This story is based on the eyewitness account described by Sister Prejean. A sister of St. Joseph of Medaille gets asked to become a spiritual adviser for death-row inmates. Sister Prejean is caught between torn families of victims and the murderer's execution... Throughout her journey she sees the many ways that economics, race, and geography play a big role in the death penalty. Sister's Prejean of St.
Joseph of Medaille was teaching high school dropouts in the New Orleans projects when her friend, Chava Colon from the Prison Coalition asks her to become a pen pal to a death-row inmate. She had come to St. Thomas to serve the poor, and assumed that someone occupying a cell on Louisiana's death row would fit that category. In 1977, at a lecture by John Vodicka, one of the founders of the Louisiana Coalition on Jails and Prisons (where her friend Chava works), she learned that the death penalty in the United States had mostly been applied in Southern states - mostly toward those who kill whites. She is handed a piece of paper with the name and address of the inmate: Elmo Patrick Sonnier, number 95281, Death Row, Louisiana State Penitentiary, Angola. Sister Prejean was surprised when she found out her new pen pal is a white man, a Cajun from St.
Martinsville. She had assumed he would be black. They write to eachother and finally on Sept. 15, 1982 they meet.
Sister Prejean had set a strategy that she would use with her first Death Row relationship. She was going to listen to Pat without judging him, despite her being horrified of his actions. With time she and Pat develop a friendship, and she tries as best she can to stop the execution. After being denied by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, she seeks help from Milliard Farmer, an attorney in Atlanta who defends death-row inmates. Milliard review's Pat's transcripts and prepares petitions for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U. S.
Supreme Court. Milliard says the crucial race factor in Pat's case is that his victims were white. "The sad, terrible truth," he says, "is that if he had killed two black kids, chances are he would never have been sentenced to death." He also says that because public defender offices in Louisiana can't handle the large load of cases, judges often appoint attorneys in private practice to take on capital cases, even though many of them practice only civil law. He says that if Pat Sonnier had lots of money, he would have gotten himself a crackerjack attorney, who would hire topnotch investigators, a ballistics expert, a psychologist to compile profiles of "desirable" jurors, "and you can be sure he wouldn't be sitting on death row today. That's why you " re never going to find a rich person on death row." He also says that often if a D. A.
know's he's up against a top-notch defense attorney, he " ll think twice about prosecuting for the "max" and maybe losing, and be much more amenable to a plea bargain - reducing the charge in exchange for admission of guilt - and there won't even be a trial. Basically, race, poverty, and geography determine who gets the death penalty - if the victim is white, if the defendant is poor, and whether or not the local D. A. is willing to plea-bargain. Sister Prejean then seeks to meet with Gov.
Edwin Edwards. Gov. Edwards is soon to be inaugurated for his third term as governor. Unfortunately, it is believed that he is a reluctant supporter of capital punishment, and Pat would be his first confrontation. Governor Edwards is the only one who can commute the death sentence to life or he can grant a reprieve, which is only temporary, but will keep Pat from dying.
Thinking that the meeting would be a private conversation, they were directed into a large room full of TV cameras, bright light, reporters, and a long conference table. Gov. Edwards encourages them to introduce legislation to abolish the death penalty. But stresses that they have to understand that he is governor and he represents the state and must carry out the laws and must submerge his own personal views to carry out the expressed will of the people. He subordinates his conscience to the "will of the people." The law speaks for itself: if it is the law, it must be right, it must be true. Edwards is not "personally" responsible if he simply "does his job" within the law.
In 1978, Edwards transferred responsibility for signing death warrants from the governor to the sentencing judge, a task the in most states remains with the governor. Politics plays a big part. In Edwards recent gubernatorial election campaign, his republican opponent, David Treen, had put up billboards across the state and ran TV ads citing the number of pardons Edwards had granted criminals in his previous term of office. "Soft on crime", accusations by Treen hit Edwards hard. Gov. Edwards felt that if he commutes to Sonnier's sentence, what about the others? He wasn't sure if it was worth risking his political career to save the lives of a few condemned criminals.
Finally, they go up against the Pardon Board which in the end also denies Sonnier a stay. Patrick Sonnier is killed by electicution by the state of Louisiana on April 4, 1984 just after midnight. Six months after Pat Sonnier's execution, Milliard Farmer asks Sister Prejean to become a spiritual adviser for another death-row inmate. She had decided to not ever to put herself in another situation like that again, but when asked for her help she accepted. This death-row inmate's name was Robert Lee Willie. Robert feel that his entire case was politically motivated.
He feels that he was a stepping stone in the D. A.'s political career. He didn't get a proper defense, his pre-trial had a lot of publicity and an attorney that did not put an effort to give him his due process of law, which the Constitution of the United States of America says that he's entitled to. If he would " ve gotten a fair trial he probably could " ve pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and not received the death penalty.