Sister Helen Prejean: What If We're Killing the Wrong Man?


Sister Helen Prejean, Pulitzer Prize-Winning author of Dead Man Walking, leads a Day of Innocence at the Women's Studies Research center

On March 22, 2006, the Brandeis Institute for Investigative Journalism hosted a Day of Innocence to raise awareness of the 175 men who were exonerated of crimes by DNA evidence, some after spending two decades in prison.

The day began at noon with a showing of Dead Man Walking, the Academy Award-winning film adapted from Sister Helen Prejean's Pulitzer Prize-winning book. This was followed by remarks from Prejean herself in which she discussed her ongoing work with men on Death Row.

Organizers then held a screening of After Innocence, a documentary that tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated: innocent men who served prison terms -- some over 20 years -- after being wrongfully convicted, then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. The film focuses on the gripping story of seven men and their emotional journeys back into society and efforts to rebuild their lives. Included are a police officer, an army sergeant, and a young father sent to prison -- and even Death Row -- for decades for crimes they did not commit.

Following the screening, one of the men in the film -- Dennis Maher, a former U.S. Army sergeant from Massachusetts -- spoke to the audience about the events leading to his arrrest and conviction, as well as his successes at rebuilding a life after being exonerated.

The evening concluded with a reception for Prejean and a talk about her ongoing crusade against the death penalty. Prejean's most recent book, The Death of Innocents, depicts two cases of men she believes were executed for crimes they did not commit. The book reveals the fundamental inequalities that plague the U.S. judicial system, the injustices of racial discrimination, and the moral issues surrounding capitol punishment. Prejean, a dynamic and powerful speaker, used her personal journey as the spiritual adviser to men on Death Row to challenge the audience's assumptions and shine light on the underbelly of the American legal system.