Woman jailed for 1987 murder of Kankakee media heir has a chance to be free
Woman serving life in prison for her role in the kidnapping and living burial of a Kankakee businessman in 1987 may move forward with her attempt to challenge her sentence, according to a decision by the Illinois Court of Appeals Thursday.
Nancy Rish, 59, says she was forced to participate with her boyfriend Danny Edwards in the kidnapping of Stephen Small because Edwards abused her and threatened to kill her. She claims she didn’t know what Edwards was planning to do.
In an attempt to get Small’s family to pay a million dollar ransom, Edwards buried the businessman in a wooden box fitted with an air hose, but Small suffocated. Rish drove Edwards before and after Small’s kidnapping.
Small was the heir to a media fortune and the great-grandson of Len Small, governor of Illinois from 1921 to 1929.
Since 2017, Rish’s lawyers Steven Becker and Margaret Byrne have been trying to get the courts to reduce his sentence based on a 2015 change in state law.
The change allows those convicted of crimes to challenge their sentences if they can prove that their crimes were related to victims of domestic violence.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul co-sponsored the change in law when he was a senator, but his office opposed Rish’s request for a new sentencing hearing, saying his life sentence was based on the “gruesome nature of the crime in which [she] played an essential role.
A Kankakee County judge rejected Rish’s request for a new sentencing hearing, saying she had not presented evidence of domestic violence that “would likely alter the sentence imposed by the trial court “.
But on Thursday, the Illinois appeals court reinstated the Rish case, ruling the lower court judge had erred.
The lower court should not have judged the facts of his case, but simply whether his petition had been properly filed, according to the appeals court, which assigned Rish’s case to another judge.
The court of appeal added: “Here, the accused’s motion clearly alleges that no evidence of domestic violence was presented at the sentencing hearing and the affidavits and attachments support this allegation. . “