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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
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
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.”
In preparation for the Pardon Board hearing and appeals,
Prejean reads the trial transcripts. In addition to the horrors
of the crime, she finds several omissions and discrepancies. On
March 30, they file a petition with the Pardon Board. They meet
with Howard Marsellus, chairperson of the board. He is sympathetic
and agrees that the death penalty is a poor man’s punishment. In
the future, Prejean says, Marsellus will serve time in jail for
fixing pardons and taking bribes.
The next day, both sides present their cases before the
Pardon Board. While waiting for the board’s decision, Prejean meets
Lloyd LeBlanc, David’s father, who reproaches her for not reaching
out to the victim’s family. They talk for an hour, and Lloyd describes
his vision of Patrick as a rapist and murderer. The board votes
four to one in favor of execution. Later that night, Prejean asks
her friend, Sister Kathleen Lory, to help her prepare for Patrick’s
Prejean dedicates much of Chapter 3 to the history of
capital punishment in America. In the retelling, her long car ride
with Millard Farmer becomes a concise summary of the legal battles
surrounding capital punishment. What emerges from Prejean’s account
is a portrait of a legal system that cares more for procedural rules
than for protecting the life and rights of the individual. The law
takes center stage as Prejean’s narrative shifts from the specifics
of Patrick’s case to a larger indictment of the death penalty. In
example after example, Prejean shows not only the arbitrary nature
of capital punishment but also the gradual shift in the courts toward
giving states the right to execute their citizens. A system of punishment
that the Supreme Court once deemed arbitrary has been extended to
teenagers, the mentally retarded, and the formerly insane.
Prejean’s narrative addresses broad questions of social
justice. She presents Patrick’s execution not as an isolated event,
but as one symptom of a societal illness. She wants her readers
to have a proper understanding of the history of capital punishment,
and to see the startling importance of race and poverty in determining
punishment. The Supreme Court may have accepted that such biases
are an inevitable part of our judicial system, but for Prejean and
Millard Farmer, passively accepting unfair treatment is unacceptable.
In light of the courts’ historical treatment of capital punishment
cases, Patrick’s case becomes an aperture through which the failures
of our legal system are clearly seen. The glaring inadequacy of
Patrick’s initial defense and Millard Farmer’s inability to do anything
to repair the damage show the disturbing degree to which procedure
is more important than a person’s life. But Prejean never loses
sight of the fact that behind the technical legal details lies a
Behind the death penalty are the men and women responsible
for its enforcement. Capital punishment is not an abstract force
or system, but one that depends upon the actions of a handful of
individuals. Prejean’s narrative shows the great power of the few
men and women entrusted to decide who should live and die. That
such power should lie in the hands of any one individual strikes
Prejean as absurd.
Prejean and her dedicated friends continue to act and
argue on behalf of Patrick’s life. Once again, Camus’ philosophy
is relevant. As an existentialist philosopher, Camus argued on behalf
of individual action even in the face of the world’s overwhelming
absurdity. Prejean is aware of how illogical it is to argue with
the state about sparing a man’s life, yet that is precisely what
Prejean’s conversation with Lloyd LeBlanc, touched on
briefly earlier in the narrative, helps complete the portrait not
only of Patrick, but of the suffering his crime has caused. For
Prejean to live up to her ideals and values, she must fully consider
the perspective of the victims’ families. Lloyd LeBlanc thinks of
Patrick as a man who spent his time hunting for women and teenagers.
His perspective is not only understandable, but also partially accurate.
This is the other side of Patrick and the justification for the
death penalty. His crime has shattered the lives of two families.
For these families, the execution of Patrick is not a violation
of his rights, but an act of justice.
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