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The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions Paperback – January 24, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0679759485 ISBN-10: 0679759484 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679759484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679759485
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Since the 1993 publication of her memoir Dead Man Walking and the 1995 film it inspired, Sister Helen Prejean has become a powerful and articulate presence in the fight against the death penalty in America. In The Death of Innocents, Prejean focuses her argument on the ways in which an unjust system may be killing innocent people. She tells the story of two inmates she came to know as a spiritual adviser. Dobie Williams, a poor black man with an IQ of 65 from rural Louisiana, was executed after being represented by incompetent counsel and found guilty by an all-white jury based mostly on conjecture and speculation. Joseph O'Dell was convicted of murder after the court heard from an inmate who later admitted to giving false testimony for his own benefit. O'Dell received neither an evidentiary hearing nor potentially exculpatory DNA testing and was executed, insisting on his innocence the whole while. Besides exploring the shaky cases against them, Prejean describes in vivid detail the thoughts and feelings of Williams and O'Dell as their bids for clemency fail and they are put to death. The second part of the book details "the machinery of death," the legal process that Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, dismayed at the inequities of the death penalty, cited as his reason for resigning and that current justice Antonin Scalia has boasted of being a part of. Prejean is impassioned as she describes what she sees as an arrogant attitude by both Scalia and the contemporary judicial system. Her chance confrontation with Scalia at an airport is a gripping collision of disparate worlds. In recent years, DNA testing has overturned the convictions of scores of prisoners, including many on death row. As the death penalty is increasingly called into question, Sister Helen Prejean will surely be a force in that debate. --John Moe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Activist nun Prejean, whose crusade against the death penalty became widely known after Susan Sarandon portrayed her in the Oscar-winning film adaptation of her first book, Dead Man Walking, has again crafted a passionate indictment of the American criminal justice system. This time, with gripping, heartrending detail, Prejean draws on her experience advocating for two men she believes to have been innocent, but who were condemned to death row—Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O'Dell. While the book's subtitle removes any element of suspense, few readers will miss it. Instead, many will be outraged at a "machinery of death" weighted against the poor and African-Americans, featuring technical obstacles placed in the way of men desperately fighting for a fair hearing of evidence never elicited at their trials (O'Dell was denied appellate review by the highest court in Virginia because his lawyers typed one wrong word on his petition's title page). Prejean's tale involves a tragic, but not atypical, confluence of aggressive prosecutors (such as those in Louisiana, who display a "Big Prick" award featuring the state bird clutching in its talons a hypodermic needle used in lethal injections in its talons) and inept, ill-trained and apathetic defense attorneys. This damning critique should make even supporters of capital punishment pause, and the author's celebrity status, coupled with a timely message, should propel this onto bestseller lists.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Rose Vines on November 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was fortunate enough to read an advanced copy of The Death of Innocents and it knocked my socks off.

It's written in that down-home, inimitable style Sister Helen Prejean brings to both her writing and her speaking. The stories - especially the one of Dobie Gillis Williams - will ring your heart.

But the book goes a lot farther than telling stories about innocent people executed. It takes on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia in particular, and challenges a system of justice which is so caught up in process and procedure it appears to have left human beings out of the equation. Finally, it asks the question, when we let such a system continue unchecked, what part of our own humanity do we lose?

Reading The Death of Innocents is an education; it's also a plain, good read.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Thomas W. Muther, Jr. on May 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
For those of us who like to think that the justice system of the USA is the best in the world, the contents of this book will be nothing less than devastating. Sr. Helen details how two men, both probably innocent, were executed in spite of the purported "safeguards" in the death penalty process. Revealed for all to see is a "justice" system that has become corrupt, populated with judges and prosecutors whose passion for justice has been expropriated by a passion for the law, with The Law the end, instead of merely a servant of justice. As an example, an appeal submitted by one of these two men's attorneys was titled "Notice of Appeal" instead of "Petition for Appeal" and so the Virginia Supreme Court refused to review the case--then and forever, in spite of strong new DNA evidence that showed this man was probably innocent. This was a very powerful argument against the death penalty, and against the legalism that has almost entirely taken over our courts.
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Paul M. Kieniewicz on January 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely important book that documents in great detail the cases of Dobie Gillis (Executed 1999 in Louisiana) and Joseph O'Dell (1997 in Virginia). Sister Helen presents a persuasive case that both men were factually innocent and that the legal machinery in those States turned a blind eye to exculpatory evidence. The facts of the cases are presented impartially. Supporters of the death penalty who claim that the innocent are rarely if ever executed may wish to also read this book and consider the facts.

A long section also examines changing attitudes in the Christian community and in the Catholic Chuch in particular, leading to an official change in Catholic teaching in 1997 that ended its tacit support of the death penalty. Sister Helen may have played no small part in helping bring about that change.

The book may not convince everyone, but it presents a wealth of information that needs to be included in any debate on the death penalty.

If Sister Helen stumbled across two cases of factually innocent who have been executed, how many are out there on various Death Rows and about to be executed?
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28 of 37 people found the following review helpful By S. Braiden on November 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
From the first page, this is an impossible story to put down, and although the outcomes of these tales are dark, they pave the way to a hopeful place that Helen Prejean is so capable of championing: broadening the discourse on one of the things that divides America the most. While you may think you know where you stand on the death penalty in America, Sister Helen lays open the ambiguity in even the most hardened heart. Where "Dead Man Walking" attempted, with neither judgment nor justification, to take us inside of an experience that few will ever know, "Death of Innocence" puts a very human face on the realities of a flawed system of justice, and the price paid by those who it continues to fail. Ten years later, Prejean's call arrives with a prescription for repair: broaden the discourse. "The Death of Innocence" is a gateway to thinking critically about the death penalty in America, and to shaping a dialogue around the road back to justice. Read the book, then be sure to connect with Sister Helen through her website ([...]) and her blog, where she's inviting Americans of all ages to engage in a deeper exploration of the issues and begin cultivating solutions. Some surprising twists ahead. The story starts with Dobie Gillis Williams, but does not end there, as even now a new chapter unfolds in his tale outside the pages of the book, and the promise of a dying man is about to be kept. Don't let this nun fool you: the habit she wears best is one of sincere elevation.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By H. Minton on July 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is amazing. I am so glad that I randomly picked it up at a library a couple weeks ago. Although I had heard of Dead Man Walking, I had no idea who this author was. Sister Helen Prejean, as it turns out, is an amazingly impressive person and writer.

I was full of ambivalence about the death penalty when I first started reading this book. I knew the issue, and although I intellectually sided with the abolitionist case, I emotionally sided with the pro-death faction. However, after reading this book I now feel that there should, at least, be an immediate moratorium imposed on all executions in the United States (and the rest of the world...) Prejean uses her personal experiences combined with well-established research to present her case. And what a case it is!

The book discusses two cases where the defendant's guilt was seriously in question, but was nonetheless put to death. They were both denied justice because of technicalities, such as an ineffective public defender failing to object to serious biases presented by the prosecution during the original trial, and the Supreme Court issuing a new decision on a separate case, that had it been issued a couple months earlier, would have prevented the defendant from being put to death. Prejean then goes on to state her personal views on the death penalty and discusses the application of the death penalty in relation to the location of the trial and the race and economic class of the defendant. I have really learned so much from this sister.

In addition to the amazing substance of the book, it is also extremely well written. I love the non-fiction genre as a whole, but I realize that although a book might cover a fascinating topic, it may read dry. This is not the case with The Death of Innocents.
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