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Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 3, page 2

page 1 of 3


Prejean pleads with Millard Farmer to take Patrick’s case. He says he will. On December 14, 1983, just a month after the court denies Patrick’s appeal, Robert Wayne Williams, another inmate at Angola, is put to death. Robert Williams’s mother insisted on an open casket at the funeral so people could see the burn scars on her son’s body.

Millard Farmer prepares petitions for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. On January 18, he and Prejean visit Patrick. During the drive to the prison, Millard explains the flaws and inadequacies of Patrick’s initial defense. It is now very difficult to correct the mistakes made during the trial. He believes the Supreme Court’s decision to allow execution is a byproduct of a political compromise made after the federal government enforced Civil Rights Laws. The courts, he says, are now so interested in speeding up executions that they are violating people’s constitutional right to fair trials. Prejean offers two examples of the courts doing so.

Millard says he will argue that Patrick had ineffective counsel, although he doesn’t believe this will work. He says that ninety-nine percent of death row inmates are poor. He points out that Patrick’s lawyer failed to offer personal testimony on his client’s behalf during the sentencing. During law school, Millard witnessed case after case in which white juries sentenced black men to death, proof that white lives are clearly valued more highly than black ones. In 1987, the Supreme Court acknowledged a racial discrepancy in capital sentencing, but nonetheless excused it as “an inevitable part of our criminal justice system.” Millard offers further evidence that poverty and a poor defense largely determine sentencing in capital cases. In three different cases, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the state to execute the mentally retarded, sixteen-year-olds, and the formerly insane.

At the prison, Millard explains his defense strategy to Patrick. Patrick tells Millard he met his defense counsel for the first time the day before the trial. On the drive back, Millard tells Prejean his plan to appeal to Governor Edwin Edwards, who he believes is a reluctant supporter of the death penalty. Prejean asks Bishop Ott, the Catholic Bishop of Baton Rouge, and Reverend James Stovall, head of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference, to talk to the governor on Patrick’s behalf. They both agree. The Supreme Court denies Patrick’s petition. The execution is set for April 5, 1984.

On March 17, Archbishop Phillip Hanna, a man who in the past advocated on behalf of the death penalty, agrees to intervene on Patrick’s behalf. Brad Fisher, a clinical psychologist, evaluates Patrick and concludes he is an extremely productive prisoner. Prejean grows increasingly hopeful.

On March 27, Prejean and seven others—including Bishop Ott, Reverend Stovall, Archbishop Hanna, and Brad Fisher—meet with Governor Edwards, who is surrounded by cameras and reporters, and argue on behalf of Patrick. The governor says it is his job to carry out the laws of the state. His position gives him a moral loophole that allows him to sleep peacefully at night, despite his reluctance to enforce the death penalty. Prejean quotes a political writer who refers to the governor’s power to pardon as the last “vestige of the power of kings.”

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