Dead Man Walking | Study Guide

Sister Helen Prejean

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Dead Man Walking | Key Figure Analysis

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Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean is a nun with the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille. She was a teacher in poor New Orleans neighborhoods and became an advocate for social justice and equality in the United States. In 1982 she agreed to be the spiritual adviser to a death row inmate in Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary. Her experiences with death row inmates led Prejean to become a well-known, well-respected, passionate, and outspoken opponent of the death penalty. Prejean is grounded in a deep Christian faith that asks for compassion and mercy for all human life.

Millard Farmer

Millard Farmer is a dedicated and passionate anti–death penalty advocate. He is a lawyer from Atlanta, Georgia, who has years of experience appealing for the commutation of the death sentences for inmates on death row. His impassioned efforts on behalf of death row inmates reveals Farmer to be a highly moral man who chooses poorly paid defense appeals rather than more lucrative work.

Vernon Harvey

Vernon Harvey is tormented by the loss of his murdered stepdaughter, Faith Hathaway. He is the primary proponent of the death penalty in the book. He speaks of the righteousness of seeing Robert Willie "fry." Harvey demands executions for murderers as a just form of retribution or vengeance to satisfy the victim's family that justice was served.

Patrick Sonnier

Patrick Sonnier grew up in a very poor family. He and his brother were involved in a horrific murder. Patrick was convicted and sentenced to death, though he claims he was not the one who did the actual killing. Guided by Prejean, Sonnier eventually comes to take responsibility for his crime and to express remorse for what he has done at his execution in 1984.

Robert Willie

Robert Willie is a tough, "macho" young man who maintains a cool and self-collected attitude at all times. He claims his accomplice murdered Faith, but he was given a death sentence because of his incompetent lawyer. Willie never owns up to his part in the crime. He is cool and jaunty right up to the time of his execution.

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