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The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  519 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
From the author of the national bestseller Dead Man Walking comes a brave and fiercely argued new book that tests the moral edge of the debate on capital punishment: What if we’re executing innocent men? Two cases in point are Dobie Gillis Williams, an indigent black man with an IQ of 65, and Joseph Roger O’Dell. Both were convicted of murder on flimsy evidence (O’Dell’s p ...more
Paperback, 310 pages
Published January 24th 2006 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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BeckyTalbot
Apr 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to BeckyTalbot by: Johanna Harper
The two cases Prejean narrates are very compelling, especially the case of Joseph O'Dell, who was very likely innocent, but whose quest to prove this was blocked at every turn. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the injustices of the US courts, and if Prejean did not supply such irrefutable evidence, I really would be tempted to think such things could never happen. Sister Helen's narratives and her insight into the workings of the justice system are more convincing than her moral argume ...more
Koren
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
I've read enough books about death row prisoners being falsely accused of crimes to know that this happens more often than we would like to admit. This book is not as well-written as some others I read, basically focusing on 2 crimes. The book is more about her experience, and while she does talk about the crimes and gives reasons why the investigation was flawed, I thought her personal experience seemed to drone on and on at times.
Kate
Sep 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Sr. Helen Prejean openly and honestly presents a case for human dignity in regards to the death penalty. Through three main case studies, she demonstrates how our court system is rife with failures, and mistakes that are repeatedly made.

I was honored to meet Sr. Helen in 2005 after performing in the stage version of "Dead Man Walking'. This was a strong introduction into the issues that this book presents. The play was the most moving piece of theatre of have ever been involved in. In playing t
...more
John Willis
Jul 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The author also wrote "Dead Man Walking", which was made into a movie with Sarandon and Robbins. This time she follows 2 men on Death Row, although this time one is innocent and the other is denied the testing to prove his innocence. Very powerful. It is time we look at the Death Penalty as unconstitutional, as in cruel and unusual. Beyond the fact that it is a very racial system, affecting minorities and the poor at extremely pronounced levels. Quote from the book, "Capital Punishment, those th ...more
AuthorsOnTourLive!
Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions is a brave and fiercely argued book that tests the moral edge of the debate on capital punishment: What if we're executing innocent men? As Sister Helen Prejean recounts several cases of innocent men being executed, and takes us through their terrible last moments, she brilliantly dismantles the legal and religious arguments that have been used to justify the death penalty.

We met Sister Prejean when she visited the Tattered Cov
...more
Klelly
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
this is about 2 people targeted and murdered by the u.s. & sister helen prejeans relationships with them. the second part is her breaking down the politics and racism behind the system ive come to understand as the death machine.

"inside my soul i'm trying to find a rock to stand on."

"I used to think heaven was a far off other world for souls that had been seperated from bodies. Now I believe that life is a continuum, that dying and living are like knitting and purling, all woven together,
...more
Emily
Sep 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
What bothers me about this book:
1) her merciless attack on Justice Scalia. He's not the only Catholic on the Supreme Court.
2) Her total inability to mention the pro-life movement, which, you would think, would be connected to the idea of abolishing the death penalty.
3) her statements that the catechism abolishes the death penalty. It doesn't. The CCC allows for it in very limited circumstances. It does not say it is a complete moral wrong, like it does with abortion and other issues.

Jennifer
Jul 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a tough read. It's tough because it's a true and terrifying account of our justice system. I dare you to go with the sister for the first two chapters on her journey accompanying two innocent men to the death chambers... Then to chapter three called "The Machinery of Death." It's not a light read, y'all, but it's made me go back to our Constitution. I want to know my rights.
Lorraine
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very detailed, interesting true story of SIDS vs infanticide during the 60s & 70s...a bit long @700+pages with sometimes too much research detail that can be tough to get through but very enlightening.
Thom Coté
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sister Helen's second book about the death penalty explores and dismantles every avenue of rationalization about such a horrific practice, and lays out concrete steps toward reform.
Laura Tharnish
Feb 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Book Review
Alyssa, Laura, Saadi, Gu$tavo
AP Lang/Comp



The book ‘Dead Man Walking’ by Sister Helen Prejean deserves a four out of five star rating. We thought the book was good, but it wasn’t the best book we have read. Sister Helen, writes a letter to a death row inmate Pat Sonnier asking if she can visit him, but she eventually becomes his spiritual advisor. After talking and meeting with Pat she realized he did not receive the justice he may have deserved. She puts together a group of lawyers
...more
Kenneth Barber
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is Sister Prejean's follow up book to Dead Mam Walking. The first part of the book details the story of two men executed who were probably innocent. Due to the fact that one was Black and mentally challenged and the other indigent with a prison record were the key factors in their convictions. The book then details how unfairly the death penalty is meted out, primarily to Blacks and the poor. She shows the death belt in the south which executes more than the rest of the nation combined. The ...more
Bob Anderson
Mar 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is an excellent “social justice starter book”. It opens with two gripping narrative accounts of men doomed to die because of inadequacies in the system: Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O’Dell, both of whom were victims of bad luck, bad representation and bad faith. The stories are familiar to those who have read many actual accounts of the death penalty appeals process: both are filled with evidence not shown to a jury and arguments not allowed for what seem like vindictive or arcane reaso ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life
Jul 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 STARS

