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A woman who was convicted for the 1987 murder of a businessman is about to be released from prison after proving she was a victim of intimate partner violence.
Nancy Rish, 59, was handed a life sentence for the kidnapping and murder of Stephen Small of Kankakee, Illinois, according to CBS Chicago. But the creation of a 2016 law allowed Rish to challenge her sentence, providing she was a victim of domestic violence.
“I did not knowingly participate in this crime that took the life of Stephen Small,” Rish said on Tuesday. “However, I do take responsibility for my actions.”
Rish’s defense petitioned the courts in 2017, arguing that Rish’s then-boyfriend, Danny Edwards, threatened to kill her and her son if she didn’t participate in his kidnapping scheme, according to the Chicago Tribune. Danny Edwards was sentenced to death for Small’s murder before his punishment was commuted to a life term.
The appellate court ruled in Rish’s favor when her attorney, Margaret Byrne, claimed Edwards forced Rish to drive him to the crime scene without telling her why, according to CBS Chicago.
“The reason she followed his order to pick him up in the middle of the night at an odd location was that he had threatened to kill her 8-year-old son,” said Byrne. “He had a gun. She believed he would do that.”
Stephen Small was a prominent figure in the state as the heir to a media fortune and the grandson of Len Small, who served as Illinois governor from 1921 to 1929, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Danny Edwards was a small-time drug dealer who plotted to kidnap Small before taking him to a rural area outside Chicago. According to prosecutors, Edwards had hopes of collecting a $1 million ransom from the Small family.
Edwards outfitted a 6-by-3-foot wooden box that contained an air pipe and buried Small alive, according to the Chicago Tribune. As Edwards tried in vain to contact the Small family and demand the ransom, Small suffocated and died.
Police used phone-tracing devices and surveillance to capture Rish and Edwards days after the murder.
“I hold so much grief and sorrow for his family and his loved ones to this very day,” Rish said on Tuesday. “My most sincere and deepest apology for the most regrettable mistake of my life.”
The Office Of Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul, who co-sponsored a 2015 measure to lighten the sentences of domestic violence victims when he was still a senator, spoke out against Rish’s resentencing, as stated to Oxygen.com.
"As we informed the court at the sentencing hearing, a 70-year extended sentence is justified by the brutality of the crime in which Nancy Rish played a key role," Senior Press Secretary Annie Thompson wrote in an email to Oxygen.com. "It also accounts for the significant evidence in mitigation she has amassed in the 34 years since, and her demonstrated efforts to rehabilitate herself."
On the other hand, defense attorney Byrne cited experts who agreed that the “effects of domestic violence last a lifetime.”
“She’s a good person. She’s moral. She’s honest. She’s decent, and this guy was a conniving drug dealer who was looking to make money quickly,” Byrne said, according to the Tribune. “The domestic abuse that she suffered throughout her life, including Edwards, is highly relevant.”
Kankakee County Associate Judge Brenda Claudio ordered that both of Rish’s 1988 sentences – 70 years for murder and 30 years for kidnapping – be served concurrently and reduced by 50 percent, according to the Daily Journal. CBS Chicago reported she is expected to be released later this year.
The Attorney General’s Office said the Small family didn’t object to Tuesday’s ruling, according to the Daily Journal. Nancy Rish will be on parole for three years after her release.
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