Death Sentence Overturned
J.d. Pooley  /  AP
Kenneth Richey is seen in this Oct. 2 file photo at the Putnam County court house in Ottawa, Ohio.
updated 12/20/2007 5:18:51 PM ET 2007-12-20T22:18:51

A man who spent 20 years on death row before his sentence was overturned was hospitalized Thursday, just hours before he planned to enter a plea that would have freed him.

Ken Richey, 43, had been expected to plead no contest in a court hearing later Thursday and be sentenced to time served in the 1986 death of a toddler in an apartment fire.

His lawyer, Ken Parsigian, said Richey was getting a heart catheter, but he was unsure about his client's medical condition. Personnel at St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima said he was undergoing testing.

"It's serious enough that he clearly won't be available today," Parsigian said. "The good news is thank goodness it happened now, when he was close to a hospital."

Richey had suffered at least one heart attack in jail and had been complaining about his heart hurting a couple weeks ago, said his brother, Steve Richey. He saw a doctor about the pain and was told everything was fine.

"I guess it was the stress. It had to have been," Steve Richey said.

The hearing was postponed until Jan. 8, though Parsigian said it could be held sooner.

Richey takes plea deal
Richey, a U.S.-British citizen whose death sentence was overturned earlier this year, was to have entered no contest pleas to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering, the lawyer said.

Richey was originally convicted of setting a fire that killed 2-year-old Cynthia Collins in 1986. He stayed on death row, once coming within an hour of being executed, until a federal appeals court determined in August that his lawyers mishandled his case. He claimed he had nothing to do with the fire.

The state was set to try him again in March and to seek another death sentence. Instead, Richey had planned to plead no contest to the state's charge that he told the toddler's mother he would baby-sit the girl, but that he didn't and left her in harm's way, Parsigian said.

For Richey, Thursday was supposed to be a day he has dreamed about.

"You've got to try to not lose hope," he said in a November interview. "I got that way myself, almost, a couple of times."

Richey had planned to share a celebratory beer or two with his brother, who still lives in Ohio, before leaving for Scotland on Friday to spend Christmas with his mother.

While Richey's case has generated limited interest in the United States, his name is a familiar one in Britain. He has drawn support from members of the British Parliament and the late Pope John Paul II.

"To be honest we have had one step forward and two steps back in this case and I wondered if this day would ever come," said Scottish lawmaker Alistair Carmichael, who has campaigned for Richey's release.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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