Sister Helen Prejean, the death penalty opponent who gained international attention for the book and film “Dead Man Walking,” says the dialogue over capital punishment has grown more nuanced, even in Texas, reports Houston Chronicle Lisa Falkenberg. At 70, the internationally known death penalty opponent is still making the rounds, from college campuses to last week’s World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva. She spoke Wednesday in Houston.
Prejean’s campaign against the death penalty, drawn from her experiences as spiritual adviser to six condemned death row inmates, began in the 1980s, before DNA became a household word and exonerations made frequent headlines. Falkenberg writes. “What used to be a black-and-white issue for many, an unquestioned virtue of an effective criminal justice system, a sure-fire political weapon, is now much more nuanced.” Discussions now must include science and costs. In the past decade, there’s been a dramatic decrease in death sentences, from 284 in 1999 to 106 in 2009. Texas has followed that trend, especially after giving juries the life-without-parole option. Forty-eight death sentences were handed down in 1999, compared with nine in 2008.