Woman doing life in buried-alive killing of Kankakee media heir Stephen Small goes free

Nancy Rish, 60, won a reduction of her life sentence for murder earlier this month and was paroled Thursday. She says she drove Small’s kidnapper because he threatened her and her son but didn’t know he planned to bury Small in a wooden box.

SHARE Woman doing life in buried-alive killing of Kankakee media heir Stephen Small goes free
Nancy Rish (right) with Margaret Byrne, one of her lawyers, after being released from prison Thursday morning.

Nancy Rish (right) with Margaret Byrne, one of her lawyers, after being released from prison Thursday morning.

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Nancy Rish — doing a life sentence in prison for being an accomplice in the killing of Stephen Small, a Kankakee businessman buried alive in 1987 — walked out of prison Thursday.

Earlier this month, a Kankakee County judge cut Rish’s life sentence to 70 years with the possibility of parole.

Her lawyers Steven Becker and Margaret Byrne had asked to reduce her prison term based on a 2015 change in state law that allows people convicted of felonies to challenge their sentences if they can prove their crimes were linked to them being the victims of domestic abuse.

Rish, 60, was paroled Thursday, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul opposed her earlier efforts to get out of prison but agreed to the reduced sentence.

At her Feb. 1 resentencing hearing, Rish apologized to Small’s family, saying the day he was kidnapped was “the most horrendous day of my life.”

“I did not knowingly participate in the murder of Mr. Small,” she said. “However, I do know I am responsible for my actions.”

Small’s family didn’t object to the reduced sentence. He was an heir to a media fortune and the great-grandson of Len Small, who was Illinois governor from 1921 to 1929.

Stephen Small was a next-door neighbor of former Gov. George Ryan and, as a boy, used to mow Ryan’s grass, according to a Washington Post story about Ryan. Small drove a sports car and was busy renovating a Frank Lloyd Wright home, the story said.

Danny Edwards.

Danny Edwards.

Illinois Department of Corrections

Rish’s ex-boyfriend Danny Edwards, 62, is serving a life sentence after being convicted of kidnapping Small and seeking a $1 million ransom from his family. Small was buried in a wooden box equipped with an air pipe, but he suffocated.

Rish, who drove Edwards before and after the kidnapping, said she wasn’t aware of his plan.

Danny Edwards in 2003 in the Pontiac Correctional Institution after his death sentence was commuted by Gov. George Ryan to life in prison.

Danny Edwards in 2003 in the Pontiac Correctional Institution after his death sentence was commuted by Gov. George Ryan to life in prison.

AP

In 2015, Edwards gave a deposition detailing his involvement in the crime and his threats to Rish to force her to drive him and pick him up, saying he’d shoot her and her young son if she didn’t comply, Rish’sattorneys said.

As a state senator, Raoul co-sponsored the 2015 change in the law that allowed Rish to seek a reduced sentence. But his office initially opposed Rish’s request for a new sentencing hearing, saying her life term was based on the “horrific nature of the crime in which [she] played an integral part.”

Rish’s lawyers said her conduct over her more than three decades behind bars shows she’s “not a cruel person.”

“She has used these many years to help others, to urge other women to go to school, to go to church, to get training and to avail themselves of the programing that is available,” they said in a written statement. “Despite being convicted of a heinous crime she did not knowingly commit, she has not given up, she has not wasted these years, she has tried to use them for good.”

Nancy Rish (left) with her sister Lori Guimond shortly after her release Thursday.

Nancy Rish (left) with her sister Lori Guimond shortly after her release Thursday.

Provided

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