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Death penalty abolitionist promotes cause

By Kayloni Wyatt
Around the Campus Editor

Photo by Kayloni Wyatt
Sister Helen Prejean, a spiritual adviser for prison inmates, signs copies of her books Feb. 25 for students, faculty and visitors at Chapel Hill. Prejean discussed her career and the death penalty.

The death penalty is wrong and should be eradicated, argued prison minister sister Helen Prejean Feb. 25 at UNC-Chapel Hill for a criminal justice program.

Prejean is the author of the popular book Dead Man Walking, which was nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Prejean said she has witnessed five executions in her career.

“I’m just a regular old nun. I’ve never got involved into this stuff before,” she said. “The first time I witnessed an execution I threw up right after.”

Prejean became a spiritual adviser to Eddie Sonnier who was on death row for the murder of two teenagers and sentenced to die by the electric chair.

“I was approached by a friend about being a pen pal to someone on death row,” she said. “The only problem was he wrote me back and asked me to be his spiritual adviser.”

Sonnier was put to death for the 1977 rape and murder of Loretta Ann Bourque, 18, and the murder of David LeBlanc, 16. Prejean became his adviser in 1981.

Sonnier’s brother, Patrick, also accompanied him in the murders.

He was sentenced to life in prison.

Prejean met Pope John Paul and discussed the unjustness of the death penalty.

Prejean also discussed the mistakes she made while being Sonnier’s spiritual adviser.

“The worst mistake was meeting the victims’ families at the pardon hearing,” she said.

Prejean said the victims’ families questioned how she could be a spiritual adviser to the murderer of their children.

At the end of the program, Prejean passed around a petition to end the death penalty in the United States to the audience of more than 300 students, faculty and community members.

Prejean’s book Dead Man Walking was a New York Times bestseller and on the international best seller’s list
It became a motion picture in 1996 starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon and directed by Tim Robbins.

The movie received four Oscar nominations.

Prejean has served on the board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty from 1985–1995 and has served as Chairperson of the Board from 1993–1995.

Prejean, a member of Amnesty International, released a second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, in 2004.

Prejean will visit UNCP in the fall 2008 semester.

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Updated: Thursday, March 13, 2008
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