The US and capital punishment

Presidential power to commute sentences

Letters to the Editor. Illustration: Paul Scott
The Irish Times - Letters to the Editor.

Sir, – Apart from its continued use of capital punishment, the United States has little in common with Somalia, Iran, and North Korea (“The Irish Times view on the Amnesty report on the death penalty: collating the depressing statistics”, Editorial, June 4th).

It is difficult to fathom why it continues to keep such company.

The last time Albert Pierrepoint broke a prisoner’s neck in Dublin was in April 1954. From then until abolition in 1990, all death sentences were commuted by the president to penal servitude for life.

Joe Biden was 11 when Pierrepoint made his final call to Mountjoy Prison. As US president, he has the power to commute the sentences of the 40 men who languish on federal death row. Mr Biden speaks proudly and fondly of his Irish heritage and what it has taught him. It would be a fine gesture if he followed the example we set 70 years ago and showed mercy to these men.


If he declines to do so, and Donald Trump is returned to office, their prospects are grim. – Yours, etc,


Professor of Criminology,

(Author of Justice, Mercy, and Caprice: Clemency and the Death Penalty in Ireland),

University College Dublin,


Dublin 4.