Election Day is November 3rd! Make sure your voice is heard

Dead Man Walking


Chapter 3

Summary Chapter 3

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 funeral.


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 man’s life.

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 she does.