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Sister Helen Prejean pays visit to Wheeling Jesuit

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Sister Helen Prejean believes discussing the death penalty is part of ministry Sister Helen Prejean believes discussing the death penalty is part of ministry
WHEELING -

The State of Ohio executed Donald Palmer for murdering two people.  Many people might agree with this family member who witnessed the execution of her father's killer.

"Yes, I do think justice was served," said Tiffany Sponholtz-Pugh, daughter of one of the murder victims. "We waited 23 years.  I think it should have been served a lot sooner."

Sister Helen Prejean would disagree with that view. Sister Prejean came to Wheeling Jesuit University to dedicate an item in memory of a hero of hers, George Lundy, president of the university from 2000 to 2003. Sister Prejean worked with Lundy to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana. 

"The ultimate legitimacy for the death penalty is that people say, 'Well, this is justice for the victim's family.  They've had their loved one murdered,'" said Prejean. "We need to kill the one who killed their loved one, and we gonna let them witness it."

Sister Prejean's concerns with the death penalty grew when she began working with the poor in New Orleans in 1981. The book based on those experiences, "Dead Man Walking," became a bestseller and major motion picture starring Susan Sarandon. 

"It's part of culture, to have that understanding, well, if people kill, they deserve to be killed.  And that's how we're going to combat crime," said Prejean. "And politics gets in there, because it's such an easy symbol to show you're tough on crime, is that you're going to have the death penalty."

Sister Prejean believes some psychopathic murderers exist and the prison system will keep them away from society.  She argues society needs to take a higher road when punishing murderers.  Sister Prejean talked about a story a Louisiana prison warden told of his question to a death row inmate.

"Missah So-and-so," the warden asked,  "seeing your crime, and what ya did, and the state's going to execute you tomorrow, can you give us one good reason why you should not be executed?  And he said, 'Yeah, I can.  Cos' you're better than me.'"  Sister Prejean concluded the tale with this comment.  "We don't need to kill, to keep ourselves safe."

As part of her ministry Sister Prejean travels to bring home the reality of the death penalty to those who never witness it.

7News digital journalist Kurt Weinschenker witnessed the execution of Donald Palmer while serving as the television pool reporter.