IMAGE: KENNETH RICHEY
J.D. Pooley  /  AP
Kenneth Richey gets into his attorney's car after being freed Monday outside of the Putnam County Jail in Ottawa, Ohio.
updated 1/8/2008 11:21:23 AM ET 2008-01-08T16:21:23

No longer behind bars, a British citizen who spent 20 years on Ohio’s death row was set to complete his long journey home Tuesday.

Ken Richey, 43, who once came within an hour of being executed, was scheduled to return to Scotland on an evening flight in accordance with a plea deal. He walked free Monday for the first time since 1986, when he was accused of setting a northwest Ohio apartment fire that killed a toddler.

“It’s great to finally be free at long last, and I’m looking forward to going home to Scotland,” Richey said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Before taking off, he was spending the day with his brother in Ohio.

Prosecutors told Richey they were worried about threats against him, his family and attorney said. In Scotland, he plans to stay in Edinburgh with his mother, who he hasn’t seen in more than two decades.

Richey pleaded no contest to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering in a plea deal that allowed him to be sentenced to the 21 years he has already served. Under the terms of the deal, Richey made no admission that he had anything to do with causing the fire that killed 2-year-old Cynthia Collins.

Prosecutors approved the deal after a federal appeals court determined Richey’s lawyers mishandled the case. The court overturned Richey’s conviction and death sentence last year.

Prosecutor Gary Lammers said the passage of time and the appeals court decision would have made it difficult to prove arson.

“We think it’s an appropriate resolution,” he said. “The fact that he served 21-and-a-half years in prison, I don’t think necessarily makes him a victim. If anything, it holds him accountable — if nothing else — for some of the things that he’s responsible for through this entire sordid case.”

Toddler's family livid over deal
Members of the Collins family glared at Richey during Monday’s court session.

Robert Collins, the father of the toddler who died, wishes his daughter “could appeal her death and come back to life,” according to a statement read by victim advocate Shelly Price.

“The situation surrounding the death of my little girl has haunted me for 21 years,” Collins’ said in his statement. “The unthinkable reality of her choking, crawling, crying, and her little lungs filling with smoke has been etched in my mind since her death. It’s an ongoing nightmare.

“I will never have closure now that the outcome has changed.”

Valerie Binkley, Cynthia’s aunt, told the judge she had prepared a six-page statement, but was too emotional to read it. She then turned to Richey and angrily pointed at him.

“I want you to know you fooled nobody — not me, not that baby, not any of these people,” she said. “You will fry in hell.”

Richey had been convicted of charges accusing him of setting a fire at the Columbus Grove apartment complex in June 1986 to get even with his former girlfriend, who lived in the same building as the child who died.

Richey’s new defense team argued that investigators mishandled evidence used to convict him and that experts used unscientific methods to determine that gas or turpentine started the fire.

Richey had turned down every plea deal linking him to the fire. He agreed to plead no contest to charges accusing him of leaving the toddler in harm’s way by failing to baby-sit the child after telling her mother that he would.

He came close to being executed in Ohio’s electric chair in 1994. He had said his good-byes and his head was shaved before a late stay came from an appeals court.

Richey’s name is a familiar one in Britain, where there is no death penalty. He has drawn support from members of the British Parliament and the late Pope John Paul II.

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