Decades After 'Dead Man Walking,' Author Sees Views Shifting On Death Penalty

Oct 11, 2019

This weekend, Journey Of Hope From Violence To Healing is hosting a conference in Ohio on the death penalty.

The group is led by the family members of murder victims who reject capital punishment.

Forums will happen across the state over the next week, but the event kicks off with a day-long event in Columbus on Saturday. It will feature Sister Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking, a 1993 book chronicling her work with two Louisiana death row inmates.

She says a lot has changed in the intervening 26 years.

"It used to be the death penalty was like the third rail of politics. You didn't dare say you oppose the death penalty. It was too politically costly," Prejean says. "This is the first year, for example, that we've had presidential candidates against the death penalty."

She adds that the roadblocks that have cropped up to the death penalty in Ohio - from a three-year hiatus, to a legal battle over the lethal injection protocol, to wavering support from lawmakers - are a good sign for anti-capital punishment advocates.

"The last act that happens is when you have the legislative political body appealing it," she says. "But the first thing you look for is practice, where you just stop doing it."

Prejean recognizes that not all family members of murder victims oppose the death penalty.

"I cut them a whole, whole lot of slack. When people have a loved one killed, they're traumatized," she says. "That's a starting point. Of all the victims' families I know, that's not where people end up."