• U.S.

Britain: Coming Home To a Cell

1 minute read

To the British government, Joe Doherty is simply a killer, but in the U.S. the Northern Irishman’s fight to evade a life in prison has been a political cause celebre. Last week the escaped murderer’s nine-year legal struggle came to an end as he was finally sent home.

In May 1980, a member of Britain’s Special Air Service was killed in a shoot-out in Belfast with Doherty and three other I.R.A. members preparing an ambush. Charged with murder, Doherty escaped just as his trial was concluding. After his arrest in 1983 for entering the U.S. illegally, the British government sought his extradition. But a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the murder had been a political act and denied the application. Doherty remained in jail, and his cause was taken up by members of the Irish-American community, including prominent politicians.

After extradition was blocked by the courts, the Justice Department began trying to deport Doherty. Last month the Supreme Court removed the last obstacle when it denied Doherty a new hearing. “I found myself seeking the safety and sanctuary of the American Dream,” he said. “This dream for me will end in a nightmare.”

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