Lizards in the Leaves

Rustlings in the green....imagination, art, whimsy

Apr 15, 2009

Sister Helen Prejean - ISU Human Rights Day

Yesterday I attended the 8th annual Human Rights Day event at Indiana State University. Before Patrick died, I regularly participated in this event, attending planning meetings and presenting the case for abolition of capital punishment with an information table, resources, and activities.

I have not been active in the movement for awhile, but if you're interested in that part of my life, a google search unearths more than you probably want to know.

Last month, I had the pleasure of seeing my old friend Bill Pelke, of Journey of Hope, From Violence to Healing when he did a mini-Journey back here in Indiana (his home state.)

It was good to reminisce about our experiences here when he was here in the early 00s, to assist with our protests and vigils surrounding the first Federal executions in 40 years. In all aspects, the death penalty is grim and painful, but in the work of death penalty abolition, there is cameraderie and friendship, and an extraordinary journey into the deepest realms of loss, grief, rage, forgiveness, compassion and love.

Yesterday, I was very happy to meet and spend quite a nice time with Sr. Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking, founder of The Moratorium Campaign and a tireless worker for the abolition of the death penalty. We spoke for awhile before her giving the keynote talk for the day, then she signed books, and invited me to lunch. While she was signing books, I had the opportunity to re-connect with several of the Sisters of Providence that I have worked with on this issue as well.


When Bill was here, he mentioned that Sr. Helen had been at his home in Northern Indiana when her book first came out and she had the publisher ship her copies there. He related how special it was to be there when she opened the box and saw her book for the first time.

It thrilled me, when I was speaking to Sr. Helen and mentioned I had recently seen Bill Pelke, that she immediately related the same story. It just seemed really interesting to hear it again from her perspective - and that for her, thinking of Bill reminds her of first seeing her book, or that thinking about first seeing her book will remind her of Bill. And that Bill connects with her in that way in his memory...

I always find it interesting how we remember, what we remember, what we don't remember...

This is a picture of Chris Hitz-Bradley and his daughter Anna.


Chris is the president of the Indiana Information Center to Abolish Capital Punishment (IICACP) and they drove over from Indianapolis to table at Human Rights Day. I was supposed to be sitting with them, and I did, off and on, but abandoned them entirely for a time when Sr. Helen extended the lunch invitation.

After lunch, I connected with some other community activists and left the event feeling well nourished in human contact with like minds. It made me quite happy to be sort of a social butterfly for the day, networking, greeting old friends, instead of spending 7 hours behind a table! Sorry, Chris!

Namaste,
'Zann

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1 Comments:

At 4/20/09, 9:47 AM, Blogger dudleysharp said...

"I hope what you learn here sets you on fire".
Sister Prejean, Preface, Death of Innocents

" . . .makes you realize the Dead Man Walking truly belongs on the shelf in the library in the Fiction category."  "Being devout Catholics, 'the norm' would be to look to the church for support and healing. Again, this need for spiritual stability was stolen by Sister Prejean." 
Victim Survivors, Dead Family Walking

From:  I.  Dead Family Walking: The Bourque Family Story of Dead Man Walking , by D. D. deVinci, Goldlamp Publishing, 2006

"On November 5, 1977, the Bourque's teenage daughter, Loretta, was found murdered in a  trash pile near the city of New Iberia, Louisiana lying side by side near her boyfriend–with three well-placed bullet holes behind each head. "

www.deadfamilywalking.com/

contact     T.J. Edler, 337-967-0840, cajunmixes@bellsouth.net

Sister Helen Prejean and the Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below


II.  The Victims of Dead Man Walking
by Michael L. Varnado, Daniel P. Smith

comment --  A very different story than that written by Sister Helen Prejean. Detective Varnado was the investigating officer in the murder of Faith Hathaway. 2003


III.   Death Of Truth:  Sister Prejean's book The Death Of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions.

For some years, there has existed a consistent pattern, from death penalty opponents, to declare certain death row inmates to be actually innocent. Those claims have, consistently, been 70-83% in error.  ("ALL INNOCENCE ISSUES -- THE DEATH PENALTY")

Keep that in mind with "Death of Innocents".

