It was a very good idea to attempt a more balanced view of the capital punishment issue. In theory.
Like many such attempts, some interesting issues are overlooked. A glaring issue that your program missed was the politics and economics of the death penalty: the costs (psychological, not just economic) of maintaining a system like this; the social background of death row inmates; why executions are performed in such secrecy.
Sister Prejean is the greatest voice to come in a long time
on the side against capital punishment and sometimes gets a
lot of flak; in great contrast to the pro-death penalty camp
whose voices have been loud and clear for a long time. Well,
the British didn't like it a bit when the colonialists,
the forefathers of this country, decided in favor of a
I have just finished watching tonight's Frontline. Let me begin by saying I am again impressed at the quality of journalism and the depth of reporting that is the hallmark of Frontline.
I have rarely been so moved by a television program, nor left so confused as to how I feel about the issue of the death penalty.
As a Canadian working in the United States I have often recoiled at what I saw to be a barbaric attitude in the death penalty. It is no secret to those outside of the USA that this country and South Africa are the only 2 "western" countries with such a "remedy" for heinous crime.
But, put in the context of the unspeakable rape and murder of Faith, the repeated rape and torture of Debbie and the brutal attmepted murder of Debbie's companion, I am at a loss.
Were it my daughter, my sister, my girlfriend, would I not demand the termination of the perpetrator's life?
And so, am I too willing to abandon long-held principle in the face of horror?
I do not know.
For that alone, you are to be congratulated.
Gloucester Point, VA
You addressed one of the more bewildering issues facing society today. And like any concept rooted in metaphysical dynamics, the death penalty topic causes sharp, antithetical positions of for and against. But your thorough even-handed approach towards the victims and their families, balenced by the conscientious work of the Nun, drew me away from the edge of this dilemma and left me in the center.. a position I find to be very uncomfortable. But because it concerns a human life the death penalty should elicit constant disscussion as your program has provoked.
Neither the film or the Frontline piece managed to change my mind on capital punishment. What I would be interested in knowing is why it takes ten to twelve years to deal out this punishment. In my opinion if the sentence is death, it should be carried out immediately.
A powerful show. Television at its very best. We are left to agonize with this disturbing issue - as we should be.
The figure of Justice carries scales and a sword -- not a cross. Sister Prejean's views are personal to her and rooted in her religion. Through democratic processes our society has determined that death is an appropriate sentence in extraordinary circumstances. This fact is without reference to any particular relion as is guarranteed by the Constitution. The Sister has a right to her views but only religous intolerance would suppose to morally elevate them above the opposing beliefs of the majority of citizens whose views are reflected in the death penalty statutes. Can it be that Sarandon and Robbins do not see the inescapable parallel here to the anti-abortion movement? How amazing.
The most compelling documentary I've seen...can't imagine the editing choices that were made. Which side? Can't say. But the emotions from both views came through as honest, devoid of any political grandstanding or ratings sensationalism. This is why I watch television. The toughest story, superbly crafted. Great job.
I am an attorney who represented a man who was executed in 1995. The movie "Dead Man Walking" and your documentary "Angel on Death Row" helped me understand what I learned is wrong with the death penalty. Whether or not the death penalty is ever justified, the interminable appeals process and the hypertechnical legalities associated with an execution deny the victims the right to feel justice has been done; they also work to deny the condemned the right to redemption. I am sure that some victims are justified, and some condemned find redemption, but they do so in spite of the process, not because of it. More movies like "Dead Man Walking" and more documentaries like "Angel on Death Row" will help turn our collective attention from the peripheral legal issues -- where all of the money, time and talent are spent -- to the center of what an execution is all about: what the condemned person did, and whether as a result it is just for society to take his or her life.
After seeing the film, this Frontline program and the various interviews on TV, I believe Sister Prejean may bwell be doing "Gods work" in attempting to save the souls of these individuals, however, I also believe that the death penalty is fully justifed for these crimes.
Don't confuse saving a criminals life with redemptiom. of their soul.
Palo Alto, CA
I was very moved by "Angel on Death Row." Thank you for the presentation. I am a public defender in California who represents people on Death Row. When I began this work, I was only mildly opposed to the death penalty. Like everyone else, I am still horrified by the brutality of the murders that I must encounter in my daily work. Nevertheless, after being personally involved in this work for many years now, I have become convinced that the United States must join the rest of Western democracies in abolishing the death penalty. I do understand the rage and revenge that the victims' families feel. But it is as much for them as anyone, that we need to invest our resources in programs that have some chance of deterring future crimes. In other words, if we really care about victims, then we must take action that will prevent future victims. We can never bring back the dead, but we CAN do things that will reduce the number of victims in the future. Throwing scarce resources into the death penalty is clearly NOT being "tough on crime." To the contrary, supporting the death penalty simply insures that the crime rate will continue and that we will have more victims. A recent AP survey revealed that most families of victims did not feel relief after the murderer was executed. The mother of one of Ted Bundy's victims said, "It doesn't heal you like you think it's going to." (Belva Kent, mother of Debi Kent) In addition, the death penalty is racist (the race of the victim -- white -- is the number one predictor of who will receive the death penalty, targets the poor, is irreversible in case of mistake, and does nothing to deter crime. Life without parole sentences amply protect society without all of the shortcomings of the death penalty. We will get there eventually.
Though I realize that this documentary was about Sister Prejean, I can't help but feel that there wasn't enough said about the rights of the victims in these cases. These inmated on death row are monsters, and ought to suffer for what they did to their victims. I would have liked to hear the opinion of that man that they tied to the tree and shot in the back of the head, who managed to come out of the attack alive. I suspect he may not be so forginving. And you can't look at that picture of Faith who was found in the woods and tell me that the person who carved her up was human.
