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From death row to wedding vows: Watch how one couple found love after life staring at execution

"They could imprison us physically but not in our mind, heart or spirit." The haunting words from former death row prisoners are ones that are not usually repeated nearly 20 years down the line.

From death row to wedding vows: Watch how one couple found love after life staring at execution

Yet for Peter Pringle and his wife Sunny Jacobs, their road to true love has encountered injustice, death and survival.

On the outside they look like any other couple enjoying their later years together. They share a love of animals, vegetarian food, yoga, meditation – and are eager to speak of the farm they live on in Ireland.

But beneath the surface their unique bond was formed through events that only one can imagine.

Peter Pringle, now aged 77, and Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs, aged 68, both served years on death row for alleged murder.

Sunny spent 17 years in the United States and Peter 15 years in Ireland.

Fortunately, both were exonerated after their convictions were overturned for the murders that they did not commit.

But while imprisoned their hope, courage, faith and determination – along with similar yoga and meditation practices – helped them make it through.


November 1980 – Peter told he would be sentenced to death.

June 1981 – his sentence was commuted and instead of the death penalty he now faced 40 years in jail.

1992 – Peter began to prove his innocence by studying law and his case was reopened in the high court.

May 1995 – The Court of Criminal appeal quashed his conviction and he was released.


1976 – Sunny placed on death row in Florida.

She was put in five years solitary confinement.

1981 – At her first appeal her sentence was changed because the judge had initially overruled the jury. However, she still had to spend more than 10 years in prison.

1992 – Sunny was freed after the guy who committed the crime confused after her husband's execution. Her conviction was overturned.

1998 – Sunny and Peter meet when she travels to Ireland for an Amnesty International talk.

2001 – Sunny moves to Ireland to be with Peter.

2011 – They couple get married in an intimate ceremony in New York.

In 1976, Sunny was placed on death row in Florida for the murder of two police officers.

Where as in Dublin in 1980, Peter was sentenced to death for the murder of two officers of the Garda Siochana, otherwise known as the Irish police force.

"We were both wrongly convicted and sentenced to death of crimes we did not commit," explained Peter.

"In my instance I wasn't even in the locality at the time of the crime. I was arrested 12 days after because the man they were chasing had alluded them and they needed to get closure – so they arrested me for capital murder and bank robbery.

"They sentenced me to die on December 19, 1980.

"At the same time they sentenced me to 15 years for bank robbery.

"I had a background of being a political activist beforehand, as well as a binge drinker. The police thought by charging me it would bring closure to the case and get me off the streets at the same time," he added.

Peter was 41 when he was convicted. Throughout the years to come he spoke of delving into legal books and effectively becoming a 'jailhouse lawyer'.

"I never gave up," he exclaimed.

"No matter what – you never give up.

Peter Pringle, now aged 77, and Sonia 'Sunny' Jacobs, aged 68, both served years on death row for alleged murder.

"One of the key factors that got me through was my stubbornness – the only other person I know who is as stubborn as me is sitting beside me now.

"You have to determine that they are not going to get the better of you.

"I came within 11 days of execution. I spent 20 years on death row and saw 53 of the people around me I knew executed.

"But I was never afraid to die," he smiled.

As Peter speaks it is clear that the emotion he conveys is what sparked the bond between him and Sunny.

Yet her courage and resilience is not dissimilar.

In 1976, just four years previous, she was convicted of murdering two police officers and put on death row in Florida.

"We felt it was so unusual when we met because I was also accused of killing two policemen," she said.

"The judge sentenced me to death but my jury sentenced me to life because they weren't actually convinced that I should have been sentenced in the first place, but because of the law they were given they didn't have a choice.

"One of the jurors just flat refused to be bullied into it so it wasn't a unanimous decision and I was actually sentenced to life. But then the judge overruled them and sentenced me to death anyway alongside my then husband," she added.

At the age of 28, she spent the next five years in solitary confinement due to being the only one sentenced to death at that time.

At her first appeal her sentence was changed because the judge had overruled the jury.

In 1976, Sunny she was convicted of murdering two police officers and put on death row in Florida

She explained: "I was given life and spent another 12 years in the prison until my conviction was overturned and I was released.

"I was a hippy young mother-of-two who wouldn't eat meat let alone harm anyone."

Sunny's two children were taken care of by her parents, but the year after her sentence was changed from death to life her parents were killed in a plane crash and the children were taken into care.

She describes the moment as being totally 'devastating'.

"I had a law book and a bible with me in prison. You choose if you believe in hope or hopelessness. I chose hope and started speaking to God," she said.

While Sunny's sentence was reduced to life, her husband Jesse went on to be executed in horrific circumstances – with his electric chair malfunctioning, taking more than 13 minutes to die.

However, the man who did commit the crime took a plea bargain and was eventually incarcerated.

In the years after their release both Sunny and Peter had to re-adapt to live on the outside world.

"When I got out of prison I had nothing," Peter said.

"I had four adult children who were split around the world. I had no money, no job, no social security number even because they had computerised the welfare system and thought I would never come out.

"It was a struggle to find my way back into society, but what got me through imprisonment was yoga and meditation, so I continued with that.

He went on to describe the moment after release where he stood under a tree in his friend's garden and began to weep – finally accepting his freedom.

Sunny turned to Amnesty International as an international speaker, calling it her 'journey of hope from freedom'.

She said: "The Irish section of Amnesty asked me if I would come to Ireland and do a talk and I was thrilled as I'd never been anywhere apart from prison.

"On my trip someone asked had I met Peter Pringle so I gave him a call and he came along to my talk.

"I even toned down my talk that day because I could see the effect it was having on him.

"It wasn't until we were crossing the River Shannon the next day that he told me his story – it was an immediate bond we shared."

Sunny officially moved to Ireland in 2001 and they married in 2011.

Now they both dedicate their lives to campaigning for human rights.

They set up The Sunny Centre Foundation in Ireland, helping people who come out of prison after being wrongly convicted.

They also talk for Amicus, the legal charity that provides representation for those facing the death penalty in America.

One thing that is paramount to them is forgiveness.

Their incredible stories portray a beacon of hope and support to not only those wrongly convicted on death row but anyone who is suffering in whatever area of life.

"We want to leave a legacy," Sunny said.

"A legacy of hope and that no matter what life does to you, you still have a choice to dust yourself off and say 'I can do this'.

"All things are possible through forgiveness.

"The very least we can give is hope to reassure that you can survive what you are facing and learn to love again."

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