Whether Jonah Horne comes back from a Northern Ireland jail to face a 2016 Boca Raton murder charge might come down to the way Europe looks at America’s system of justice.
Lawyers for the now 22-year-old Palm Beach Gardens man have argued, and will argue again in two weeks, that the United Kingdom — Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. — should stick to its policy of generally not returning people to America if they might face capital punishment.
Boca Raton police allege Horne and Matthew Lewis, now 24, of Jensen Beach fatally shot Jacob Walsh, 25, of Jupiter on June 7, 2016, during a drug deal. Lewis is in the Palm Beach County Jail.
“The issues that we have raised in court are we say that the present conditions in Florida do not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights,” John Magee, a “solicitor” who is representing Horne, told The Palm Beach Post this week from Bangor, Northern Ireland. He cited both the death penalty and Europe’s assessment of conditions in American prisons.
A U.K.-U.S. treaty ratified in 2007 says British courts “may refuse extradition unless the Requesting State provides an assurance that the death penalty will not be imposed or, if imposed, will not be carried out.”
The issue already likely is moot. Boca Raton police said in March they would charge the two with second-degree murder, which could mean a life sentence but precludes the death penalty.
Another lawyer for Horne said in March in a Belfast court that Horne fled across the ocean for love, not to escape justice. A lawyer representing U.S. interests challenged that.
Horne’s next extradition hearing is set for Oct. 13, court officials there said this week. Magee said that even if a judge orders Horne returned, he has avenues of appeal.
Walsh’s mother, Pat Walsh, said she just wants Horne back in Florida one way or the other, so he and Lewis can face the charges in the death of her son, a former Jupiter High soccer player who at one point had started a clothing company.
“We’re at the mercy of (Northern) Ireland, apparently,” Pat Walsh said.
“They just need to pay for what they did,” she said. “With a smile on their face, with laughing on their face, they shot my son.”
According to a Boca Raton police report, a man believed to be Walsh called 911 just after midnight on June 7, 2016, and said, “I’ve been shot.” He called a few minutes later and gave his location. A neighbor then called to say she’d found Walsh at her front door at the San Marco Apartments, along North Military Trail near Yamato Road. Walsh died later at Delray Medical Center.
Video surveillance shows a man leaving a white Jeep and struggling with Walsh, followed by what appears to be the flash of a gun, the report said. It said a confidential informant later said Horne told him, “Oh my God. I shot him. The kid. I shot him in the front seat of a car and then he ran.”
The report said that 48 hours before the slaying, a white Jeep was reported stolen from the Gardens Alehouse in Palm Beach Gardens. The Jeep was recovered west of Jupiter about two weeks after the shooting, with a cracked front windshield and blood on the front seat that matched Walsh’s DNA, the report said.
By the time Horne and Lewis were charged in March 2017, authorities said, Lewis was in prison in the Panhandle serving a five-year sentence for shooting into a Jupiter pub in September 2015. Thomas Weiss, attorney for Lewis, declined to comment when reached Monday.
At a March 24 court hearing in Belfast, the newspaper said, Horne attorney Sean Doherty told the court he had spent several weeks in Northern Ireland in the summer of 2016 and had returned in October 2016, bringing only the equivalent of about $675.
Doherty said police in Belfast never informed Horne they wanted to talk to him about the slaying and he was “taken entirely by surprise by these proceedings.”
Doherty also said at the time he wanted assurances that Horne will not face the death penalty in Florida.The newspaper said Stephen Ritchie, representing U.S. interests, successfully argued against bail, and disputed Doherty’s assertion that Horne came back to be with the woman, saying, “There’s a strong presumption that he (Horne) came to Northern Ireland to evade arrest in Florida.”
Ritchie told The Palm Beach Post on Wednesday that he was not permitted to comment on the case.
Magee, Horne’s other lawyer, said Friday that Horne did not want to comment on his personal relationship or the pregnancy.
A phone number for Horne’s mother was reported disconnected and neither she nor Horne’s father could be located this week for comment.
Horne “remains a prisoner in Maghaberry Prison,” Belfast courts spokesman Richard Stewart said Monday in an email. He referred any other details to Horne’s Belfast lawyers. The American Embassy in London and the part of the U.S. Department of Justice that handles extraditions both refused to discuss the case.
The Post asked the office of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi how often its position on the death penalty has led to extraditions being blocked; a spokesperson referred that inquiry to the office of Gov. Rick Scott, which said the state does not keep track of such statistics.
In 2015, Spain did extradite to Florida Raul Andino, the alleged mastermind in the wild 2007 Three Amigos case, in which a retired baker was killed by a stray bullet during a car chase following the robbery of a check-cashing and grocery store west of Boynton Beach. Five others already were serving life sentences, and another a 23-year term. Spain returned Andino only after Palm Beach County prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty, Andino attorney Michael Maher confirmed his week. Andino was convicted of first-degree murder and related charges this summer and was sentenced to six life terms in state prison.
“European countries that have abolished the death penalty are parties to a number of treaties that essentially require them to seek these assurances,” Babcock said. “In every recent case that I’m aware of, the United States has ended up saying, ‘We will not seek the death penalty,’ and then the person is typically extradited.”
Babcock said of about 195 nations worldwide, only about 23 still carry out executions, and most are countries in the Middle East and Asia “that the U.S. doesn’t usually align itself with in terms of human rights and civil liberties.”
Staff researcher Melanie Mena and staff writer Mike Stucka contributed to this story.