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Farahnaz Mohammed / MEDILL

Sister Helen Prejean signs copies of her books after her speech at the Harold Washington Library Center.

Sister Helen Prejean speaks on death penalty as Oklahoma botches execution.

by Farahnaz Mohammed
April 30, 2014

On the eve of a botched execution in Oklahoma, Sister Helen Prejean – one of the nation’s most outspoken advocates against the death penalty – spoke at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago, decrying the act that would make national headlines the next morning. 

Clayton Lockett, 38, who was set to be executed Tuesday evening by lethal injection in Oklahoma, died of a heart attack when the combination of chemicals caused a vein to rupture, prolonging the dying process to a reported 43 minutes, according to news reports.
According to The Guardian, while the drugs in the injection had been used previously in executions, they had not been administered in the combinations and dosages used in Oklahoma.


“Everyone is worth more than the worst act in their life,” she said, speaking at length about her involvement in the criminal justice system.

Prejean said adhering to the system of eye-for-an-eye was amoral and rooted in a deeply unequal system.


She described the Supreme Court’s criteria for death penalty candidates as, “just the worst of the worst.”  


 “But if they ever go out of their little ivory towers, of that building, and come down on the ground, and see how worst of the worse is actually applied and who gets it, and what the profile is – that it’s almost always because you killed a white person, almost always people who are poor and almost always in the pockets of the ten geographical states that practiced slavery.”  


Lockett was black and Neiman was white. 


Touching specifically on the issue of untested methods of execution, Prejean said: “People are scrambling around to find drugs to kill people with. And there is no transparency in this process. For the euthanasia of animals, there’s transparency, you know what drugs are being used, it is monitored that it will be done in a humane way.” European drug makers have stopped supplying their products to states after learning they were being used for lethal injections.


In a grim foreshadowing of the event, Prejean condemned Oklahoma’s law barring disclosure of what drugs were to be used in executions.