Lovells acts for 200 UK MPs to overturn death sentence

A death row prisoner who was once only an hour away from execution will now be either set free or retried following a three-year campaign by Lovells.

The firm acted on a pro bono basis as UK lawyers for the prisoner, Kenny Richey, as well as for his partner Karen Torley and for 200 English and Scottish MPs who intervened as amicus curiae (friends of the court) in the case.

The ruling was handed down by the Court of Appeal in Ohio. It challenged his conviction in the same US state 18 years earlier for murdering a two-year-old by setting a fire. The state of Ohio now has 90 days to decide whether to release or retry Richey.

The US case went to the heart of UK politics. Lovells successfully challenged a former rule in UK law that barred intervention by the UK Government on behalf of death row prisoners who are not UK citizens. It was this challenge that initiated the entry of the 200 MPs into the case. The rule stated that someone can only become a UK citizen if they have a father of that nationality. Richey, who had spent most of his life in Scotland and has a Scottish mother, had an American father.

After lobbying by Lovells and the anti-capital punishment charity Reprieve, the UK Government agreed to amend its Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to enable those with either a UK mother or father to become a UK citizen. As a result, the UK Government, in the form of the MPs, was able to intervene.

Lovells drew up a single amicus curiae brief on behalf of all the MPs. The firm was instructed by the Law Society for this part of the case.

The Ohio Court of Appeal slammed the conduct of Richey’s lawyers during the initial prosecution. It found they had “failed to grasp that the state did not prove, and indeed had not attempted to prove, that Richey specifically intended to cause the death of the child”.

It also cited seven reasons why the lawyers’ conduct had prejudiced the trial. These included their failure to hire a competent expert witness to challenge the states’ evidence that the fire that had killed the two-year-old had been caused deliberately, and their “failure to take even basic steps” to analyse the findings of Richey’s own expert evidence.

Richey instructed new US lawyers from East Coast firm Goodwin Procter, which also acted pro bono, for his appeal hearing.
Amnesty International commented that it was the “most compelling case of innocence it had ever seen”.

Lovells pro bono manager Yasmin Waljee, who acted in the case alongside the firm’s US lawyer Adam Goodman, said: “We’re very pleased a court has recognised that the court had problems with evidence at trial.” However, she added that the “situation is not over”, as the state may now appeal the Ohio Court of Appeal’s ruling, although so far this has not been the case.

Barristers Hugh Southey, a tenant at Michael Mansfield QC’s Tooks Court Chambers, and Scottish advocate Mungo Bovey QC assisted Lovells on a pro bono basis.