Death penalty opponent and Roman Catholic nun Helen Prejean was in Salt Lake City for a public lecture Tuesday evening at Westminster College. The author of “Dead Man Walking” also met with students for a luncheon.
“It’s a good time to be in Utah,” said Sister Prejean in her talk to students at Westminster College. Her appearance came just one day after Governor Gary Herbert signed legislation approving the firing squad as an execution alternative to lethal injection.
“Question: Is there a humane way to kill a conscious imaginative human being?” Prejean asked. She discussed in detail what happens when someone is killed by firing squad, injection, and the electric chair, and she questioned the students about what counts as torture. But the room got really quiet when she asked who is responsible for those that are killed.
“Are you, the people of Utah, in any way responsible for the killing that’s done in your name?” she asked. “Reverse the question. If in some way, you’re not engaged in resisting this act, can you be said because you’re silent in it to be compliant in it?”
Westminster sophomore Karson Eilers says he never thought of the death penalty as an important issue until he heard the personal stories of Sister Prejean.
“It’s not just killing a few people, it’s really what is says about society in that we commit homicide to try and deter homicide, so I think it shows kind of violent, cruel side of society that we like to pretend doesn’t exist,” Eilers said.
Speaking to KUER after the event, Sister Prejean said bringing the firing squad back in Utah makes the death penalty more visible and transparent.
“Killing people with a firing squad blatantly says we’re killing a person, and you’re going to see the blood dripping below the chair after that person has been killed,” she said. “I think maybe inadvertently, maybe not, it’s going to help precipitate the end of the death penalty because I think it’s going to help bring people face to face with the reality of what it really is.”
One student told KUER that he would like to see Utah lawmakers debate the abolition of the death penalty, rather than the method by which it’s carried out.