Imprisoned: The Man with a Cigarette. Kenny Richey, 21 years on death row for a child murder he denies

Kenny Richey was on death row for 21 years, with his life hanging by a judicial thread. On 13 separate occasions, he was told the exact date and time when he would die in an electric chair. The schedule was frequently changed according to how his appeal hearings concluded.

Kenny Richey on death row in Ohio
Richey was 21 when he was charged with the child's murder.

“I spent 21 and a half years on death row for a crime I didn’t commit,” he says. Richey was convicted in 1986 of murdering two-year-old Cynthia Collins by starting a fire at her home in Columbus Grove, Ohio.

Witnesses told the court they heard Richey at a party threatening to burn the apartment complex where his ex-girlfriend lived. Prosecutors claimed he attempted to kill the woman and her new boyfriend in the apartment below Cynthia’s and took advantage of the fact that he knew the toddler had been left on her own.

Kenny Richey convicted of child murder released after 21 years on death row in Ohio
Kenny Richey stands in front of the Old Farm Village apartment complex, where Cynthia Collins died in the fire. “It’s where the fire started and where my life ended,” he says poignantly.

Richey insisted he was innocent and that the trial was a farce. His lawyers submitted multiple appeals over the years, requesting a review of his case due to errors in the investigation. Scottish-born Richey's trial attracted the attention of UK human rights organisation, Reprieve. Amnesty International and Pope John Paul II also took an interest, urging the Ohio state authorities to look at fresh evidence that could cast doubt on Richey’s guilt.

In 2007, Richey accepted a plea bargain and was released. Still, the years he lost in prison awaiting death have left him damaged. Richey tried to “make up for that,” but he “got knocked back every time”. The ex-con now lives in a tent in a forest and has no regular job. Richey has recently been accused of threatening a lawyer who prosecuted his case in the 1980s. 

Karen Richey ex-wife of Kenny Richey
Karen married Richey three years after his release. “I had no idea what I was getting into,” Karen Richey says. “I thought, I am married to Satan himself!”

Episode two tells Richey’s story, as he revisits the alleged crime scene and recalls that fatal night and his narrow escape from death row. We also meet his ex-wife, Karen Richey, who says she is a psychic and claims that Richey confessed to her that he started the fire with a cigarette.