Capital punishment has long been a vexatious problem in American society, and one commented on widely as an example of American brutality by those in other countries. The putting to death of certain convicted criminals was once more or less the norm in the United States, but various pressures—not least the publication of the horrors of botched executions and sacrifices of the innocent—led to its abolition in many states. In the past twenty years, however, the death penalty has returned, and the debate has been refueled, most recently by Governor George Ryan of Illinois, who last year declared a moratorium on executions in that state.

Sister Helen Prejean of St. Joseph of Medaille was working with underprivileged children in her native Louisiana when she became involved with the question of capital punishment, and that question has come to dominate her life. In 1993, she wrote Dead Man Walking (a phrase...


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