William Murray was just four years old when on MAY 1st, 1918, 15-year-old Joseph Fitt killed him in a coal cellar in Belfast. Two months later Fitt, by now 16, was tried and convicted of the toddler’s murder and sentenced to death.
Capital punishment for persons under 16 had been abolished in 1908 by the Children’s Act, but did the law mean that to be spared the noose the killer had to be under 16 at the time of the offence or at the time of conviction?
When Fitt’s case went to appeal on November 2nd, 1918, it was ruled that he had been correctly sentenced to death as he was 16 when convicted. But the judges expressed concern that under the law a person could be condemned to death for a murder committed when they were several years younger than 16, if they were not tried until some years later. The judges added that the question of a reprieve for Fitt would doubtless receive careful consideration, and three days later his sentence was commuted and he was removed from the death cell.