- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005


An appeals court was wrong to throw out the conviction and death sentence of a U.S.-British citizen in a fire that killed an Ohio toddler, the Supreme Court said yesterday.

The unanimous opinion against Kenneth Richey came in a case that had stirred international attention, including a letter from the late Pope John Paul II and a motion signed by 150 members of the British Parliament.

Yesterday’s unsigned decision was a sharp rebuke to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had said that Richey received incompetent legal help in his trial and that prosecutors needed to prove he intended to kill the child.

The justices said the appeals court made mistakes in both of those holdings, relying in part on evidence that may not have been properly filed. The case returns to the appeals court in Cincinnati.

Prosecutors contend that Richey set the blaze to get even with his former girlfriend, who lived in the same apartment and had a new boyfriend sleeping over. The fire on June 30, 1986, killed 2-year-old Cynthia Collins.

Richey, who grew up in Scotland, moved to Ohio in the early 1980s to live with his American father. He holds dual U.S. and British citizenship.

It was the second death penalty ruling under new Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and more capital punishment appeals are to be argued in the court beginning next week, with the possibility of 4-4 ties because of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s pending retirement.

Last month, the court said that death row inmates do not have a right to a jury trial to determine whether they are mentally retarded. The justices said states may set up their own systems to comply with an earlier high court ruling that barred executions of the mentally retarded.

“These cases are not yet a trend of where things are going,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “The meatier issues are still unpredictable at this point.”

Executions are scheduled during the next few days in Arkansas, Ohio and Virginia, including what is expected to be the 1,000th since the Supreme Court brought back capital punishment in 1976. Unless there are delays, Virginia inmate Robin Lovitt would be the 1,000th inmate to die.

In a separate case, a former FBI translator failed to persuade the court to revive her lawsuit claiming she was fired for reporting possible wrongdoing by other linguists involved in counterterrorism investigations.

The court also rebuffed a request by Sibel Edmonds, 32, and media groups to rule on whether an appellate court improperly held arguments in the case in secret without being asked to do so by either side.

“When courts are sealed, the public may suspect the worst and lose faith in their government simply because they are prohibited access,” wrote lawyers for media groups, including the Associated Press.

In other Supreme Court news yesterday:

• The court refused to overturn a $116 million judgment against the Palestine Liberation Organization in the deaths of a Jewish couple near the West Bank.

• The Bush administration asked the court to throw out a lawsuit that seeks to hold federal agents responsible for driving a computer software company out of business when the owner’s husband was mistakenly targeted in a child pornography investigation.

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