Sister Helen Prejean wrote Dead Man Walking based on her experiences with a convicted death row inmate named Patrick Sonnier. The story allows readers to follow Prejean as she transitions from nun to spiritual advisor. As the narrator for the story, Prejean delves into the emotional toll this situation takes on both the victim’s families and the death row inmates themselves. The story follows her entire experience with Patrick and his brother that eventually ends with Patrick’s execution and also the execution of Robert Willie. After this experience, Helen once again finds herself on the front lines of the fight against the death penalty.
In 1982, Sister Helen Prejean is ...view middle of the document...
It is soon after that Helen meets Eddie face to face. Eddie’s appearance and behavior show clear evidence that life in prison has had a much stronger effect on him than on Patrick. He appears nervous and shifty. Eddie is not on death row but serving a life sentence. According to Patrick’s perspective on the night of the murders, it was Eddie who lost control and killed the two teenagers. During Helen’s meetings with Eddie, the story presented by Patrick appears to be true and was even corroborated by Eddie to an extent.
The U.S. Court of Appeals grants Patrick a stay of execution but his petition was later denied. In an effort to preserve the life of Sonnier, Prejean seeks the help of a death row attorney named Millard Farmer. One of Millard’s first moves in his defense of Sonnier was to appeal directly to the governor. The attempt failed and the motion brought before the pardon board fell short. It is around this time that Helen meets with the Leblanc family. She began to see the importance of learning the perspective of the victims as well as the killers. Despite a confession letter written by Eddie where he confesses to the murders and several more appeals, his and the attorney’s efforts fall short and Patrick is executed with Helen in attendance.
Prejean’s path led her to another death row inmate sent to death row. Robert Willie was convicted of murdering and raping a teenage girl. Like Patrick he is fearful of what awaits him. He puts up a tough façade but shows indications of fear and uncertainty. Prejean’s interactions with Robert inspire her to create a three day march to raise awareness for the death penalty. Similar to the experience with Patrick, Helens meets with the victim’s (Faith) family. She speaks directly to the father and mother. They fully believe that the execution is just and need closure after the untimely death of Faith.
Robert’s appeals are denied by the Supreme Court despite the fact that he vehemently denies being the killer in this case. He names another man specifically that carried out the murder while he was just a simple accomplice. In an effort to get Prejean to see the events from his view, Robert asks her to examine the case herself. Prejean develops some suspicions and inconsistencies but the courts do not agree. The last opportunity to save the life of Robert lies with the pardon board. The pleas by Prejean fall short, however, as they unanimously agree to uphold the verdict. Robert is moved to the death house.
In December, Robert Willie was executed for the crimes of murder and rape against Faith Hathaway. In attendance were Faith’s parents and Helen Prejean among others. Robert spoke directly to Faith’s parents before passing. After the execution, Helen made it a point in interviews to once again make clear her views on the death penalty. Years after the execution of Robert, Helen started an organization called Survive to aid victim’s families. She also made efforts to reconnect with the families...