Editorial: No harm hearing new testimony in Kankakee burial death case

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// ]]>Jueges J

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// ]]>Judges can’t roll out the welcome mat every time a convict comes up with new testimony.

But the case of Nancy Rish, who wants a new trial after being convicted in the 1987 death of Kankakee’s Stephen Small, appears to be a reasonable exception.

Rish’s former boyfriend, Danny Edwards, says he’s willing to testify that he alone was guilty of the crime, which was horrific. Edwards buried Small alive in a box to hold him for ransom, but an air pipe was so narrow Small suffocated.


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// ]]>Rish was convicted of assisting in the crime. But Edwards, who is serving a life sentence, has filed at least two affidavits in which he takes full blame and says she knew nothing.

Normally, Edwards’ offer to testify wouldn’t carry much weight. He has run out of chances to appeal his sentence, so claiming he acted on his own helps his former girlfriend while not putting himself at any additional legal risk. That kind of testimony is not going to change many minds.

But questions about the extent of Rish’s participation in the crime have been swirling ever since the Chicago Tribune found in 1993 that prosecutors at the original trial had overstated the evidence against her. They suggested she helped buy materials for the burial box and helped bury the box, claims not supported by the evidence. At her trial, they said she made a call to lure Small out of his house, but at Edwards’ trial they said he made the call.

How much the prosecutors’ antics swayed the jury isn’t known, but if Edwards has anything to say that could clarify the facts, it’s worth hearing. His health is failing and this chance may not come again.

Rish clearly was involved to some extent. She drove Edwards to several different pay phones, at which he made ransom calls; picked him up at 3 a.m. at a remote site near where Small was buried, and was in the car when he threw out the window the tape recorder used for the ransom calls. She also lied to police at first about her actions.

Rish, who is serving a life sentence, says she acted unwittingly when she assisted Edwards and says she lied to the police because she was frightened.

At a hearing on Friday, Iroquois County Circuit Judge Gordon Lustfeldt said he will take some time to review the case and hear more arguments before ruling on the post-conviction petition. He might as well let Edwards have his say. At minimum, some lingering doubts could be put to rest.

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