TORONTO - To her legion of international supporters, “panhandler” Nicole Kish is the Canadian equivalent of Amanda Knox.
Like the American student, they insist Kish has been unfairly portrayed in the media and wrongly convicted of murder. And they’re hoping her long-awaited appeal later this month will finally set her free after more than two difficult years in prison.
“It’s been horrible beyond belief,” says Kish’s mother, Christine Bivens. “Just being accused of this came close to destroying her. To be convicted when there were viable, alternate suspects, we were shocked, we were horrified.”
Home after backpacking around North America, it was Kish’s 21st birthday and the musician and poet had been celebrating with a group of friends later described as homeless squeegee kids. “She was labelled a panhandler,” says her mom. “It led people to not look at the facts.”
Now 27, Kish has always maintained she wasn’t the one who stabbed Ross Hammond, an Internet marketer from St. Catharines, Ont., during a melee on a Toronto street on Aug. 9, 2007. The altercation began when a woman in Kish’s group asked Hammond and his friend for $20 while they were at an ATM machine. After the two men responded with insults about selling herself instead, a brawl ensued.
In the end, Hammond had sustained four stab wounds to the chest, including a fatal one to his heart. Kish was slashed on her arm and her male friend had been knocked unconscious. “It was a hell of a story — a tourist gets killed by a panhandler at a time when the city had a huge panhandling problem,” Bivens recalls bitterly.