Judge orders killer released on compassionate grounds
Richard Keech, 89, was serving a life term for shooting his son-in-law to death in Long Beach in 1996. He suffers from dementia. The judge says there’s no obvious benefit to his further imprisonment.
By Victoria Kim
10:06 PM PDT, October 5, 2009
In a quiet residential neighborhood in Long Beach 13 years ago, Dick Keech fired four shots at his son-in-law, who lay face-down on a neighbor’s lawn, bleeding from an earlier gunshot wound.
“It’s all over,” he said later to a neighbor who ran out at the sound. “He won’t bother anyone anymore.”
On Monday, a Long Beach judge said he would grant Keech, 89, the compassion he did not show his 47-year-old son-in-law, Nick Candy, at the time of the killing in 1996. Judge William T. Garner ordered Keech, who was serving a life term for murder, released on grounds that he is medically incapacitated. The World War II veteran suffers from progressive dementia and an accompanying “sundowning” syndrome causing severe confusion, depression and terror, according to a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation report recommending his release. He has difficulty swallowing, spends most of his days confined to his bed or his geriatric chair, and is unable to do anything on his own, the report said.
“Given all the circumstances, I believe it is time to exercise compassion now,” said Garner, who presided over Keech’s original case and was brought out of retirement to hear Monday’s arguments. “For him to spend his remaining time in prison will be expensive to taxpayers with no obvious benefit.” Keech was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 35 years to life in prison for the death of Candy, who was in the middle of a messy divorce and a child-custody dispute with Keech’s daughter, Nancy.
During his trial, Keech’s attorneys argued that the stress of having been a prisoner of war decades earlier caused him to snap when he shot Candy during an argument, followed him down the street and shot him four more times on a neighbor’s lawn. He was on “autopilot,” believing that he was firing at Japanese soldiers, his attorneys argued at the time.
At Monday’s hearing, Paul Mones, Keech’s attorney, asked the judge to consider that the May 21, 1996, murder was a one-time crime by an otherwise stable, upstanding man.
“Up until that tragic, tragic day, Mr. Keech lived a law-abiding life,” Mones said. “This homicide was not the product of a long history of a sociopath.”
But a prosecutor argued that the 12 years Keech has served so far for his crime were far from sufficient punishment for the cruel, calculated crime he committed.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Laurie Trammell-Castaneda, citing a letter written by Keech to one of his supporters, said Keech continued to be proud of his decision to kill.
“He hunted the victim down in the street like an animal, and he would not stop until he was dead,” Trammell-Castaneda told the judge. “When it was over he was relieved. His problem was solved.”
Garner told a courtroom packed with Keech’s family and supporters that the veteran’s belief that he was acting in defense of his daughter was not supported by evidence and that there was nothing noble about Keech’s acts.
But he said that given Keech’s age and medical condition, further imprisonment would serve no purpose.
“It’s a miracle,” Nancy Keech said after the hearing, hugging and kissing relatives and friends. She said she would fly to Susanville, Calif., where her father has been housed at the High Desert State Prison, to bring him home.
She said she planned on bringing food from her father’s favorite restaurant in Long Beach so that he would be able to smell it even though he is no longer able to eat anything other than thickened liquids.
Her 15-year-old son, Martin, who was an infant at the time of the killing, teared up at the judge’s ruling.
“It gives us closure,” he said of his grandfather’s pending release.
Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times
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