Former Marine finally getting off death row
By John Seewer - The Associated Press
Posted : Monday Jan 7, 2008 15:36:25 EST

TOLEDO, Ohio — For two decades, Ken Richey sat in a cell on death row and dreamed about clearing his name and getting out of prison.

Now that it’s about to happen, he’s not sure what he’ll do next. He has a few plans, including trying out new video games and living in Scotland with his mother.

“The world has changed and left me behind,” he said in a November interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Richey is close to walking free for the first time since 1987.

An appeals court last year overturned his conviction for setting a fire that killed a toddler in 1986, and he has agreed to enter a plea deal Monday that will allow him to accept a sentence of time already served, his attorney said.

Those years behind bars will certainly shape his life outside prison when he is released.

But so will his years that came before he was convicted when he was a Marine, a young father and a bit of a brawler. He still carries a love for the Marine Corps and a chip on his shoulder.

“I was always a tough guy,” he said. “I never bullied anyone. I couldn’t stand bullies, but I always stood my ground.”

Richey was born in the Netherlands to a Scottish mother and an American serviceman. They later divorced and Richey grew up in Edinburgh until he moved to the United States when he was 18.

He joined the Marines in 1984, he said, because he was impressed by the uniform. “It was the greatest thing I did in my life,” he said.

He wanted to make a career out of the military, but his service ended early after he got into a dispute with a sergeant.

Richey also married while he was in the Marines but it ended in 1986. The couple had a son, Sean, who was born just a few months before the fatal fire that he was accused of starting.

He had only four months of memories with his son before he went to prison and has only recently reunited with Sean, who is now 22.

He remembers singing Elvis Presley tunes to his son and splashing around in a bathtub.

“That’s something that’s been stolen from me,” he said. “It’s something that destroys my soul, never being able to be a dad.”

Richey had no pictures of his son in prison and could only imagine what he looked like and what he was doing. “He’s a lot taller than I expected,” Richey said.

They talk weekly now.

“I don’t know what to say sometimes,” Richey said. “Where do you start?”

Out of work and his marriage over, Richey was living with his father in Columbus Grove, a farming village in northwest Ohio.

He felt like an outsider. “I didn’t really have any friends there,” he said.

Richey was drinking the night of the fire with neighbors at the apartment complex where he lived. Some said he was angry with a former girlfriend who had brought around a new guy.

At his trial, a neighbor said he threatened to burn down the apartment complex.

Prosecutors said he set the fire in June 1986 to get even with his former girlfriend, who lived in the same building as the 2-year-old girl who died.

Richey was convicted and sentenced to death. He became a British citizen while in prison because his mother is Scottish.

His supporters thought it would help his case because there are more death penalty opponents in Britain. Several members of the British Parliament have voiced support for his release.

During his appeals, his new lawyers began questioning the evidence used to convict him.

They contended that investigators mishandled evidence and that experts used nonscientific methods to determine that gas or turpentine started the fire.

His attorney also said it was hard to believe that Richey, who was drunk and had his arm in a sling on the night of the fire, could have carried gas canisters and climbed onto a balcony, as prosecutors alleged at his trial.

In 2005, an appeals court sided with Richey and said he should be retried or released. Two years later, the court reaffirmed its decision.

The state was set to try him again in March and seek another death sentence until prosecutors reached a deal with Richey.

He agreed to plead no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering, and breaking and entering. But the plea doesn’t connect him with starting the fire.

Richey plans to leave for Scotland on Tuesday and staying with his mother in Edinburgh. He’s said wants to write a book, speak out against the death penalty and play video games.

“I’m going to spend a fortune on video games,” he said.