that he would receive a sentence of ten years with the possibility of parole after six years had been served.

Still maintaining his innocence, Kenny refused to accept the plea bargain.

Basinger then decided to continue to prosecute the case against Kenny, and don his judge’s robe after the trial.

It was a trial that lasted only three days. A trial that was void of a jury, substituted by a panel of three judges, led by Judge Michael Corrigan.

The State’s Theory

According to Prosecutor Basinger, Kenny is a calculating murderer. The prosecution contended that, after Kenny picked himself up from the bush he collapsed in, he did not walk to his father’s flat and go to sleep as Kenny claimed, but broke into a commercial greenhouse that stood one hundred years from the apartment complex. There, the State asserted that Kenny stole cans of petrol and paint thinner. Kenny then allegedly returned to the front of Hope Collins’ building. A utility shed stood below the living-room of Hope’s living-room balcony (CHANGE THIS!), and the prosecution insisted that Kenny silently climbed upon the shed, gaining access to Hope’s balcony and into her living-room. Once inside, the prosecution claimed Kenny "splashed" petrol and paint thinner throughout the living-room then set it alight before escaping back over the balcony with the empty cans.

The Motive

Below Hope’s flat resided Kenny’s former girlfriend who was sleeping with her new boyfriend. Prosecutor Basinger contended that, in a jealous rage, Kenny set Hope’s flat on fire to burn his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend in the flat below.

The Evidence

  1. Forensic tests performed on the carpet revealed traces of petrol and paint thinner.
  2. The smoke detector had been disconnected, preventing an early warning of the fire.
  3. Witnesses stated that they heard Kenny threaten to "blow up" or "burn" the apartment building.
  4. A witness claimed that, after the fire, she heard Kenny brag, "I did a good job, didn’t I?"

It is the "theory", "motive" and the "evidence" presented by the prosecution that led the three fudge panel to find Kenny guilty and sentence him to die in the electric chair. Also responsible was the poor showing offered by Kenny’s court appointed defence lawyer who had never before represented a man accused of murder.

The Flaws in the State’s Theory

The claim that Kenny broke into the greenhouse and stole cans of petrol and then climbed into the flat is flawed from the start. The greenhouse owner testified that, to the best of his knowledge, no cans were missing from his greenhouse. Moreover, no empty cans were ever discovered anywhere near or around the apartment complex.

The second problem with the prosecution’s theory arises when you consider the shed that Kenny was supposed to have climbed upon to gain access to Hope’s balcony. The roof was slanted at a sharp angle, making it difficult to balance cans upon it (they would slide off). Also, Kenny broke his hand one week before, and it was in a cast. He was also so drunk a witness saw him collapse in bushes. It would be practically impossible for Kenny to climb onto the slanted roof then onto the balcony while intoxicated, one hand disabled, and to do so without making a sound.

A hot, humid night, the bedroom window of Kenny’s ex-girlfriend was only five feet from the shed, and the window had been left open. The young woman and her new boyfriend, both of whom stated they were light sleepers, heard no sound.

Inside the living-room, the flaws of the prosecution’s theory persist. Basinger claimed that Kenny "splashed" flammables over the carpet. However, Kenny’s trousers and boots were taken by the police and the state forensic lab tested them. No trace of flammables were found on the trousers or on the boots. Not even a speck. Even a sober person would find it impossible to splash petrol and paint thinner around a room without leaving a trace on their attire.

Flaws in the State’s Motive

The prosecution’s theory that Kenny started the fire to burn his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend in the flat below makes little sense. Kenny lived with his father in the apartment complex, and he would know that the flats had concrete floors. Fire cannot pass through concrete. Even if the floors were made of wood, fire burns up faster than it burns down, and any fool would know that the fire would be reported before it could possibly torch the flat below. Additionally, as Kenny’s ex-girlfriend testified, she opened her window that hot night. If Kenny wanted to harm her, he could have easily achieved this by throwing a can or bottle of petrol with a burning wick into her room.


Despite the flaws revealed in the prosecution’s ‘theory’ and ‘motive’, it was mainly the circumstantial physical evidence the judges relied on to convict Kenny. It is the flaws of this physical evidence which Kenny’s defence team tried to introduce by requesting the hearing that Judge Corrigan denied.

The Flaws of the Physical Evidence


The forensic tests performed on the carpet that revealed traces of petrol and paint thinner were false.

New tests were performed by America’s leading scientists in the field; Professor Richard Custer and Dr Andrew Armstrong. Two significant results were produced. First, the characteristics left by the fire in the flat were not consistent with arson but with an accident (in addition to the mysterious appearance of smoke in the flat during the weeks preceding the fire, it has also emerged that the child started three separate fires in the weeks preceding her death). Second, the carpet actually contained no ignitable substances at all. The State forensic lab had produced false positives by using defective and archaic techniques. The carpet then, was never splashed with petrol, paint thinner, nor any other flammable substances.