Readers should be very careful, as they have no way of knowing if any of the fact issues in either of the two cases, as presented by Sister Prejean, are true.  Readers would have to conduct their own thorough, independent examination to make that determination. You can start here.

Four articles

(a) "FOR GOOD REASON, JOE O'DELL IS ON DEATH ROW"
scholar(DOT)lib.vt.edu/VA-news/VA-Pilot/issues/1995/vp950728/07210224.htm

quote: "The DNA report commissioned by O'Dell and his lawyers actually corroborates O'Dell's guilt. There is a three-probe DNA match indicating that the bloodstains on O'Dell's clothing is indeed consistent with the victim Helen Schartner's DNA as well as her blood type and enzyme factors." "There is certainly no truth to O'Dell's accusation that evidence was suppressed or witnesses intimidated by the prosecution."

(b) "Sabine district attorney disputes author's claims in book"
www(DOT)shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050124/NEWS01/501240328/1060

quote: "I don't know whether she is deliberately trying to mislead the public or if she's being mislead by others. But she's wrong,"
District Atty. Burkett, dburkett(AT)cp-tel.net

(c)  Book Review: "Sister Prejean's Lack of Credibility: Review of "The Death of Innocents", by Thomas M. McKenna (New Oxford Review,  12/05). http://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?did=1205-mckenna

"The book is moreover riddled with factual errors and misrepresentations."

"Williams had confessed to repeatedly stabbing his victim, Sonya Knippers."

"This DNA test was performed by an independent lab in Dallas, which concluded that there was a one in nearly four billion chance that the blood could have been someone's other than Williams's."

" . . . despite repeated claims that (Prejean) cares about crime victims,  implies that the victim's husband was a more likely suspect but was overlooked because the authorities wanted to convict a black man."

" . . . a Federal District Court . . . stated that 'the evidence against Williams was overwhelming.'  " "The same court also did "not find any evidence of racial bias specific to this case." 

"(Prejean's) broad brush strokes paint individual jurors, prosecutors, and judges with the term "racist" with no facts, no evidence, and, in most cases, without so much as having spoken with the people she accuses."

"Sr. Prejean also claims that Dobie Williams was mentally retarded. But the same federal judge who thought he deserved a new sentencing hearing also upheld the finding of the state Sanity Commission report on Williams, which concluded that he had a "low-average I.Q.," and did not suffer from schizophrenia or other major affective disorders. Indeed, Williams's own expert at trial concluded that Williams's intelligence fell within the "normal" range. Prejean mentions none of these facts."

"In addition to lying to the police about how he came to have blood on his clothes, the best evidence of O'Dell's guilt was that Schartner's (the rape/murder victim's) blood was on his jacket. Testing showed that only three of every thousand people share the same blood characteristics as Schartner. Also, a cellmate of O'Dell's testified that O'Dell told him he killed Schartner because she would not have sex with him."

"After the trial, LifeCodes, a DNA lab that O'Dell himself praised as having "an impeccable reputation," tested the blood on O'Dell's jacket -- and found that it was a genetic match to Schartner. When the results were not to his liking, O'Dell, and of course Sr. Prejean, attacked the reliability of the lab O'Dell had earlier praised. Again, as with Williams's conviction, the federal court reviewing the case characterized the evidence against O'Dell as 'vast' and
'overwhelming.'  "

Sr. Prejean again sees nefarious forces at work. Not racism this time, for O'Dell was white. Rather, she charges that the prosecutors were motivated to convict by desire for advancement and judgeships. Yet she never contacted the prosecutors to interview them or anyone who might substantiate such a charge.

"(Prejean) omits the most damning portion of (O'Dell's criminal) record: an abduction charge in Florida where O'Dell struck the victim on the head with a gun and told her that he was going to rape her. This very similar crime helped the jury conclude that O'Dell would be a future threat to society. It supports the other evidence of his guilt and thus undermines Prejean's claim of innocence."

