Kenny Collins is taken off death row

By: Mike Stark

On February 5, Maryland Judge Daniel Long removed inmate Kenny Collins from death row. Long declared that Kenny’s original trial lawyer failed to represent him adequately during the sentencing phase of his original 1988 trial.

This reversal, in effect an admission that Kenny has spent the last 16 years under an illegal death sentence, is a blow to Maryland’s death penalty system and a victory for activists and attorneys who have been fighting to prove Kenny’s innocence.

Far from having a change of heart, the judge’s hand was forced after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of Maryland death row inmate Kevin Wiggins. In both Wiggins’ and Collins’ cases, their attorneys failed to conduct an investigation, prepare arguments or call witnesses for their clients during the sentencing phase of trial.

In the past, Maryland courts have ignored such outrages if the trial attorneys claimed these failures were part of some deliberate strategy. However, in Wiggins’ case, the U.S. Supreme Court pointed out that strategic legal decisions only occur when attorneys know the facts--not when they don’t bother to investigate them.

The fight for justice in Kenny’s case is far from over. Kenny has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Convicted without eyewitnesses, physical evidence or a confession, the case against Kenny rests on the testimony of the man originally arrested for the crime, Tony Michie, and his cousin, Andre Thorpe.

Two years ago, in the aftermath of the successful effort to take Eugene Colvin-El off death row, Thorpe came forward to admit in a taped interview that he had lied at trial to protect his cousin. Despite this dramatic new evidence, Judge Long denied Kenny’s request for a new trial and instead, after removing the death sentence, re-sentenced Kenny to life in prison.

Kenny Collins is a longtime friend of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and a fierce opponent of the death penalty.

While Kenny is no longer on death row, he is still a victim of Maryland’s racist criminal (in)justice system. As Kenny himself recently said, "This [victory] means we need to continue the fight at a different level." We must continue the struggle until we free Kenny Collins!