KANKAKEE — A judge will announce on July 26 whether he will order a new sentencing hearing for Nancy Rish for her role in the 1987 killing of Kankakee businessman Stephen A. Small.
Rish’s attorneys, Margaret Byrne and Steven Becker, and Assistant Illinois Attorney General Erin O’Connell argued before Judge Michael Sabol in Kankakee County court on Monday.
“We’re waiting for a wrong to be right,” Rish’s sister, Lori Guimond, said after the 25-minute hearing. Guimond said she visited her sister two weeks ago, and she is staying positive. Rish has been in prison almost 32 years.
Byrne said Rish has been incarcerated “too long.”
Becker said Rish helps teach service dogs and is a trustee at the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln. Rish was brought back to Kankakee for a hearing in 2015.
Rish, now 57, was found guilty of kidnapping and murder as an accomplice with her then-boyfriend Danny Edwards. He was convicted and sentenced to death for plotting to extort $1 million from Small. His sentence was commuted to life when the death penalty was abolished by then-Gov. George Ryan.
Small’s body was found in a box built by Edwards. Inadequate ventilation led to Small suffocating.
Rish has maintained she did not know what Edwards was doing and that she just drove him to different places.
According to court documents, Rish is not arguing her murder conviction, but rather her life sentence should be reduced.
This request is based on an Illinois law amended in 2015 that benefits people who can show their crimes were related to being abused.
Those seeking a new sentence have to show no evidence of domestic abuse had been presented at the original sentencing. Also, the evidence would have likely changed the sentence handed down by the trial judge.
Byrne and Becker argued in their motion that Rish unwillingly participated in Edwards’ scheme because of his physical abuse and intimidation.
In a videotaped interview, Edwards said Rish was not an accomplice and that he had battered her and threatened her on several occasions during their relationship.
In documents, the state said Rish brought up the physical and mental abuse from Edwards when she testified at her trial. This testimony was used by the judge when he was imposed the life sentence.
“Evidence that the sentencing judge heard and rejected provides no basis for this court to now grant relief from judgment,” O’Connell wrote in a motion to dismiss filed on May 6.
The judge took into account the horrific nature of the crime, she wrote.
Current Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul was a state senator at the time the law was amended.
Becker said Rish’s situation was similar to one brought up while the bill was being debated in the Senate.
Rish was charged under an accountability theory on the basis of participation by driving the principal offender in a vehicle on account of the influence and threat of domestic violence, he said.
State Sen. Dale Righter asked Raoul about a woman forced to be in a car by her husband, who drives to a liquor store and robs it.
“In that instance, she could raise as — as a factor in mitigation the fact that — that her husband had abused her for a period of time and she was under the threat of serious physical harm were she not to ride in the car and be part of this. Is that — is that what the bill envisions?” Righter said.
“That is exactly right, Sen. Righter,” Raoul said.
Raoul also said: “The events would have to be concurrent — and the event that led to the defendant becoming a domestic violence victim would have to be somehow connected to the crime.