A San Francisco man accused by the British of being an Irish Republican Army terrorist who killed a London constable 11 years ago should be sent there for trial despite his contention that he cannot be extradited for alleged "political" crimes, a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled Tuesday.
But the three judges, who were not unanimous, sent the complex case of William Joseph Quinn, 38, back to the San Francisco federal district court to decide whether the statute of limitations has run out on another British charge that Quinn conspired in a terrorist bombing campaign.
Besides shooting to death an off-duty London officer while trying to flee from a clandestine IRA bomb factory on Feb. 26, 1975, British authorities charge, Quinn was involved in the sending of letter bombs to a Catholic bishop, a British judge and a newspaper executive.
Also, London police said, Quinn was partly responsible for the planting of explosives at a railroad station and two restaurants. Two of the devices exploded, causing serious injuries.
The opinion written by Judge Stephen Reinhardt overturned the conclusion by U.S. District Judge Robert P. Aguilar that Quinn was part of a rebellion against British rule in Northern Ireland and could not be extradited under the 1972 treaty with Great Britain that--like most such treaties--bans extradition for acts of a "political uprising."
In reversing Aguilar on the issue of "political exception," the 9th Circuit Court panel ruled that "although an uprising existed in Northern Ireland at the time . . . there was no uprising in England."
In his Oct. 3, 1983, ruling, Aguilar ordered Quinn freed. But Judge Mary Schroeder of the 9th Circuit Court blocked his release pending the government's appeal on behalf of the British government. He has remained in San Francisco County Jail since his arrest in 1981.
Quinn grew up in an Irish neighborhood of San Francisco and in 1971, at age 23, quit his job as a U.S. postal clerk to go to Ireland. An Irish court subsequently convicted him of being a member of the outlawed IRA and he was imprisoned there for nine months.
He returned to San Francisco in 1979 and was working at his uncle's Daly City stationery store when he was arrested two years later by FBI agents on behalf of the British government.
In writing the opinion issued Tuesday, Reinhardt noted that there was "very little helpful precedent" on the matter of extradition in cases where defendants claim they are charged with crimes of "a political character."
Federal magistrates have upheld two such appeals from alleged IRA members. A federal appellate court in Chicago, however, refused to approve the political exception for an accused Palestine Liberation Organization member charged by Israel in connection with a marketplace bombing that killed two people and wounded more than 30 others.
In a dissenting opinion in Tuesday's ruling on the Quinn case, Judge Betty B. Fletcher disagreed with the conclusion that because the level of violence in Northern Ireland far exceeded that in England, the uprising did not exist in England.
But her main concern was whether Quinn--despite being an American citizen--had deep enough ties to Northern Ireland to qualify him for treatment as an Irish national and for the political exception protection.
Judge Ben C. Duniway concurred in the judgment that Quinn should be extradited to England on the murder charge, but he questioned Reinhardt's conclusion that an "uprising" can occur "only within the country or territory in which those rising up reside."
He said the reason Quinn should not be eligible for "political exception" protection was that the provision does not apply to "the indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population," which is the nature of the charges against Quinn.
Quinn's attorney, Patrick Hallinan of San Francisco, said he intends to file for a rehearing of the case by the entire 9th Circuit Court. He said some of the points cited by the three judges in the opinion were not even addressed by him in the arguments.
In the meantime, U.S. Atty. Joseph Russoniello in San Francisco said he is waiting to hear from British authorities on whether they will seek immediate extradition of Quinn on the murder charge or will push for further court proceedings to extradite him on the conspiracy charge.