Death Row Survivors Speak Out

Sunni Jacobs and Peter Pringle tell students of the shocking police corruption which put them on Death Row

Two death row survivors spoke to students this week about the shocking police mistakes which led to them getting the death penalty.

Sunni Jacobs and Peter Pringle were both falsely accused of murder and sentenced to death. Having proven their innocence and getting released from prison, they are now touring the world, campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty.

Photo: Richard Brown

Jacobs was arrested after she, her husband Jesse Tafero and their two children took a lift from a friend, Walter Rhodes. They encountered the police and Rhodes was found to be an ex-con and in possession of a gun.

A shootout ensued: Rhodes killed the two police officers and then forced the family into the police car to attempt a getaway.

After being caught the police initially took them to a deserted railway track, where the officers had a heated argument.

“They were arguing over whether to just kill us all there and pretend we’d attempted to escape,” said Jacobs.

Jacobs and her husband were accused of the killings by the actual killer, Rhodes. The prosecutor for the case allowed Rhodes’s testimony because, with his sights set on the District Attorney position, three convictions looked better than one.

This evidence wasn’t enough to secure Jacobs’ conviction, due to her being a woman and young mother. For this reason the prosecutor forced another prison inmate to testify Jacobs had confessed the crime to her, in return for her freedom.

Years later, when this woman was tempted to correct her statement, the prosecutor visited her father telling him to keep her quiet – this made her angry enough to change her testimony and get Jacobs freed.

Photo: Richard Brown

In Ireland in 1980, Pringle was accused of shooting a police officer in a bank robbery gone wrong, despite having been in a neighbouring town.

Knowing their suspect had been shot, the police hauled Pringle in to search for a bullet wound.

“They stripped me naked and inspected my body.  I noticed the disappointment in the police officers’ faces.  There was no bullet wound.”

Despite this, Pringle was still convicted and spent over 15 years in prison.

Photo: Richard Brown

Incredibly, during Pringle’s trial the police officer who’d tried to catch the third bank robber was asked to point the man out. Instead of pointing at Pringle in the dock he pointed up to the galleries – to a man who’d been watching the proceedings among the public.

This was ignored by the authorities – no one made any further mention of the officer’s evidence and no attempt was made to arrest the man.

Evidence also went ignored in Jacobs’ case. A lie detector test which revealed Rhodes to be lying was buried by the prosecutor to help the three convictions go through.

Rhodes was given life imprisonment instead of death in exchange for his testimony.  During his stint in prison, he kept threatening to confess the truth and was given parole, a reduced sentence and a TV in his room to buy his silence.

Jacobs and Pringle now dedicate their lives to Amnesty and Amicus, a charity that supports death row lawyers working for free.