” If you haven’t seen Helen give a talk (she’s on the road nonstop September through May), you might not quite fathom how in character her response was.
This interview took place in her home, a modest apartment, in Mid-City, New Orleans, in April 2018. She’d recently gotten over a bad case of pneumonia, which included a week in the hospital, but that didn’t prevent each of us from enjoying a Dixie beer.
NOR Many states have, in fact, pulled back on the death penalty?
PREJEAN The number of executions and death sentences is going down year by year.
NOR Most of the prosecutors don’t allow for a plea bargain? She heads up the ACLU John Adams Project, which puts millions of dollars into the defending of people accused and targeted from 9/11. But you’ve got to define child, because when you have a law you always have to have a cutting-off point.
She says the death penalty rests on the premise that we can entrust the government and the courts to set up criteria in some kind of predictable, reasonable, and lawful way to select and punish with death the “worst of the worst”—and do this according to norms of the Constitution. NOR So there are two trials—one for the guilty or not guilty determination, and the other for sentencing? Which is partly why the death penalty will always be more expensive than any other kind of trial. So you begin to have this hierarchy or this meritocracy: what is the status of some victims, that their killing would automatically make their killer eligible for the death penalty, but not others? So you can have parents come in before the judicial committee and say, “Our son was killed!
When I first asked her about doing an interview for a book about writing and resistance, she answered: “Bring it on!
We met years ago through a personal connection and have been close friends ever since.
The sentencing trial can take double or triple the time because everything is open in looking into the life of the defendant, and what might be a mitigating circumstance. Almost everybody wants the death penalty if you kill a policeman, but then not if you kill a fireman. He was killed, our son, he was the light of our eyes.” But he was 14 years old, and the law says that a child is 12 years old or younger.
They respond, “But doesn’t his death call for the ultimate penalty?