In October 1993, Goodwin Procter agreed to represent Kenneth Richey, a dual citizen of Britain and the United States who was on death row in Ohio. Ken was convicted of aggravated murder for the death of a two-year-old girl by arson. As the only Briton on death row in the United States, Ken gained international attention. In late 2007, after nearly 15 years of post-conviction battles, volunteer attorneys from Goodwin Procter secured his release, and he was able to return home.
The scientific evidence at Ken’s trial was highly suspect. During trial, the State entered into evidence six samples of debris from the fire that were likely contaminated by improper collection procedures. Post-conviction investigation revealed that the fire marshal’s office had allowed the building’s owners to clean up the apartment. As a result, the samples had to be retrieved from a garbage dump. Compounding these problems, the samples were placed in the parking lot of the sheriff’s department—about 40 feet from gasoline pumps—for three weeks before they were taken to the state arson lab for testing. These facts called into question the integrity of evidence from Ken’s trial. The evidence was doubly suspect given that no traces of accelerants were present on the clothing and boots that Ken wore or the bandage that covered his broken hand.
In 1993, after the Ohio Supreme Court upheld Ken’s conviction in a 4-3 decision, Goodwin Procter agreed to represent Ken. They reinvestigated the crime and hired new scientific experts. Ken’s volunteer attorneys submitted an affidavit from a witness recanting her trial testimony that she had heard Ken threaten to burn down the apartment building. The witness also recalled in her affidavit how the girl who died in the fire often played with matches and lighters, once placing a lit cigarette between sofa cushions and twice setting fire to her bed. A specialist in fire reconstruction hired by Ken’s volunteer attorneys testified that the burn pattern at the apartment could have resulted from a fire that occurred accidentally and that the state fire marshal’s theory was not supported by the physical evidence.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the court-appointed attorneys who represented Ken at trial were ineffective and that there was evidence they could have presented that the fire was accidental rather than intentionally set. The State’s scientific evidence went unchallenged at trial because Ken’s attorney hired an expert who had no accreditations in arson or fire investigations and who failed to perform any independent testing of the samples. The trial attorney also failed to interview or cross-examine the fire marshal when he testified for the prosecution. The court ordered the State to either retry Ken or release him.
Rather than retrying Ken, the State offered a plea of no-contest to charges of involuntary manslaughter, child endangering, and breaking and entering, and Ken was sentenced to time already served. He was released from prison and returned home to Scotland after 20 years on death row. He continues to maintain his innocence.