The Paparazzi Kid proves he’s not immune to Richey Death Row mania either

Electric ChairAccording to former Scotsman picture editor Steve Walker, I have an unhealthy obsession with the story of Kenny Richey and his escape from Death Row.

Steve, who later went on to run a successful paparazzi picture agency, berated me about my Richey fixation when I bumped into him on the school run this morning, having read a couple of my previous posts on the issue.

Then, as if to prove the case has an inescapable pull on journalists from Edinburgh of a certain vintage, he came over all misty eyed to share with me his own memories and experiences of covering the Richey case in the early 1990s.

Young Swalks had just finished a spell at Radio Froth when he headed South shortly after meeting the woman who was to become his wife and mother to his two boys. At that point Gill was a nurse in Brighton, so it made perfect sense for Swalks to up sticks and try his luck in London.

Promptly he found himself working at the Mail on Sunday. Despite the rather unusual accent he’d adopted during his radio career, bosses at the MoS somehow still managed to work out he was Scottish. So he was promptly dispatched to the “Jock Box”, a wee executive office populated by two Scottish journalistic legends, Ian Walker (no relation) and Alan Cochrane, now the Daily Telegraph’s political man in Scotland.

Walker, who died tragically in a mountain accident, was the man charged with covering the Richey case and set about it with gusto. This week Swalks has been Googling furiously in an effort to find the piece written by Ian back in 1992, as he assures me it begins with the chessy line: This is a story which has to be told…

The main point Swalks was making is that Ian Walker, a man who’d covered global events including Black September, was convinced of Richey’s innocence.

I’ve already said I suspect he probably was involved in starting the fire which killed a two-year-old girl. But I’m no fan of the US death penalty (read here for a scandal about the US capital of state-sanctioned murder – it’s a postcode lottery) and as far as I’m concerned Richey has served his time and paid his debt to society.

Which raises two points:

Firstly, I’d welcome comments from readers about whether they think Richey was innocent or guilty. It’s easy enough to leave a reply and it would be an interesting straw poll.

And I wonder if some kind soul at the the MoS might search the paper’s cutting system for that piece written by Ian Walker all those years ago – and forward me a copy so I can put Swalks out of his Google Search-hell misery?


Now what do we know about Death Row? Only that it’s deathly dull.

Freed RicheyHaving paid a hefty wedge of cash to persuade reprieved Kenny Richey to tell all about his 21 years on Death Row in America, the Scottish Mail On Sunday were no doubt hoping for some story dynamite.

They must have been sadly disappointed by what they got.

The simple facts are these: Kenny Richey’s last days as a free man were spent as a booze and drug-addled miscreant with a penchant for petty crime.

The only case I can think of where such a seedy and unsavoury existence has been worth reading about was the case of James Ellroy. Except he was driven to drugs and robbing houses by the murder of his mother while he was still in junior school. And was almost driven insanse by his obsession over the parallels between her death and the celebrated case of the Black Dahlia.

Ellroy also disovered a rare talent for writing which was to prove his salvation while he was in and out of jail. Not to mention that his misdemeanours – and near Damascene conversion – were played out against the backdrop of glamour and broken dreams that is Hollywood and Los Angeles (not the mundane, middle America of Bumf*ck, Ohio).

Kenny Richey, on the other hand, had no such colourful or grisly early life trauma to blame for his casually criminal and anti-social behaviour. Nor did he discover any prodigious -but previously hidden talent – while serving his time.

Indeed, he seems to have been confined to a concrete box not much bigger than a coffin with only his own drearily ordinary thoughts for company for the best part of two decades.

All of which means poor old Kenny is a bit of a dull lad and that the Mail On Sunday’s exclusive (which, rumour has it, cost them the thick end of £15,000), was a bit of a yawn.

No slight intended on the talents of the paper’s stalwart writers Jane Simpson and Patricia Kane, who had the unenviable job of trying to turn this into a riveting middle market read.

This story was all wrong for the Mail on Sunday demographic. It started out with jakeys, junkies and jobless white trash. Richey as the central character is unsympathetic and difficult to warm to. The alleged miscarriage of justice simply isn’t strong enough to light a fire of righteous indignation in anybody’s belly.

Finally, and most tellingly, pretty much nothing of great interest happened in 21 years. Death Row, it would seem, is a pretty dull place. Sure, Richey had his head shaved, ordered his last meal and was an hour away from Ol’ Sparky, but that has been well-documented.

If the Daily Mail hoped the decades of soul-searching meant Richey was going to come up with a searingly poignant account of his time, they were sadly mistaken.

There is also no doubt that Richey has come out the other end of a rigidly institutional existence, cruelly calculated to be as unedifying as possible. In the hands of a Pulitzer writer with the time and access to chronicle Richey coming to terms with his new life, this may one day make a compelling story. It would be helped by the redemptive quality that would come from either a complete exoneration – or a final admission of guilt.

At the moment though it is a pile of old tosh. And the Mail on Sunday wasted their money.

What finally soured the whole story for me though was the news that Richey is now  to remarry the wife who left him two years before he was jailed and who he has barely seen since. Bumf*ck, Ohio, indeed.