Former death row inmate threatens judge, police say

Friday , January 20, 2012 - 11:49 AM

Jennifer Feehan, Jim Provance

OTTAWA, Ohio -- Kenneth Richey spent two decades on Ohio's death row after his conviction for setting a fire that killed a 2-year-old girl. Now, less than four years after he was freed, he is charged with threatening a judge.

Kenneth Richey, 47, now of Tupelo, Miss., will be back in court to face felony charges of retaliation and violating a protection order for allegedly making a threatening phone call to a judge.

"On New Year's Eve day he made a phone call, left a message -- I can't give you the direct quote -- but it was directed toward the judge," Randall Basinger, a Common Pleas Judge, said Putnam, Ohio, County Sheriff James Beutler.

Clerk of Courts Teresa Lammers said the message was left on her office phone and she immediately played it for the judge and alerted the prosecutor.

The sheriff's office along with the FBI and Tupelo, Miss., police investigated the incident, which led to Richey's indictment Jan. 13 by a Putnam County grand jury and his arrest in Tupelo on Tuesday. He is being held without bond in the Lee County jail in Tupelo.

Richey had been prohibited by a court order from contacting Basinger and 20 other individuals associated with his case in some way over the years.

A civil protection order imposed with the 2008 plea agreement that led to his freedom that year stated that Richey, who had been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder, had made repeated threats over 21 years, including a threat to "cut the throat" of Basinger, who was an assistant county prosecutor when the case began in 1986.

The judge could not be reached for comment Thursday.

In 2008, a federal appeals court overturned Richey's conviction for aggravated murder in the 1986 death of Columbus Grove, Ohio girl Cynthia Collins. After finding problems with the arson evidence that led to his 1987 conviction and death sentence, the court ordered a new trial in Putnam County.

Rather than go to trial, Richey pleaded no contest and was convicted of attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, and breaking and entering. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison and given credit for time served.

A dual U.S. and Scottish citizen, Richey initially returned to his native Scotland but soon got into scrapes with the law there.

Ken Parsigian, the Boston attorney who worked to overturn Richey's conviction, said he has been in contact with his former client three to four times a year since his release. He's offered legal advice but has not represented Richey since 2008 and has not been asked to represent him in his latest troubles.

"I've tried to help him find work," he said. "As I told him, a job gives structure to a life. I went to a lot of effort to help him find work. I got other people involved. But it's hard for anybody to find work these days. He had limited skills. He'd been in jail for the better part of his adult life."

Parsigian said he hopes that Richey will get fair treatment in Putnam County, where many involved in the system are very aware of him.

County Prosecutor Gary Lammers could not be reached Thursday, but Beutler dismissed any suggestion that his county is playing hardball with Richey.

"We're not out to get him. He's the one who initiated the call," the sheriff said. "If he hadn't made the call, we wouldn't have done what we did. ... I don't care who you are. You make calls like that, you're subject to arrest."

Karen Torley of Glasgow, Scotland, who worked for years to bring Richey's death row tenure to the attention of the United Kingdom, said Richey can be his own worst enemy.

"He has had a difficult time adjusting, but Kenny doesn't do himself any favors," she said. "He acts before he thinks. ... He was supposed to be in rehab. He was off drink. He was doing well. ... How many chances has he had?"

Richey returned to a celebrity's welcome and paid media interviews in Edinburgh, Scotland, after his release in 2008, but it wasn't long before he ran into trouble again. He was back behind bars later that year after being accused of assaulting a 63-year-old man. Those charges were dropped.

He later returned to the United States to visit his dying father near Seattle and remained here. He reunited for a time with his ex-wife in Minnesota and was later charged there with assaulting his son with a baseball bat.

Beutler said Minnesota officials have active felony warrants for Richey but have chosen not to extradite him to their state.

"He can be a difficult individual," the sheriff said.

(Contact reporter Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)

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