Limerick hurling fan dies of cancer on death row

A CONVICTED murderer who, through a strange quirk of fate, became a staunch Limerick hurling fan for nearly 20 years has died of cancer on death row in the state penitentiary in the US state of Georgia.

Jack Potts was sentenced to death in 1973 for kidnapping auto mechanic Michael Douglas Priest and killing him in a remote field. Potts had his head shaved no fewer than three times when he was prepared for the electric chair, but each time his sentence was commuted.

Potts had followed the fortunes of the Limerick hurlers from his cell in Jackson for nearly 20 years. He developed a love of hurling through correspondence with the family of Limerick hurling manager Richie Bennis.

The Limerick manager’s niece, Gráinne Bennis, while studying in the US, visited Jack in Georgia and gave him a Limerick jersey, which he often wore in jail.

He had been on death row since 1973, ironically the last time Limerick won an All-Ireland.

Nora Bennis, who is married to Richie Bennis’s brother, Gerry, kept Jack fully informed of the fortunes of the Limerick hurlers down the years. with newspaper cuttings of all their games in the league and championship.

Nora said: “We learned in the past few days that Jack [aged 60] passed away in prison. His cell was decorated with photos of Limerick hurlers. His knowledge of individual players down the years, such as Gary Kirby, Mike Houlihan and members of the current team, was astonishing. It’s sad he hasn’t lived to follow the team to Croke Park.”

Jack Potts’s love of hurling resulted from a chance read of an Irish newspaper.

Nora Bennis said: “In the 1990s I was to the fore in a campaign for the rights of women in the home. There was coverage in the newspaper Jack got and it connected with him as he came from a terribly sad family background.

“He was left at home all day alone as his mother had to go out to work. He sent a letter addressed to ‘Nora Bennis, Limerick, Republic of Ireland’ and it got to me in Limerick.

“From there I began corresponding with Jack, who was prisoner D-30329, cell 37, block G2. I told him about our great game of hurling, of my family’s contact with Limerick hurling.”

Nora sent Jack weekly match reports from newspaper cuttings and he read up on the history and rules of the game.

Nora said: “He never protested at the sentence and admitted he had done wrong. He converted to Catholicism while in jail.”

Jack began to learn to speak Irish, with the help of tapes sent to him.

US District Attorney Penny Penn said: “On the one hand, he can claim victory because the state didn’t execute him, but he still has to face the final, ultimate judgment.”

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