Sister Helen Prejean said Sunday during a speech on campus that the death penalty is used because of a corrupt justice system and societal problems, such as racism and discrimination against the poor.
Prejean, the author of "Dead Man Walking," spoke at the Continuing Education Auditorium in support of New Mexico legislation for repealing the death penalty. She said that the death penalty is not only inhumane, but is corrupted by the system that uses it.
"When we look at this issue, all our deepest wounds as a society are in it," she said. "It's a kind of military solution to social problems."
Prejean said racism and discrimination against the poor are two of the main catalysts for a death penalty sentence. She said that every time a white person is killed, it hits the front page of the newspaper, but when people of color are killed, little is said about it.
She said one of the main uses for the death penalty is in cases where the victim held a prominent status within the community.
"Despite the rhetoric of the death penalty, you find the victim - who the person is, who is outraged by their death - has everything to do with it," Prejean said.
She said the system is white dominated, with white prosecutors, white juries and white judges - which adds to the sentencing of innocent blacks and Hispanics to the death penalty.
Prejean said that because 95 people on death row have been given stays of execution, it will help make people more aware of the problem. She said she hoped the "goodness and decency of people can be brought to see that it's wrong to kill a person."
Prejean said innocent people have been sent to their deaths for crimes they didn't commit because of a faulty system and bad legal defense, which affects the poor because they don't have the money good lawyers.
She cited the case of Anthony Porter as an example. She said Porter had been on death row for 13 years and just two days before his execution, he was granted a stay because his mental competence was questioned. Prejean said that it turned out Porter had an IQ of 56 and was not competent enough to stand trial.
Prejean said that even improved DNA testing does not help the defunct justice system. She said in the case of Joseph O'Dell, he had asked for a new DNA test, but the state of Virginia would not let him have it because of a procedural default. A procedural default is when the attorney representing the defendant does not process the case the right way and no appeals are allowed.
She said that after O'Dell was executed in 1997, the state destroyed the DNA evidence that proved O'Dell was innocent.
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Prejean said people such as President Bush, who are pro-death penalty, always use the defense that the death penalty is a deterrent. She said that defense is nothing short of ridiculous because people who commit crimes aren't usually thinking in the first place.
She said many criminals have been abused or were involved in drugs or alcohol, and aren't rational to begin with.
"Violence comes out of lives that are in chaos," Prejean said.
She said the best alternative to the death penalty is life without parole. She added that when people are presented with this alternative - even families of victims - they prefer life without parole.
Prejean said nobody has walked out of prison with a life without parole sentence.
She said it is no kind of justice for the families of victims to wait 10 or more years waiting for the kind of closure the death penalty could bring.
"There is no closure, and there is no healing," she said. "Can it ever heal a human heart to watch another killing?"