May 21

This Day in History

Crime

May 21, 1996:

A veteran's flashback defense doesn't hold up in court

Seventy-six-year-old Richard Keech shoots his son-in-law, Nicholas Candy, to death outside his Long Beach, California, home. Candy, in the midst of a divorce and custody battle with Keech's daughter Nancy, had arrived to pick up his son. As he staggered away down the street yelling, "Help me, help me," Keech shot four additional bullets in his back. Candy died on a neighbor's lawn.

The case captured national attention because Keech had a highly unusual defense-post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by being a prisoner of war during World War II. Richard Keech was a young Marine when the Japanese captured him at Corregidor in the Philippines. He spent more than 40 months as a POW in the South Pacific until the United States finally won the war. Enduring brutal treatment, Keech later returned home and established a stable life. He and his wife raised four children, including Nancy.

Nancy married Nicholas Candy, a rugby playing Brit, before giving birth to their son, Martin. However, the couple broke up when Martin was five months old, and a bitter custody battle ensued. The defense portrayed Candy as a man with a bad temper who began a reign of terror against the family. "I will be your worst nightmare," Candy said in one telephone message. In December 1995, as the arguments over Martin intensified, Keech purchased a gun, which he later said was for protection against Candy.

On May 26, when Candy was informed Keech he couldn't take Martin because the child was running a fever, he and Keech got into a shouting match. After Keech shot Candy to death, he purportedly told a neighbor, "It's over. He won't be bothering anyone anymore."

According to his defense, Keech fired the first shot in order to defend himself from Candy's attack. The four subsequent shots were allegedly the result of a flashback. Keech testified that while he was shooting Candy, he thought he was back in the Japanese prisoner camps and was about to be beaten to death for hurting a guard.

The jury didn't buy Keech's defense; he was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997.

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