Thursday, January 24, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 78



Nun condemns death penalty

By Ashley Clarke
Daily Cougar Staff

Sister Helen Prejean has witnessed five executions, written a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book and established a campaign to abolish the death
penalty worldwide.

Hoang Nguyen/The Daily Cougar

Sister Helen Prejean addresses an audience Wednesday at the Krost Auditorium. Prejean, whose anti-death penalty stance led to the film, said
executing people doesn't eliminate crime.

Prejean, best known for her book Dead Man Walking and the film based on that book, talked about a moratorium for the death penalty
Wednesday at Krost Hall Auditorium.

"When I was growing up there was a portable electric chair that traveled through Louisiana and I never questioned it," Prejean said. "My teachers
told me that people who did bad crimes deserved what the government did to them, but for me there was a spiritual awakening."

Prejean's spiritual awakening came when she moved to the St. Thomas Projects in Louisiana and saw how less privileged people lived.

"I questioned why I had resources and why others did not," Prejean said. "I knew poor people who were holding down two jobs. I had never seen
injustice because I was white, but when I did I could not turn away from it."

While working closely with poor minorities, Prejean was approached and asked if she wanted to write a letter to a death row inmate.

"In 1982 I wrote to someone on death row for the first time, and I thought we were simply going to correspond, but God was being sneaky,"
Prejean said. " I did not know that it would change my life forever.

"I was so scared when I went to the prison for the first time. I saw guard dogs and guards with guns," Prejean said. "I remember thinking that I
could not use the nun card here because they did not give a hoot about me and God."

The man Prejean went to visit was Patrick Sonnier, who was convicted of raping and killing two teenagers in a Louisiana cornfield on Nov. 4,
1977. She would visit him periodically for more than two and a half years before he was executed.

"When I had first met Pat, I had signed in as his spiritual advisor. I later found out that as he was being executed, everyone but me would be
asked to leave the room," Prejean said. "He had begged me not to stay and see him killed, but I found the strength, and I told him to look into my
face for love."

After witnessing her first execution, Prejean says she became an advocate of abolishing the death penalty.

"After I walked out of that death house, I began talking," Prejean said. " I had found my mission. First I began writing letters to editors, then
magazine articles, and then I (wound) up in New York and Random House and I came out with Dead Man Walking."

Prejean does not dismiss the crimes the people she defends have committed; in fact, she admits it was very hard for her to come to terms with the
people who sit on death row.

Part of Prejean's argument against the death penalty is that she does not believe it deters crime as the government claims.

"Weeks after Sonnier was executed, two teenagers were raped and killed in a field," Prejean said. "It was almost a replica of the same crime. It
did not stop those people."

She also says the death penalty does not help the victim's family receive closure.

"There are 50,000 homicides and 98 percent of the victims' families are not given the 'justice' of viewing an execution, so do not believe it when
politicians say they are killing for the victims' families," she said.

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