"From the author of the national bestseller Dead Man Walking comes a brave and fiercely argued new book that tests the moral edge of the debate on capital punishment: What if we’re executing innocent men? Two cases in point are Dobie Gillis Williams, an indigent black man with an IQ of 65, and Joseph Roger O’Dell. Both were convicted of murder on flimsy evidence (O’Dell’s principal accuser was a jailhouse informant who later recanted his testimony). Both were executed in spite of numero
...more
Ajgoebertus
Nov 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Again, Sister Helen Prejean shares her experiences and her convictions in a beautifully personal and compelling manner. The reality of the injustice both men experience (Dobie Gillis Williams & Joseph O'Dell) is painfully evident. Their stories are heartbreaking. I appreciated learning about her journey as a Catholic nun and about her influence in the shift in Catholic thought about capital punishment as well as her role in encouraging the Pope to clarify the Church's teaching (this appeared ...more
Michelle
Jan 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow. This one hit close to home for me as both a Catholic and as a forensic science student. Sister Helen Prejean recounts to stories of two men on death row - men that she believes to be innocent. She takes the moral issues behind the death penalty to a new level, dissecting both cases and uncovering all of the injustices both men had to endure. She takes apart religious arguments that "favor" the death penalty, providing her own religious arguments against the death penalty. This a powerful, b ...more
Joe
Jun 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've read this book before, but I'm re-reading it this week for a class project. Overall, I like how Prejean personalizes the two men whom she profiles, and presents the cases in such a way that the reader is left questioning. This, I think, is the real value to the book--to take people out of the polarization of the issue of capital punishment and bring them to a place where they can see the broader picture--and maybe change a few minds in the process. Plus, I'm a sucker for Prejean--I've seen ...more
Kela
Oct 30, 2013 rated it liked it
What a hard book to read! Even the staunchest death row advocates have to admit executing an innocent person is a travesty. Prejean follows two men to their deaths, all the while providing compelling evidence of their innocence. I have no doubt one of the men she followed was innocent. The other inmate's innocence is not as cut and dry, although it is obvious he did not get a fair shake through the court system. Prejean also does a wonderful job of pointing out inconsistencies in how the death p ...more
Diana
Nov 13, 2008 rated it liked it
This book was the UNC Summer Reading Choice for incoming freshman a few years ago. My book group chose to read it last month and some of the discussion ranged around how we feel about the death penalty and the challenges to our feelings now that the man accused of killing the UNC Student Body President last year is going to be tried as a death penalty case. Eve Carson was opposed to the death penalty and her parents have said that they are not in favor of the death penalty for her killers.
Stacy
Oct 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Excellent account of two innocent men who were executed. She provides quite a bit of evidence from the cases, which leave little doubt that these men could not be guilty. She provides well researched-factual information in the final section of the book to illustrate just how biased the judicial system is against racial minorities and the poor. An excellent read on a topic people know little about. I highly recommend it.
Leah
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"This constitutional discourse we're engaging in here -- I by writing and you by reading -- is a precious exercise of our citizenship, vital to our democracy, because it's our Constitution -- we the people "own" it, and we must never leave it's interpretation solely in the hands of "experts" like legal theorists or lawyers or even Supreme Court justices. The Constitution gives people a voice with which to respond to the Supreme Court..." Sister Helen Prejean
Chelsea
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Not a fun read, and not one I would comfortably say I "liked", but a worthwhile read. I don't have much to say, because I'm the proverbial choir Sister Prejean is preaching to, but even though I was put off by the frequent religious arguement a against the death penalty, I still think it's a disconcerting insight into a process that many of us would prefer to never think about.
Newhamshter
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I love how Ms. Prejean contrasted her first book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, with this one: The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. Even though people kill, I don't believe that killers should in turn be killed - especially not by our Government.
Christina
Aug 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
I met Sister Helen a few years ago and bought this book. Just now found time to read it. Her work is an interesting blend of hard facts and personal experience. She heavily critiques the justice system and goes after politicians for their support of an unjust system.

I learned some new facts and am especially concerned that our lawmakers and judicial system continue to support legal homicide.
Pixismiler
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book that I think every human being should read. I worked on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola as a social worker and had the task of counseling an inmate who was executed. Four years later and I still remember every detail. This book conveys every feeling I have on the death penalty. When are we going to stop being barbarians? MUST READ!!!
Chelsea Wegrzyniak
Aug 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Sister Helen Prejean's account of wrongful execution is compelling and heartbreaking. I found the first two sections of the book better than the last - Prejean's accounts make the argument for her, but when she summarizes and readvances her point at the end of the book her argumentation is much weaker. Overall, a book that brings home the myriad of problems with the death penalty.
Diane
Nov 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I admit that I could not continue to read this book. It is well written and intriguing but I am already an avid anti-death penalty person and could not stomach reading about innocent people who are put to death because of our system that is based on procedure not on justice. I still have given it a high score because it is well written and deserves to be read.
Kara
Oct 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Dead Man Walking (which I also highly recommend) explains why capital punishment is morally wrong, this goes a step further and without taking away from her first book/experience explains that innoncent people are victims of capital punishment in this country and the system needs an overhaul. Everyone should read it.
Lynette
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have been generally against the death penalty for many years, but could never really put to words concretely why I felt this way. Until reading this book, that is. Prejean lays out numerous arguments for eliminating the death penalty, some from a sociopolitical standpoint, always from a moral/ethical standpoint. Anyone with any sort of interest in social justice should read this book.
Lyn
Apr 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a major issue to me. I am strongly against capital punishment. Sister Helen's books helped to shape my opinion. I've read essays and books from both points of view, and I suppose you could say both sides are biased in their writing, but Sister Helen became biased after research. So did I.
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Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ (b. April 21, 1939, Baton Rouge, Louisiana) is a vowed Roman Catholic religious sister, one of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille, who has become a leading American advocate for the abolition of the death penalty.

Her efforts began in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1981, through a correspondence she maintained with a convicted murderer, Elmo Patrick Sonnier, who was sentenc
...more
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