Kenny Richey is proof that the death penalty doesn't need to be carried out to destroy a life
The Scot has considered suicide more often in the past week than during his time in jail
Friday January 18, 2008
Kenny Richey, the 43-year-old Scotsman who returned home 10 days ago after 21 years on death row in the US, says he has never been more miserable than since he was let out. In a BBC interview, he reveals that he has considered suicide more often in the past week than during all his time in an American jail. He says that in Scotland he feels "left behind" by a world that has "moved on", and that he is finding it hard to fit in. "So much has changed - even the scenery," he says. "This is a society that has grown up without me."
Richey has always protested his innocence of causing the death of a two-year-old girl, killed in an alleged arson attack in Ohio on the house of his former girlfriend and her lover in 1986. I believe in his innocence, since he even refused a plea bargain that would have changed his conviction from murder to manslaughter and reduced his sentence from death to 11 years. As a result, he once came within an hour of being executed.
Yet even this horror pales before what he has endured since becoming a free man again. This may seem extraordinary, but it is a well-documented fact that his experience is far from unique. In the great controversy that continues to rage in America about the death penalty - that great blot on the country's reputation for humanity and human rights - the plight of those on death row who are eventually released is almost totally overlooked.
They may have been spared the terrible finality of lethal injection or the electric chair, but nevertheless they have had to spend years in prison expecting it, dreading it and preparing for it. Then, all of a sudden, when doubt as to their guilt is grudgingly recognised by the authorities, they are suddenly set free. But to what? Not to a normal life, but to broken marriages, unemployment and social ostracism.
In America, state governments that have spent millions of dollars trying to get them executed offer them almost no help or support. The most they may get is the standard "gate money" of between $10 and $200, which is given to all prisoners upon release.
It has repeatedly been shown that the death penalty doesn't have to be carried out to rob people of their lives. Richey, it seems, is one such victim. Asked if he feels bitter, he replies: "They took 21-and-a-half years of my life for something I didn't do. Of course I'm bitter. Who wouldn't be?" It is terribly sad.