Two Irish men wrongfully convicted of murder in 1882 set to receive Presidential pardons

Two Irish men wrongfully convicted of murder in 1882 set to receive Presidential pardons

TWO men who were wrongfully convicted of a Co. Kerry murder in 1882 are set to receive a Presidential pardon from President Michael D Higgins.

Justice Minister Helen McEntee has recommended that the President grant posthumous presidential pardons to both Sylvester Poff and James Barrett.

The pair were convicted of the murder of Thomas Browne in October 1882 and both were hanged in Tralee Gaol for the crime in January 1883.

Mr Browne was murdered while working in one of his fields in Dromulton, near Scartaglin in Co. Kerry.

Two men in dark coats, seen from behind, shot him several times.

Mr Poff and Mr Barrett, who did not match the descriptions of the assailants, were known to be in the vicinity at the time and were arrested after a neighbour said they had seen them enter the field where Browne was shot.

The prosecution case largely rested on the evidence of the neighbour, whose story changed as the case progressed and who could not be regarded as a reliable witness.

Ireland's Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has recommended the posthumous presidential pardons be made

Concerns about the grounds the convictions were made on prompted the Department of Justice to enlist Dr Niamh Howlin to conduct an independent external review of the case, and to advise upon the safety of the conviction.

Dr. Howlin's examination found a number of factors - including in the investigation and procedures around Mr Poff and Mr Barrett’s trial - led her to form the opinion that their convictions were unsafe.

These included there being no motive, evidential deficiencies and conflicting witness testimonies.

In addition, the report found that there was no direct evidence against Mr Poff and Mr Barrett, with the case resting on the circumstantial and contradictory evidence of one witness.

In her report, Dr Howlin said “a twenty-first century criminal court would not convict Poff and Barrett on the basis of the evidence which was presented by the Crown in 1882”.

“The convictions were also inconsistent with the legal standards of the period.”

She added: “They were convicted on the basis of evidence which was both circumstantial and weak.

“The trials and conviction of Poff and Barrett included legal and procedural deficiencies which were ‘so inconsistent with the legal standards of the period and so objectively unsatisfactory and unfair, that they render the conviction unsafe.”

Ms McEntee confirmed this week that “given a number of factors in this case, and based upon the detailed Report received from Dr Niamh Howlin” she had decided to recommend that President Higgins exercise his right to pardon on the grounds their convictions were unsafe.

“This is a very rare occurrence and a very high bar must be reached for the Government to recommend to the president that he exercise this right,” Minister McEntee said.

“Having considered the findings in Dr Howlin’s report, the trial, conviction and execution of Mr Poff and Mr Barrett were unfair by the standards of the time,” she added.

“Both men were wrongfully convicted and suffered the harshest penalty under the law of the time in what can now be attributed to a miscarriage of justice."