Sister Helen Prejean
April 30, 1997, Greencastle, Ind. - On November 7, 1977, in a small town in Louisiana, 17-year-old David LeBlanc and 18-year-old Loretta Bourque were parked in a lover's lane when two brothers, Patrick and Eddie Sonnier, posing as security officers, accused them of "trespassing." The two teenagers were handcuffed together in the back seat of a car and driven 20 miles down a dark, abandoned road. Loretta was taken off into the woods and raped and the couple was ordered to lie face down on the ground. Both were shot dead. The coroner testified that they died instantly.
Both brothers were convicted of the heinous crimes. Now comes the decision from the jury as to whether or not to impose the death penalty. Eddie Sonnier was sentenced to life in prison while Patrick Sonnier was sentenced to death.
While on Death Row, Patrick began writing letters to a nun who was asked to be his pen pal and soon after became his spiritual adviser. The woman who later would accompany him to the electric chair and witness his death will be on the DePauw University campus today to present a 10 a.m. Timothy and Sharon Ubben Lecture titled "Dead Man Walking: The Journey" in East College, Meharry Hall. (at right: DePauw student Emily Evans talks with Sister Prejean)
Sister Helen Prejean, author of the best-selling novel, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, has counseled death row inmates in the Louisiana State Penitentiary. She has accompanied three men to the electric chair and witnessed their deaths. Since then, she has devoted her energies to educating the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. The film Dead Man Walking, starring Susan Sarandon playing the part of Sister Helen, was based on her novel of the same name. Sarandon won the Oscar for best actress.
Sister Helen has befriended murder victims' families and helped found "Survive," a victims' advocacy group in New Orleans. She continues her ministry to death row inmates and murder victims' families. She is at work on a book about women's struggle for equality in the Roman Catholic Church. She has been featured on CBS's 60 Minutes, NBC's Today Show, ABC's Prime Time Live and PBS' Frontline.
Following the convocation in Meharry Hall, Sister Helen was one of four speakers to take part in a panel discussion, "Capital Punishment: Both Sides of the Issue." Other panelists included Judge Robert Lowe, Putnam County Superior Court; Scott Newman, Marion County prosecutor; and Brian Smith, professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside.
Both the convocation and the panel discussion were open to the public.