The thought that most sticks in my mind is:
It's not whether a person deserves to die, it's whether we have the right you kill them.
Maybe we would be better off looking at the message of the Bible and Faith(s)....and remember that the role of judge of life and death belongs not to us, but to God (however we envision that Being).
Living in Canada, a country which has chosen not to use the death penalty as a method of punishment or retribution, I am pleased and intrigued by the debate which the book, the film and your program will elicit.
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the Western World who regularly impose the death penalty - it also has the highest murder rate.
I think it is crucial that Americans debate this extremely emmotional
subject in order to come to some agreement as to the purpose
this penalty serves and whether it is effective in its aims.
Kudos to Frontline for your portrayal of Sr. Helen Prejean as the "Angel on Death Row." Unlike her book "Dead Man Walking," both Frontline and the film version presented a balanced view of the capital punishment debate. Your broadcast and the film leave the impression that both supporters and opponents of the death penalty will find reinforcement for their opinions. I was heartened to watch the surviving victim of a rapist/killer now having doubts about the appropriateness of capital punishment. Her comments spoke volumes --and should cause all citizens to re-evaluate what exactly the state is doing in their behalf.
The real Angel On Death Row was not the liberal nun misguided by Catholic tradition, but the young girl who was brutally murdered by an unrepentant bestial murderer.
Well, as usual Frontline, took the low road thinking it was
the high road by giving the "good" sister the last word
about the last breath of a man who deserved "sanctioned"
killing. When will you liberals learn that it is the spiritual
death - the one that unrepentant folks are allotted - rather
than the physical death that matters eternally? This man might
have repented if he had not been convinced by the nun that he was
the victim of injustice.
These men got what they deserved. They without question were animals. They paid for their reckless behavior. It appears that would never have changed outside of prison and continued to prey on others. They won't have that chance now.
Eli Raisovich, Jr.
Sister Prejean's desire to counsel death-row inmates is admirable. Someone needs to. Her disregard for the victims is not so admirable. That Debbie from Madisonville made the first contact should be a source of shame to Sister Prejean. Debbie is the real hero in this story. Her ability to step outside her own pain and terror shows what a remarkable individual she has become. Sadly, Sister Prejean had to be reminded that there was someone else involved in this case other than Robert Willie.
I began watching "Angel on Death Row" after the program had started, when the focus began on how the Sister had become involved in the case. As I watched I found myself sympathizing with the prisoner. I was unaware of his exact crime, and his shame seemed sincere. However, as the story continued, and I learned the nature of his crimes, I lost almost all sympathy. Then, I saw pictures and video of him (not from the movie) during the period of time around his arrest and trial, and I saw the same shameful-innocent face which he wore in prison. Here was a prisoner who was concerned not for what he had done, but for what was going to happen to him. And any sympathy I had had dissapeared. I believe he was simply leading the Sister where he wanted to take her- to show a woman, who has been taught and thoroughly believes in redemption and the goodness of all mankind, a false, or rather, contrived personality worthy of sympathy. Almost anyone, when faced with impending death, will search for someone and reach out to them for comfort and compassion. He did this with the Sister. It doesn't mean he was reformed and deeply sorry about his acts. That he wanted to keep his "dignity" at the end and not ask for mercy from the parents shows a complete lack of humanity. I sincerely believe if he had been allowed to live, someone else would have been raped, tortured, and murdered at his hands. I am not the strongest believer in the death penalty, but it seems our only viable choice at this time to deal with such horrible people.
Student at Columbia College, New York
I would have to say that I was quite dissapointed in this Frontline. I read the book "Dead Man Walking"and Sister Helen Prejean is a far more multi-dimensional person about the issue of the death penalty than you presented. She came across as a typical "bleeding heart" totally sympathetic to the criminals and not concerned with anything or anyone else.
In actuality, I felt that the strength of the book was that
she presented many sides of this very complex issue. Why didn't
you show how she has also set up programs for victim's rights?
Why didn't you mention that one of the ways she feels the death
penalty will be abolished is if criminals get harsher sentences
and spend more time in prison for their crimes-thereby letting
people feel safer without the death penalty? These are just
a few examples of how you could've presented her in a more
realistic way....sometimes simplification to fit into a one
hour time slot does not do justice to an issue. This is one
of those times.
The death penalty survives in the United States of America, as other nations reject such final solutions. The severity and frequency of crime makes us as a people look for more permanent yet short term answers. Education and proper care of all the people in this country would solve this problem for centuries to come. Do we eliminate or educate?
Also, Denise Morris has a great strength. Even as a victim she questions the value of state imposed death. How can a person suffer and not seek vengeance?
I agree with Mrs. Harvey. No one has the right take another life but by his actions, Robert Willie and others like him have given up their right to be regarded as decent and human. I can not agree with Sister Prejean, as well intended as her actions may be, she is devoting her time to those who prey on society. Who is to stand for the victims and those left behind? Where is the media blitz to show the pain and suffering of the victims families. It seems that America does not want to see the reality of these killers and speaks of their right to be treated humanely. Did they treat their victims humanely? Did they ever think of their victims rights or feelings? No. I think if you want to be sure that it is justice that is done then work on the court systems. Try to make changes to help ensure that innocent people are not sentenced to death. But when a person is so surely guilty of such cruel deeds that an eye for an eye is not such a bad thing. I must wonder how some of the right to lifers would feel if it was their daughter or son.