"There is thus a moral equivalence for Prejean between the family of an innocent victim and the newfound girlfriend of a convicted rapist and murderer."

"This curious definition of "the victims" suggests that her concern for "victims" seems to be more window-dressing for her cause than true concern."

(d) Hardly The Death Of Innocents: Sister Prejean tells it like it wasn't -- Joseph O'Dell
by Anonymous, at author's request

In lionizing convicted murderer Joseph O'Dell as being an innocent man railroaded to his 1997 execution by Virginia prosecutors, Sister Helen Prejean presents a skewed summary of the case to bolster her anti-death penalty agenda. While she is a gifted speaker, she is out of her element when it comes to "telling it as it was" in these cases.

Prejean got to walk with O'Dell into the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center on July 22, 1997. However, she wasn't in Virginia Beach some 12 years earlier when he committed the crime for which he was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. That is where the real demon was evident, not the sweet talking condemned con-man that she met behind bars. O'Dell was, in the words of then Virginia Beach Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Albert Alberi (case prosecutor), one of the most savage, dangerous criminals he had encountered in a two decade career.

Indeed,O'Dell had spent most of his adult life incarcerated for various crimes since the age of 13 in the mid-1950's. At the time of the Schartner murder in Virginia, O'Dell had been recently paroled from Florida where he had been serving a 99 year sentence for a 1976 Jacksonville abduction that almost ended in a murder of the female victim (had not police arrived) in the back of his car.

The circumstances of that crime were almost identical to those surrounding Schartner's murder. The victim of the Florida case even showed up in Virginia to testify at the trial.   Scarcely a mention of this case is made in the Prejean book.

Briefly, let me outline some of the facts about the case: Victim Helen Schartner's blood was found on the passenger seat of Joseph O'Dell's vehicle. Tire tracks matching those on O'Dell's vehicle were found at the scene where Miss Schartner's body was found. The tire tread design on O'Dell's vehicle wheels were so unique, an expert in tire design couldn't match them in a manual of thousands of other tire treads. The seminal fluids found on the victim's body matched those of Mr. O'Dell and pubic hairs of the victim were found on the floor of his car.

The claims that O'Dell was "denied" his opportunity to present new DNA evidence on appeals were frivolous. In fact, he had every opportunity to come forward with this evidence, but his lawyers refused to reveal to the court the full findings of the tests which they had arranged to be done on a shirt with blood stains, which O'Dell's counsel claimed might show did not have the blood marks from the defendant or the victim.

Manipulative defense lawyer tactics were overlooked by Prejean in her narrative.  O'Dell was far from a victim of poor counsel.  As matter of fact, the city of Virginia Beach and state government gave O'Dell an estimated $100,000 for his defense team at trial.  This unprecedented amount nearly bankrupted the entire indigent defense fund for the state. He had great lawyers, expert forensic investigators and every point at the trial was contested two to five times.

There was no "rush to justice" in this case.

O'Dell's alibi for the night of Schartner's murder was that he had gotten thrown out of the bar where he encountered Schartner following a brawl. However, none of the several dozen individuals supported his contention - there weren't any fights that night. Rather, several saw Miss Schartner getting into O'Dell's car on what would be her last ride.

But Prejean would want us to believe the claims of felon Joseph O'Dell. He had three trips to the United States Supreme Court and the "procedural error" which Prejean claims ultimately doomed him was the result of simple ignorance of basic appeals rules by his lawyers.

Nothing in the record ever suggested that Joseph O'Dell, two time killer and rapist, was anything but guilty of the murder of Helen Schartner.

Justice was properly served.

