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Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 5, page 2

page 1 of 2


Ann, Prejean’s sister, describes watching the SWAT team outside of the prison during the execution. Ann, a doctor, has a difficult time finding resources to take care of her patients. Prejean spends the night at her mother’s house. The next day, friends and reporters call. Patrick will be buried in the nuns’ cemetery. On Friday, approximately thirty people gather for Patrick’s funeral. Eddie attends, handcuffed and flanked by guards. Bishop Stanley Ott delivers the homily. He says that God is a God of compassion and love, not retribution. Eddie says goodbye to his family, most of whom will never see him again. Patrick is buried next to Sister Isabel, a friend of Prejean’s. A reporter at the funeral asks Prejean if she was in love with Patrick.

Patrick’s possessions arrive at Prejean’s mother’s house. Prejean decides to meet with C. Paul Phelps, head of the Corrections Department. Phelps is personally opposed to the death penalty, which he believes is biased and arbitrary. He says he does not believe the execution accomplished anything, but his job is to obey the law and make the death process as humane as possible. Prejean acknowledges that a man like Phelps can do a lot of good in his position. Phelps explains the execution process he created. The electrician who wired the chair refused to accept payment for it, and the executioner works anonymously, with no contract. Phelps says he will never witness an execution himself. Prejean is disturbed that such a good man could be a participant in such a process. She vows to make no more prison visits except to see Eddie.

Prejean and her sister deliver Patrick’s belongings to his mother, Gladys Sonnier, who lives in a small project apartment. Gladys’s daughter, sister, and niece tell Prejean about the misrepresentation of the family in the press. Prejean tells Gladys about Patrick’s last moments.

Back in St. Thomas, Prejean looks forward to returning to normal life. She wonders if the execution has left an indelible mark on her. Over the next six weeks, she reads a number of newspaper articles expressing outrage at Patrick’s seemingly preferential treatment by the Catholic Church. The only criticism Prejean takes seriously blames her for failing to visit with the victims’ families.

Prejean reads an article describing a murder very similar to the one Patrick committed. She wonders whether executions actually cause more violence and cites several statistics that indicate a rise in crime following an execution. Prejean and Tom Dybdahl begin a training program for people willing to become spiritual advisors. They later decide they need a lawyer to work only on death-row cases. They raise $25,000 and open an office in September 1984.

Prejean goes on her annual retreat. Several days into it, she reads a newspaper clipping showing Bishop Ott speaking in favor of abolishing the death penalty. She discusses the Supreme Court’s ruling in Furman v. Georgia and Gregg v. Georgia, in which the Court said capital punishment is not cruel, but retributive.

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