Executing The Innocent

The number of executions in the United States has decreased in recent years,

The number of executions in the United States has decreased in recent years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, as has citizen support for capital punishment. A major reason is the increasing concern that innocent people may be sentenced to death. Since 1973, 119 people in 25 states have been exonerated and released from death row because of evidence of their innocence. As these cases have received national exposure, more Americans have come to question the institution of capital punishment.

The conviction and execution of innocent persons is the focus of Sister Helen Prejean’s new book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times, Prejean is widely known for her best-selling book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, on which Tim Robbins’ 1995 film Dead Man Walking was based. As in her first book, Prejean provides a moving and persuasive narrative that describes her experience accompanying two men to their deaths at the hand of the state. However, unlike Dead Man Walking - in which the two men were guilty of their crimes - The Death of Innocents provides disturbing details related to the execution of two possibly innocent men.

"Honorable people have disagreed about the justice of executing the guilty," writes Prejean, "but can anyone argue about the justice of executing the innocent?" She offers the standard arguments and statistics against capital punishment - racial bias, incompetent legal representation, poverty, geographic disparity, and unfair application - but makes them extremely compelling through her vivid accounts of these two men.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2005
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