Sean Richey's father, Kenneth Richey, was on death row when the Baxter man met him for the first time this past year.
The prisoner, whose case has gained international attention suffered a setback Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a decision that erased Richey's conviction and death sentence.
Kenneth Richey has been on death row in Ohio for nearly 20 years. Richey was found guilty of murdering his former girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter, Cynthia Collins, by setting fire to her family home in Ohio. The 1986 trial resulted in the death penalty.
The Supreme Court justices directed an appeals court to reconsider whether Richey was wrongly convicted of the crime.
Sean Richey is confused about case's status.
In a telephone interview Monday, Sean Richey and his mother, Wendy Richey, said they really don't know what to think of the Supreme Court ruling. They said they're confused what exactly will happen next with Kenneth Richey's criminal case. Both said they believe Kenneth Richey is innocent.
Richey, who found out his father was in prison when he was 10 or 11 from his mother, said after the federal appeals court in Ohio threw out the conviction and death sentence against his father in January he went to meet him.
"I've been down there twice," he said. "It was pretty intense. It was exciting."
Richey said he and his father have telephone conversations daily and they are working on getting to know each other.
"We act exactly the same," said Sean Richey. "It's weird. We have the same sense of humor, ideas and the way we view things."
Wendy and Sean Richey have been following the Kenneth Richey case closely. Kenneth Richey has appealed his case to the courts 13 times and has come within an hour of going to the electric chair before he was granted a stay of execution.
The high court, in the six-page Supreme Court ruling Monday, said the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrongly ruled in Kenneth Richey's favor. The lower court had found that Richey received incompetent legal help and that there was no proof he intended to kill the girl.
Prosecutors contend that Richey set the blaze to get even with his former girlfriend, who lived in the same apartment and had a new boyfriend sleeping over.
A divided panel of the 6th Circuit described sloppy police work and raised questions about whether the fire was even arson. Richey was outside the apartment in the northwest Ohio town of Columbus Grove and risked his life to save the 2-year-old, whose nickname was Scootie, the court said.
A documentary raised inconsistencies in the case, prompting a campaign for Richey's release. Pope John Paul II wrote a letter backing his cause, and 150 members of the British Parliament signed a motion backing Richey's claim of innocence after Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to look into the case.
Ohio's Supreme Court lawyer, Douglas Cole, told justices the case was about "federal courts' authority under (the law) to undo state criminal convictions." He said the case was important because courts deal with tens of thousands of appeals every year.
Richey's lawyer, Kenneth Parsigian, said that investigators first said that the fire was caused by a faulty fan, and allowed the apartment manager to gut the building, with carpet and other potential evidence being hauled to the county landfill.
The appeals court had found that Richey's lawyers at trial hired an unqualified forensic expert to investigate the fire and did not adequately challenge the state's handling of the investigation.
Richey grew up in Scotland and became a British citizen while in prison. He had moved to Ohio in the early 1980s to live with his American-born father. Richey held dual U.S. and British citizenship.
Sean Richey was born in October of 1985 in Brainerd.
(This story includes information from The Associated Press.)
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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