'Dead Man Walking' nun speaks on death penalty
Sister Helen Prejean, author of 'Dead Man Walking,' spoke at Case Western Reserve University Thursday night about what she says is the immorality of the death penalty and her experiences with convicted killer Patrick Sonnier, who was played by actor Sean Penn in the 1995 movie of the same name.
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#2 Sep 19, 2009
"Sr. Prejean also claims that Dobie Williams was mentally retarded. But the same federal judge who thought he deserved a new sentencing hearing also upheld the finding of the state Sanity Commission report on Williams, which concluded that he had a "low-average I.Q.," and did not suffer from schizophrenia or other major affective disorders. Indeed, Williams's own expert at trial concluded that Williams's intelligence fell within the "normal" range. Prejean mentions none of these facts."
"In addition to lying to the police about how he came to have blood on his clothes, the best evidence of O'Dell's guilt was that Schartner's (the rape/murder victim's) blood was on his jacket. Testing showed that only three of every thousand people share the same blood characteristics as Schartner. Also, a cellmate of O'Dell's testified that O'Dell told him he killed Schartner because she would not have sex with him."
"After the trial, LifeCodes, a DNA lab that O'Dell himself praised as having "an impeccable reputation," tested the blood on O'Dell's jacket -- and found that it was a genetic match to Schartner. When the results were not to his liking, O'Dell, and of course Sr. Prejean, attacked the reliability of the lab O'Dell had earlier praised. Again, as with Williams's conviction, the federal court reviewing the case characterized the evidence against O'Dell as 'vast' and
Sr. Prejean again sees nefarious forces at work. Not racism this time, for O'Dell was white. Rather, she charges that the prosecutors were motivated to convict by desire for advancement and judgeships. Yet she never contacted the prosecutors to interview them or anyone who might substantiate such a charge.
"(Prejean) omits the most damning portion of (O'Dell's criminal) record: an abduction charge in Florida where O'Dell struck the victim on the head with a gun and told her that he was going to rape her. This very similar crime helped the jury conclude that O'Dell would be a future threat to society. It supports the other evidence of his guilt and thus undermines Prejean's claim of innocence."
"There is thus a moral equivalence for Prejean between the family of an innocent victim and the newfound girlfriend of a convicted rapist and murderer."
"This curious definition of "the victims" suggests that her concern for "victims" seems to be more window-dressing for her cause than true concern."
(d) Hardly The Death Of Innocents: Sister Prejean tells it like it wasn't -- Joseph O'Dell
by Anonymous, at author's request
In lionizing convicted murderer Joseph O'Dell as being an innocent man railroaded to his 1997 execution by Virginia prosecutors, Sister Helen Prejean presents a skewed summary of the case to bolster her anti-death penalty agenda. While she is a gifted speaker, she is out of her element when it comes to "telling it as it was" in these cases.
Prejean got to walk with O'Dell into the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center on July 22, 1997. However, she wasn't in Virginia Beach some 12 years earlier when he committed the crime for which he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. That is where the real demon was evident, not the sweet talking condemned con-man that she met behind bars. O'Dell was, in the words of then Virginia Beach Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Albert Alberi (case prosecutor), one of the most savage, dangerous criminals he had encountered in a two decade career.
Indeed,O'Dell had spent most of his adult life incarcerated for various crimes since the age of 13 in the mid-1950's. At the time of the Schartner murder in Virginia, O'Dell had been recently paroled from Florida where he had been serving a 99 year sentence for a 1976 Jacksonville abduction that almost ended in a murder of the female victim (had not police arrived) in the back of his car.
#3 Sep 19, 2009
The circumstances of that crime were almost identical to those surrounding Schartner's murder. The victim of the Florida case even showed up in Virginia to testify at the trial. Scarcely a mention of this case is made in the Prejean book.
Briefly, let me outline some of the facts about the case: Victim Helen Schartner's blood was found on the passenger seat of Joseph O'Dell's vehicle. Tire tracks matching those on O'Dell's vehicle were found at the scene where Miss Schartner's body was found. The tire tread design on O'Dell's vehicle wheels were so unique, an expert in tire design couldn't match them in a manual of thousands of other tire treads. The seminal fluids found on the victim's body matched those of Mr. O'Dell and pubic hairs of the victim were found on the floor of his car.
The claims that O'Dell was "denied" his opportunity to present new DNA evidence on appeals were frivolous. In fact, he had every opportunity to come forward with this evidence, but his lawyers refused to reveal to the court the full findings of the tests which they had arranged to be done on a shirt with blood stains, which O'Dell's counsel claimed might show did not have the blood marks from the defendant or the victim.
Manipulative defense lawyer tactics were overlooked by Prejean in her narrative. O'Dell was far from a victim of poor counsel. As matter of fact, the city of Virginia Beach and state government gave O'Dell an estimated $100,000 for his defense team at trial. This unprecedented amount nearly bankrupted the entire indigent defense fund for the state. He had great lawyers, expert forensic investigators and every point at the trial was contested two to five times.
There was no "rush to justice" in this case.
O'Dell's alibi for the night of Schartner's murder was that he had gotten thrown out of the bar where he encountered Schartner following a brawl. However, none of the several dozen individuals supported his contention - there weren't any fights that night. Rather, several saw Miss Schartner getting into O'Dell's car on what would be her last ride.
