March 6, 2007
Dead Man Walking author brings anti-death penalty stance
BY: Sheri Baker-Rickman, KC Community News
Racist, arbitrary, unpredictable and political are words Sister Helen
Prejean used to describe the death penalty during a lecture and book signing
at Leawood Barnes & Noble, 4751 W. 117th St.
"You aren't supposed to give the death penalty for ordinary murders, only
for the worst of the worst," Prejean said. "So people apply it how they
wish. Eight out of 10 death penalties are given to people who kill whites."
To receive the death penalty for killing an African American, Prejean said,
that person must be prominent, like a police officer.
"Race plays a big part," she said.
The Roman Catholic nun is the author of "Dead Man Walking," a national best
seller and film starring Susan Sarandon, who won an Oscar for her portrayal
The book and movie chronicle Prejean's experiences serving as spiritual
advisor in 1982 to death-row inmate Patrick Sonnier in Louisiana's Angola
Sonnier had been convicted of murdering two teenagers and sentenced to die
in the electric chair.
Prejean said Sonnier's crimes were horrible but what the state did to
Sonnier is equally horrible.
"What does the death penalty say about us?" Prejean asked. "It says the only
way to restore order is to emulate (murderers) by killing? I say there is
Before meeting and speaking with death-row inmates, Prejean said the death
penalty did not trouble her.
"I never reflected on or questioned it," Prejean said. "When I looked into
that man's eyes as he died, that changed my life."
Since that day Prejean has fought the death penalty.
"You have to ask who gets the death penalty, how is it given, what's up with
the appeals court," she said. "When a nobody is killed by a nobody, forget
it. If a person of status is killed and there is media attention, there is
great pressure to catch and convict."
Prejean used the case of Randall Dale Adams as an example.
Adams spent 12 years in prison, four on death row, for murdering Robert
Wood, a Dallas, Texas police officer. The documentary "The Thin Blue Line"
helped overturn Adams' conviction.
According to Amnesty International, Texas executes more people than any
other jurisdiction in the Western world. In 1997 there were 74 executions in
the United States, 37 were in Texas.
"For executions, Texas beats all the other states hands down," Prejean said.
"Oklahoma, Missouri and Virginia also execute a lot."
California, with about 600 on death-row, probably has the most people
awaiting execution, Prejean said.
"Death of Innocents" is another book by Prejean which examines the lives of
two African American men on death-row.
"The two men claim to be innocent and if you read the book you will have
more information than the jury that sent them to jail did," Prejean said.
"Most executions occur in states that had slavery."
Prejean is now working to halt the execution of Cathy Henderson in Texas.
Henderson claims to have accidentally killed a three-month-
"Cathy said I am a nobody but if a crowd shows up for the execution of a
nobody maybe the American people will pay attention," Prejean said.
Source : KC Community News