‘Dead Man Walking’ author discusses Rodriguez case, expects federal executions to decline
Sister Helen Prejean: "Being sentenced to death and following through with it are two very different things."
FARGO, N.D. (KVRR) — The case of Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. is one that is well-known in our community.
The federal government recently decided not to pursue the death penalty for Rodriguez, Jr.
“Being sentenced to death and following through with it are two very different things.”
Sister Helen Prejean is a well-known advocate for the people on death row as well as their families.
“I know many of you believe in the death penalty and if you look at the terrible crime and say, ‘well they deserve to die for what they did’ but have no knowledge as I didn’t. I had to learn everything about how the system works and how broken it is.”
Known for her best-selling book later turned movie, “Dead Man Walking” is based on her experiences with two convicts on death row for whom she was a spiritual adviser for before their executions. She also has earned many awards and given countless commencement speeches at colleges all over the world.
Over the years, Sister Helen has gotten to know the Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr. case including speaking to his family.
“I mean, even if he is guilty, the defense never presented to the jury when they go to decide if he lives or dies about his mental struggles and the poor family had been there with him.”
Rodriguez was convicted in 2006 for the 2003 abduction and murder of North Dakota college student Dru Sjodin.
After a lengthy search, her body was found, resulting in Rodriguez being sentenced to death.
In the past week, U.S. Attorney for North Dakota announced that the federal government will not pursue the death penalty for him any longer.
“Can you imagine, if this was your brother, you know, who was sentenced to be killed by the state and you find out that it has been lifted? You have a lot of suffering ahead of you and being with him and the years of imprisonment as he’s gonna get old and as he’s gonna get sick, he’s gonna do a lot of suffering.”
With her time advocating for people on death row, Sister Helen expresses that the death penalty not only affects the defendant and victim, but it also affects the families of everyone involved in the case itself.
Sister Helen believes that with the number of people being federally executed declining, that this will stay the national trend.
“A lot of Americans say they support the death penalty. Educate them about it and what it really is. The death penalty that most people say they believe in is not the one we have.”
She hopes the death penalty is completely abolished in the future not only for the people on death row but also for their families and the people involved in the cases.
Sister Helen says she will keep advocating for death row inmates until the federal government completely does away with all capital punishment.