It was the belief that Kenny pulled down the smoke detector which persuaded the judges to sentence him to die. However, no proof was ever submitted by the prosecution showing that Kenny disabled the smoke detector.

On the contrary, months before the trial, Hope’s friend Peggy Villereal , informed Prosecutor Basinger that Hope had been cooking steak before the party on the night of the fire, and that she burnt the meat. Normally, the sensitive smoke detector would have squealed, but Mrs Villereal noticed the smoke detector had been disconnected. This information was never mentioned during Kenny’s trial. Nor was it mentioned that Mrs Villereal also reported that Hope often disconnected the smoke alarm, especially when she smoked drugs in her flat. Hope admitted she smoked drugs in her flat during the party.


Mrs Villereal testified that, during the party, she heard Kenny threaten to burn down the apartment building. However, Mrs Villereal has since recanted her testimony, swearing that, on the stand, she was very nervous and agreed with what she thought the prosecution wanted to hear.

Another person at the party, Robert Dannenburg, testified that he heard Kenny threaten to "blow up" the building. However, it is also apparent that this witness succumbed to the pressure of the trial. Mr Dannenburg had booked a room at the LEE BELL MOTEL three days before trial, and he told the motel manager to send the bill to Basinger at the prosecutor’s office. He then stated that he was living and working in the State of Missouri and did not wish to attend the trial, but that he was only doing so for the sake of the child, because she had been raped.3 It explains the inducement Prosecutor Basinger used to create a hostile witness.

Finally, a Juanita Altimus testified that she was standing beside Kenny when the flat was being gutted, and that he bragged to her, "I did a good job, didn’t I?" However, Kenny was not present when the flat was being gutted. He was in the custody of the police, being questioned about the party and the whereabouts of Hope Collins.


None of the evidence relied upon to support Kenny’s conviction is sound. Neither the prosecution’s "theory", "motive" nor the circumstantial evidence survive scrutiny. Amnesty International’s Piers Bannister, who keeps tabs on America’s death row, said Kenny "has one of the most compelling cases of innocence" human rights campaigners have ever seen.

What can you do?

Offer your support by contacting;

Karen Torley
The Kenny Richey campaign
210 Hamilton Crescent
G72 8TF

Telephone: 0141 400 7229


Let her know that you are willing to lend your voice to the KENNY RICHEY CAMPAIGN. The voices of few can be ignored but can the voices of many?

Requests for the KENNY RICHEY CAMPAIGN newsletter that provides updates on Kenny's case will be honoured.

You can write to Kenny, offering moral support: (email me for address for now)
Kenneth Richey #A194-764
OHIO ******

Please express your views and concerns to:

Governor of Ohio
George Vainovich
77, South High Street
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
Columbus, OHIO

Attoreny General
Betty D. Montgomery
State Office Toer
30 East Broad Street
Columbus, OHIO

Supreme Court of Ohio
30 East Broad Street
Columbus, OHIO

President Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington D C

Embassy of the United States of America
24 Grosvernor Square
London W1A 1AE


One can write to US newspapers of which many have printed articles hostile to Kenny:

Lima News
139 S Oak Street
Ottawa Ohio

Lima News
3515 Elida Rd
Lima Ohio

Putnam County Sentinal
232 East Main Street
Ottawa Ohio

Putnam County Vidette
111 East Sycamore Street
Columbus Grove
Ohio 45830

Liberty Press
107 East Street
Liberty Cener
Ohio 43532

Times Bulletin
700 Fox Road
Van Wert
Ohio 45891

Lespic Messenger Newspaper
134 East Main Street

Bluffton News Publishing
103 North Main Street
Bluffton Ohio

North Baltimore News
114 North Main Street
North Baltimore
Ohio 45872

Blade Regional News Bureau
130 South main Street #215
Bowling Green
Ohio 43402

In the UK you can:

Write to religious leaders, Members of Parliament and Members of European Parliament, urging that they petition the US authorities for a re-trial.

Write to local and national newspapers voicing displeasure at the conduct of the US authorities in this case. Some newspapers that have been instrumental in covering Kenny’s case are:


119 Farrington Road, London EC1R 3ER (David Rose or D Nelson


20 North Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1YT

Regent Court, 70 West Regent Street, Glasgow G2 2QZ (Jim McBeth)


Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, Kensington, London, W8 5TS


40 Anderston Quay, Glasgow


144, Port Dundas Road, Glasgow



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