“River of Fire”: In New Memoir, Sister Helen Prejean Reflects on Decades of Fighting Executions

The Trump administration is moving ahead with plans to resume the death penalty after a more than 15-year moratorium. This week Attorney General William Barr proposed fast-tracking executions in mass murder cases, and last month ordered the execution of five death row prisoners beginning in December. The federal government has executed just three people since 1963 — the last being in 2003. The death penalty is widely condemned by national governments, international bodies and human rights groups across the world. Experts say capital punishment does not help deter homicides and that errors and racism in the criminal justice system extend to those sentenced to death. We speak with Sister Helen Prejean, a well-known anti-death-penalty activist who began her prison ministry over 30 years ago. She is the author of the best-selling book “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty,” which was turned into an Academy Award-winning film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. …

Video of Interview With Khristian Oliver Set For Execution Nov. 5 in Case Where Jury Consulted Bible

In the first of five executions scheduled in Texas in November, Khristian Oliver is scheduled for execution on Thursday, November 5, 2009. He was sentenced to death by a jury whose members consulted the Bible during their deliberations on whether Oliver should receive the death penalty.

If someone is to be sentenced to death, the decision of the jury should be based on the laws of the State of Texas and not the Bible. Khristian Oliver had a right to be sentenced in accordance with the laws of Texas, not those of the Bible. People can of course pray and consult their faith values individually whenever they want, but jurors should not read scripture to each other in the jury room to justify a death sentence, they should only consult the laws of Texas as explained to them by the judge.

During deliberations on sentencing, one of the jurors apparently read the following passage aloud to his fellow jurors: “And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death.” Another juror, a death penalty supporter, later told the media that “about 80 per cent” of the jurors had “brought scripture into the deliberation”, and that if civil law and biblical law were in conflict, the latter should prevail. And he said that if he had been told he could not consult the Bible, “I would have left the courtroom.”

In recent weeks, a new juror has also come forward to acknowledge the role that the Bible played in their deliberations. Juror Teresa L. Short (formerly Schnelzer) has confirmed that jurors consulted the Bible at the very outset of their deliberations on the question of whether Oliver should be sentenced to death. Like the others, she recalls which Bible passages were read, and she specifically notes that jurors looked to and took comfort from the Bible in reaching their decision. (A copy of her affidavit has been provided to the Governor’s office by Mr. Oliver’s counsel.)

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