OTTAWA — For nearly three and a half decades the name Kenneth Richey has been part of the fabric of Putnam County.
A cold-blooded killer? A man unjustly prosecuted and convicted who spent 20-plus years on Ohio death row? An international celebrity of sorts who once vowed to wear a kilt in court to celebrate his Scottish heritage or a complex egotist who once told a reporter he was concerned about all the cameras gathered for his trial because “I’m a little overweight … and a little vain.”
A man taunted — needlessly, some say — by Putnam County law enforcement officers after he escaped a date with death? Or simply a man with a penchant for trouble?
Richey has been called many things by many people since his conviction in 1987 for the death of 2-year-old Cynthia Collins in a fire at a Columbus Grove apartment the previous year. Beginning Monday morning in Putnam County Common Pleas Court he will once again be known simply as “the defendant.”
For the third time in those three-plus decades, Richey will have his fate and his freedom determined in a remote courthouse in northwest Ohio. Jury selection begins Monday morning in Ottawa in three separate cases, all of which revolve around alleged threats made by Richey against former Putnam County Prosecuting Attorney and Judge Randall Basinger.
Richey was indicted by a grand jury in October 2019 on three counts of retaliation and single counts of tampering with evidence and violating a protection order, all third-degree felonies. The following month another indictment was returned, charging Richey with two counts of retaliation and one count of violating a protection order. In May of this year he was charged with 12 counts of retaliation, four counts of violation of a protection order and one count of tampering with evidence.
Retired Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Dale Crawford will preside over the trial, which is expected to take at least three days.
It all started in 1986
Richey, whose address is listed in court documents as Columbus but who has spent significant time living in Europe by virtue of his dual U.S.-Scottish citizenship, first appeared in a Putnam County courtroom in 1986 when he was charged with aggravated murder, aggravated arson, child endangering and breaking and entering in the death of Collins in the fire earlier that year. At his 1987 trial Richey was convicted and a three-judge panel sentenced him to death. He spent more than 20 years on death row before being granted a new trial after a federal court ruled he had not received adequate legal representation.
Days before the start of his new trial in Putnam County in December 2007, Richey accepted a deal from prosecutors that ultimately allowed him to walk out of jail a free man. After pleading to attempted involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering counts he was sentenced to 21 years in prison and given credit for time already served.
Putnam County Prosecutor Gary Lammers was ready to retry Richey on charges that once again carried a possible death sentence but instead offered Richey a plea deal after the Ohio Fire Marshal’s Office told him investigators wouldn’t be able to explain to jurors why the fire was arson without having ever been at the scene.
“They could only give their best guesstimate without any degree of scientific certainty,” Lammers told The Lima News at the time. Richey was a free man.
Freedom was short-lived
By August 2018, however, Richey was back behind bars — this time in Scotland, where he was accused of severely beating a 63-year-old man.
According to media accounts at the time, Richey had returned to a hero’s welcome in Edinburgh, where his mother still lived, and had secured exclusive media deals for his story that put the equivalent of about $80,000 in his pocket. By the time of his arrest Richey was reportedly unemployed and living on government support.
While sitting in a Scottish jail, Richey also received some unwanted correspondence from old “friends” in Ohio.
“Welcome back. Your (sic) back where you belong” was the message inside a card delivered to Richey’s cell in Saughton Prison in Edinburgh, Scotland. The note was signed by Roy Sargent and Steve Stechschulte Sr. and bore the return address of the Putnam County Sheriff’s office. Sargent at the time was a deputy with the sheriff’s, while Stechschulte was a lieutenant with the Columbus Grove police department and was one of Richey’s arresting officers.
Inside the card was also a copy of an old newspaper photograph of a smiling Richey as he was led out of the courtroom after being sentenced to death for Collins’ 1986 arson death.
Below it was typed: “ARE YOU STILL SMILING?????”
Back in the USA
In January 2010 Richey was arrested in Minnesota and charged with felony assault in Minnesota for allegedly hitting his 24-year-old son with a baseball bat. The elder Richey was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, terroristic threats and domestic assault. Police said Richey also threatened a police officer and jail staff.
Two years later he once again found himself at odds with the law in Putnam County.
Richey was charged with two third-degree felony counts — retaliation and violating a civil protection order — and he was subsequently arrested in Tupelo, Mississippi, for allegedly leaving a message on Putnam County Clerk of Courts’ Teresa Lammers voicemail that included a threat against Basinger, who had prosecuted Richey at his original trial.
“The threat was something to the effect, ‘Basinger, I’m in Ohio. I’m coming to get you,’” prosecutors said at the time. Richey said he made a phone call to a judge who served as the prosecutor on his case in 1987 only as a joke while he was drinking. He also blamed the detectives who handled his case — Sargent and Stechschulte.
“They were the ones who wouldn’t let it go and they were the ones who initiated contact,” Richey wrote in a letter from jail. In May 2012 he was sentenced to three years in prison on the retaliation charge. In mid-November 2014 he was released from prison, but had three years of probation to serve on American soil.
In a story published in The Columbus Dispatch in February 2017, journalist Alan Johnson wrote that Richey “is 51 but is tired and looks much older. Drinking, smoking, five heart attacks, a stroke, diabetes and spending half your life in prison will do that. Now, the native Scotsman and former death row resident says all he wants to do is go to Great Britain to see his dying mother. And maybe get married to his girlfriend in Scotland.”
“I just want to get back before she passes,” Richey told Johnson. But he still had nine months of parole to serve before he could leave U.S. soil. Richey said parole authorities won’t give him an emergency release to see his mother, who had cancer and severe dementia.
It is unclear if Richey ever made the trip back to Scotland.
One more chapter
The trial that is to begin Monday in Putnam County had originally been scheduled for March but was continued after Richey’s former attorney, public defender Alex Treece, took a job with the prosecuting attorney’s office. Greg Meyer, from the Ohio Public Defenders Office, was appointed to represent Richey.
In motions filed in recent months Richey alleged that Meyer has failed to provide adequate legal representation. Richey asked that a new attorney be appointed but that motion was rejected, as was his request for a change of venue — based on allegations of a jury pool in Putnam County that is biased against him — and a similar motion that the presiding judge step down from the case for alleged but unspecified corrupt activities.
Richey faces decades behind bars if convicted of all the charges against him, but it’s a road he’s been down before.