IV.   Sister Helen Prejean on the death penalty

"It is abundantly clear that the Bible depicts murder as a capital crime for which death is considered the appropriate punishment, and one is hard pressed to find a biblical ‘proof text’ in either the Hebrew Testament or the New Testament which unequivocally refutes this. Even Jesus’ admonition ‘Let him without sin cast the first stone,’ when He was asked the appropriate punishment for an adulteress (John 8:7) - the Mosaic Law prescribed death - should be read in its proper context. This passage is an ‘entrapment’ story, which sought to show Jesus’ wisdom in besting His adversaries. It is not an ethical pronouncement about capital punishment .” Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.

The sister’s analysis is consistent with much theological scholarship. Also, much scholarship questions the authenticity of John 8:7.

From here, the sister states that “ . . .  more and more I find myself steering away from such futile discussions (of Biblical text). Instead, I try to articulate what I personally believe . . . ” The sister has never shied away from any argument, futile or otherwise, which opposed the death penalty. She has abandoned biblical text for only one reason: the text conflicts with her personal beliefs.

Sister Prejean rightly cautions: "Many people sift through the Scriptures and select truth according to their own templates." (Progressive, 1/96). Sadly, Sister Prejean appears to do much worse. The sister now uses that very same biblical text “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone” as proof of Jesus’ “unequivocal” rejection of capital punishment as “revenge and unholy retribution”!  (see Sister Prejean’s 12/12/96 fundraising letter on behalf of the Saga Of Shame book project for Quixote Center/Equal Justice USA)


V. Redemption and the death penalty

The movie Dead Man Walking reveals a perfect example of how just punishment and redemption can work together. Had rapist/murderer Matthew Poncelet not been properly sentenced to death by the civil authority, he would not have met Sister Prejean, he would not have received spiritual instruction, he would not have taken responsibility for his crimes and he would not have reconciled with God.

Had Poncelet never been caught or had he only been given a prison sentence, his character makes it VERY clear that those elements would not have come together. Indeed, for the entire film and up until those last moments, prior to his execution, Poncelet was not truthful with Sister Prejean. His lying and manipulative nature was fully exposed at that crucial time. It was not at all surprising, then, that it was just prior to his execution that all of the spiritual elements may have come together for his salvation. It was now, or never.

Truly, just as St. Aquinas stated, it was Poncelet's pending execution which may have led to his repentance. For Christians, the most crucial concerns of Dead Man Walking must be and are redemption and eternal salvation.

For that reason, it may well be, for Christians, the most important pro-death penalty movie ever made.

In the book, murderer Patrick Sonnier stated: "I don't want to leave this world with any hatred in my heart. I want to ask your forgiveness for what me and Eddie done, but Eddie done it".
 
Prejean says: "(Patrick Sonnier)  seems to accept that he is responsible for what had happened, even though he claims not to have killed the teenagers. ... I suspend judgment. With the electric chair waiting, with death close like this, who the triggerman was seems not the point."
 
The most important point of any Christian ministry is salvation. If  the most important part of any Christian ministry is saving souls, and Sonnier is lying, and redemption is undermined, that seems a very important point.  What could be a more important point for a death row ministry? Ending the death penalty?
 
In the movie, murderer Matthew Poncelet repeats the final words of one of the real murderers, Robert Willie: "I would just like to say ... that I hope you get some relief from my death. Killing people is wrong. That's why you've put me to death. It makes no difference whether it's citizens, countries, or governments. Killing is wrong."
 
Here, tragically, hauntingly, it seems that Sister Prejean has taught Willie to be an anti death penalty activist. The crucial elements of atonement, expiation, responsibility and forgiveness are replaced by the  classic anti death penalty saying that all "Killing is wrong",  the amoral position of equating murder and execution, violent crime and just sanction, the guilty murderer with the innocent victim - the worst set of messages for the murderer's redemption.

In his final statement, , Dennis Gentry, executed April 16, 1997, for the premeditated murder of his friend Jimmy Don Ham, stated: "I’d like to thank the Lord for the past 14 years (on death row) to grow as a man and mature enough to accept what’s happening here tonight. To my family, I’m happy. I’m going home to Jesus." As the lethal drugs began to flow, Gentry cried out, "Sweet Jesus, here I come. Take me home. I’m going that way to see the Lord." (Michael Gracyk, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, 4/17/97). 
 
