Relatives of an Illinois woman, convicted almost three decades ago for her role in a kidnapping plot in which a well known business man was buried alive, appealed for her clemency before the Illinois Prisoner Review Board in Chicago Tuesday.
Nancy Rish’s family members told the panel that she was stuck in an abusive relationship in 1987 when her boyfriend, Daniel Edwards, hatched the plan to kidnap Kankakee, Illinois businessman Stephen Small and demand a ransom for his release.
"She doesn't have it in her to do something so horrendous," Rish's sister, Lori Guimond, told the review board, according to The Associated Press.
Small was a member of a prominent media family in eastern Illinois and the great-grandson of Len Small, who was Illinois’ governor in the 1920s.
After he was kidnapped, Small was buried alive under several feet of sand in a plywood box. He died when a breathing tube attached to the box failed and his air supply was cut off.
Prosecutors claimed at the time that Rish was aware of Edwards’ plan to demand a ransom for Small and drove her then-boyfriend to numerous pay phones where he made calls to the man’s family demanding money.
She was convicted for her involvement in the crime in 1988 and sentenced to life in prison. She is now 52 and continues to deny that she knew what her boyfriend was doing when she picked him up from a secluded wooded area and drove him to the various pay phones.
“The woman I have become hardly recognizes the naive, insecure, gullible, immature woman I was back in 1987,” Rish wrote in a letter to the review board. “I am asking for mercy, for you to find it in your hearts to give me a second chance to prove myself worthy.”
Rish did not appear before the panel because she is being held at Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Assistant Attorney General Erin O'Connell told the panel Rish should not be released, stressing that a jury found her guilty and that verdict has been upheld on numerous appeals.
“There's been some suggestion that what happened here was horrible,” O’Connell told board members. “But let's be more direct. Stephen Small was buried alive. And he was buried alive because Nancy Rish and Danny Edwards wanted to coerce $1 million from his family.”
No member of Small’s family attended the hearing, but his son, Ramsey Small, wrote a letter to the board saying he wants Rish to be kept in prison.
“Allowing Nancy Rish clemency would be sending a message to society that it's acceptable to commit capital punishment level crimes without consequences,” he wrote. “What guarantees that her release from prison would not result in another crime to my family or others?”
The hearing was Rish’s last chance to appeal for clemency.
The board is expected to vote on the matter in the next couple of months. Based on that vote, the panel will makes it recommendation to Gov. Pat Quinn who will make the final decision. There is no deadline for the governor, who has a backlog of hundreds of clemency petitions, to make the decision.