Supreme Court issues second decision against death row inmate |

Supreme Court issues second decision against death row inmate

WASHINGTON – 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 Monday in the second death penalty ruling under new Chief Justice John Roberts to go against an inmate.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.More capital punishment appeals are being argued at the court beginning next week, with the possibility of 4-4 ties because of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s pending retirement.Executions are scheduled over 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.Monday’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.A divided panel of the 6th Circuit described sloppy police work and raised questions about whether the fire was even arson. Richey was outside the apartment in the northwest Ohio town of Columbus Grove and risked his life to save the girl, whose nickname was Scootie, the appeals court said.A documentary had raised inconsistencies in the case, prompting a campaign for Richey’s release. The late pope wrote a letter backing his cause, and 150 members of the British Parliament signed a motion backing Richey’s claim of innocence after Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to look into the case.Richey’s attorney, Kenneth Parsigian in Boston, said his client was frustrated by the prospect of facing another year of appeals. “He’s been in jail for 19 1/2 years for a crime he didn’t commit,” Parsigian said.The Supreme Court issued its opinion without hearing arguments, just as it did last month in a case from Arizona. The court said then 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.”The court will hear arguments in two capital cases on Dec. 7, involving Kansas’ death penalty law and rules for evidence convicted murderers can use to try to avoid a death sentence.Because rulings usually take several months, O’Connor will probably not vote in those cases. Tie votes could be broken by O’Connor’s successor. President Bush has nominated appeals court Judge Samuel Alito to replace her.O’Connor has often been the swing vote in death cases, including a 5-4 decision earlier this year that overturned Alito’s appeals court ruling against a Pennsylvania inmate.The Monday case was Bradshaw v. Richey, 05-101.—On the Net:Supreme Court:

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