But Prejean would want us to believe the claims of felon Joseph O'Dell. He had three trips to the United States Supreme Court and the "procedural error" which Prejean claims ultimately doomed him was the result of simple ignorance of basic appeals rules by his lawyers.
Nothing in the record ever suggested that Joseph O'Dell, two time killer and rapist, was anything but guilty of the murder of Helen Schartner.
Justice was properly served.
IV. Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty
"It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7)- the Mosaic Law prescribed death - should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment .” Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.
The sister’s analysis is consistent with much theological scholarship. Also, much scholarship questions the authenticity of John 8:7.
From here, the sister states that “... more and more I find myself steering away from such futile discussions (of Biblical text). Instead, I try to articulate what I personally believe ...” The sister has never shied away from any argument, futile or otherwise, which opposed the death penalty. She has abandoned biblical text for only one reason: the text conflicts with her personal beliefs.
Sister Prejean rightly cautions: "Many people sift through the Scriptures and select truth according to their own templates." (Progressive, 1/96).
#4 Sep 19, 2009
Sadly, Sister Prejean appears to do much worse. The sister now uses that very same biblical text “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” as proof of Jesus’“unequivocal” rejection of capital punishment as “revenge and unholy retribution”!(see Sister Prejean’s 12/12/96 fundraising letter on behalf of the Saga Of Shame book project for Quixote Center/Equal Justice USA)
V. Redemption and the death penalty
The movie Dead Man Walking reveals a perfect example of how just punishment and redemption can work together. Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have received spiritual instruction, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God.
Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it VERY clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements may have come together for his salvation. It was now, or never.
Truly, just as St. Aquinas stated, it was Poncelet's pending execution which may have led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation.
For that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made.
In the book, murderer Patrick Sonnier stated: "I don't want to leave this world with any hatred in my heart. I want to ask your forgiveness for what me and Eddie done, but Eddie done it".
Prejean says: "(Patrick Sonnier) seems to accept that he is responsible for what had happened, even though he claims not to have killed the teenagers.... I suspend judgment. With the electric chair waiting, with death close like this, who the triggerman was seems not the point."
The most important point of any Christian ministry is salvation. If the most important part of any Christian ministry is saving souls, and Sonnier is lying, and redemption is undermined, that seems a very important point. What could be a more important point for a death row ministry? Ending the death penalty?
In the movie, murderer Matthew Poncelet repeats the final words of one of the real murderers, Robert Willie: "I would just like to say ... that I hope you get some relief from my death. Killing people is wrong. That's why you've put me to death. It makes no difference whether it's citizens, countries, or governments. Killing is wrong."
Here, tragically, hauntingly, it seems that Sister Prejean has taught Willie to be an anti death penalty activist. The crucial elements of atonement, expiation, responsibility and forgiveness are replaced by the classic anti death penalty saying that all "Killing is wrong", the amoral position of equating murder and execution, violent crime and just sanction, the guilty murderer with the innocent victim - the worst set of messages for the murderer's redemption.
In his final statement,, Dennis Gentry, executed April 16, 1997, for the premeditated murder of his friend Jimmy Don Ham, stated: "I’d like to thank the Lord for the past 14 years (on death row) to grow as a man and mature enough to accept what’s happening here tonight. To my family, I’m happy. I’m going home to Jesus." As the lethal drugs began to flow, Gentry cried out, "Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I’m going that way to see the Lord." (Michael Gracyk, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 4/17/97).
We cannot know if Gentry or the two real murderers from the DMW book really did repent and receive salvation.
#5 Sep 20, 2009
But, we do know that St. Aquinas advises us that murderers should not be given the benefit of the doubt. We should err on the side of caution and not give murderers the opportunity to harm again.
"The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.
VI. On God and the death penalty
"(Sister Prejean) received nothing but a stony silence, however, when she questioned the basis of the biblical crucifixion story as a "projection of our violent society." "Is this a God?" Prejean asked about the belief that God allowed his son, Jesus, to be sacrificed for the sins of humanity. "Or is this an ogre?" "The audience -- to that point in strong agreement with the author of "Dead Man Walking" -- said and did nothing." ("God, ogre comparison doesn't fly with interfaith crowd", Paul A. Anthony, Rocky Mountain News, 03:35 p.m., August 24, 2008).
It is understandable that the audience was stunned. Sister Prejean is questioning the bedrock of the Christian faith.
Appropriately, Pope Benedict XIV appears to rebuke her a few days later: "If to save us the Son of God had to suffer and die crucified, it certainly was not because of a cruel design of the heavenly Father. The cause of it is the gravity of the sickness of which he must cure us: an evil so serious and deadly that it will require all of his blood. In fact, it is with his death and resurrection that Jesus defeated sin and death, reestablishing the lordship of God." ("It Is Not 'Optional' for Christians to Take Up the Cross", 8/31/2008) http://www.zenit.org/article-23515...
None should have been surprised.
It is not uncommon for persons of faith to create a god in their own image, to give to that god their values, instead of accepting those values which are inherent to the deity. Sister Prejean states, in reference to the death penalty, that "I couldn’t worship a god who is less compassionate than I am."(Progressive, 1/96).
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