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Tearful relatives appealed for clemency Tuesday for an Illinois woman they say was wrongly convicted nearly three decades ago of taking part in in a macabre kidnap-for-ransom plot in which a businessman was lured from his home and buried alive.

Testifying before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in Chicago, Nancy Rish's supporters described her as a woman ensnared in an abusive relationship with the drug dealer who concocted the 1987 kidnapping of Kankakee businessman Stephen Small. They said she knew nothing of her boyfriend's plans even as he had her pick him up from the remote, wooded burial site and drive him between phone booths where he made ransom calls.

Small was buried alive in a plywood box under several feet of sand and suffocated when a crudely fashioned breathing tube running to the surface failed before a ransom could be paid. Rish's boyfriend, Daniel Edwards, told police after his arrest that he acted alone, but he did not say that at trial as he fought to avoid the death penalty. Now, having abandoned his own appeals, Edwards has provided two affidavits stating that he alone committed the crime and concealed his plans from Rish.

This undated photo provided by the Illinois Department of Corrections shows Nancy Rish. After 27 years in prison, Rish, 52, who says she was wrongfully convicted in a notorious Kankakee kidnapping case in 1987, may soon get her chance at freedom when the Illinois Prisoner Review Board hears her petition on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.Illinois Dept. of Corrections via AP

- The Associated Press