We cannot know if Gentry or the two real murderers from the DMW book really did repent and receive salvation.

But, we do know that St. Aquinas advises us that murderers should not be given the benefit of the doubt. We should err on the side of caution and not give murderers the opportunity to harm again.

"The fact that the evil, as long as they live, can be corrected from their errors does not prohibit the fact that they may be justly executed, for the danger which threatens from their way of life is greater and more certain than the good which may be expected from their improvement. They also have at that critical point of death the opportunity to be converted to God through repentance. And if they are so stubborn that even at the point of death their heart does not draw back from evil, it is possible to make a highly probable judgement that they would never come away from evil to the right use of their powers." St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, 146.


VI. On God and the death penalty

"(Sister Prejean)  received nothing but a stony silence, however, when she questioned the basis of the biblical crucifixion story as a "projection of our violent society." "Is this a God?" Prejean asked about the belief that God allowed his son, Jesus, to be sacrificed for the sins of humanity. "Or is this an ogre?" "The audience -- to that point in strong agreement with the author of "Dead Man Walking" -- said and did nothing." ("God, ogre comparison doesn't fly with interfaith crowd", Paul A. Anthony, Rocky Mountain News, 03:35 p.m., August 24, 2008).

It is understandable that the audience was stunned. Sister Prejean is questioning the bedrock of the Christian faith.

Appropriately, Pope Benedict XIV appears to rebuke her a few days later:  "If to save us the Son of God had to suffer and die crucified, it certainly was not because of a cruel design of the heavenly Father. The cause of it is the gravity of the sickness of which he must cure us: an evil so serious and deadly that it will require all of his blood. In fact, it is with his death and resurrection that Jesus defeated sin and death, reestablishing the lordship of God."  ("It Is Not 'Optional' for Christians to Take Up the Cross", 8/31/2008)  http://www.zenit.org/article-23515?l=english

None should have been surprised.

It is not uncommon for persons of faith to create a god in their own image, to give to that god their values, instead of accepting those values which are inherent to the deity. Sister Prejean states, in reference to the death penalty, that "I couldn’t worship a god who is less compassionate than I am."(Progressive, 1/96).
 
She has, thereby, established  her standard of compassion as the basis for God’s being deserving of her devotion. If God’s level of compassion does not rise to the level of her own, God couldn’t receive her worship.
 
Director Tim Robbins (Death Man Walking) follows that same path, "(I) don’t believe in that kind of (g)od (that would support capital punishment and, therefore, would be the kind of god who tortures people into their redemption)." ("Opposing The Death Penalty", AMERICA, 11/9/96, p 12). Robbins establishes his standard for his God’s deserving of his belief. God’s standards do not seem to be relevant. Robbins' sophomoric comparison of capital punishment and torture are typical of the ignorance in this debate, are remarkably similar to the ogre message from Sister Prejean in Denver and reflect no biblical relevancy.
 
The movie scene where Poncelet is raised, vertical, arms outstretched on the gurney, seems an obvious recreation -  a visual representation of Christ's crucifixion. That was a conscious decision on the part of director Tim Robbins. It was not in the book and no execution gurney raises in such a fashion.  Would it be a reach to call that blasphemous?
 
Perhaps they should review Matthew 5:17-22 and 15:1-9.
 
And be cautious, for as the ancient rabbis warned, "Do not seek to be more righteous than your creator." (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.33)

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Detective Varnado writes: "For those who believe in the teachings of Sister Helen Prejean as her journey continues in her effort to abolish the death penalty. 'For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And, no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13 & 14'  " --  From Detective Varnado's new book Soft Targets; A Women's Guide To Survival
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Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites 

http://homicidesurvivors.com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www.dpinfo.com
www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www.clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
www.coastda.com/archives.html
www.lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www.prodeathpenalty.com
http://yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2   (Sweden)
www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html

 

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