The Killer In Us All…

Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 1
To defend.
And for food.
We all know that…
After all, we’re animals too, survival above all else…even Mother Teresa took up figurative “arms” to prevent her “flock” from starving to death.
It’s not that type of killing to which I refer.
It’s the premeditated murderous need in every one of us…and by “us” I mean those of us who are born predatory AND those of us who have voted “Yes” to “legally” execute those who are.
In the summer of 1970, Canada was at the crossroads in this debate…
That year, the Festival Express train was rolling across our great land…
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and those raucous singers couldn’t get enough of our Canadian Club whiskey…I guess it was rather tasty after you dropped hallucinogenic capsules into the bottom of the bottle…
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Oh, and while this drug-fuelled CNR train roared East to West, ordinary Canadians had more death on their minds than music on their tongues…the “social justice” debate, raging since ‘62, was now coming to an apex…
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I was only 6 years old but remember like it was yesterday…
Sitting on the floor of my Grandparents’ dining room, playing with my Barbie dolls, listening intently to all the adults therein, sitting high up on stiff wooden back dining room chairs they were, their moral standards just as high and stiff, debating whether or not we as a nation should continue to say “Yes” to legalized murder, to say “Yes” to “social justice” for our criminally lost souls…
Although I had no idea what they meant by “Capital Punishment” - their language couched that evening because a kiddie was in the room - I knew that whatever this issue was, it was a doozy…the adults were stern, passionate and mysteriously devoted to this singular topic for the entire evening. Whatever this was, I pondered, must be up to them, and Canadians like them, in the coming months (which actually turned into years, the debate so heated no decision was made until 1976), to make a very important decision for our country…
I listened intently…and like a Kodak Moment, seared it all into my brain.
The vote in the dining room that night seemed to be split:
  • my Father, a converted Atheist and retired R.C.M.P. Constable, and my Grandfather, a converted Catholic and a retired Civil Servant, both For the Death Penalty;
  • my Grandmother, a born and devoted Catholic (who could very well have become a Nun had she not wanted children) predictably Against;
  • my Mother, a non-practising Catholic, living in a part of southern Ontario that in those days to be Catholic made you on the right hand side of the Devil to the North-Irish Protestants who encompassed that area, predictably Undecided.
If you knew my Mother’s side of the family, to discuss anything of a controversial nature and to be publicly split on that touchy subject was like watching the water go backwards up Niagara Falls…it just never, ever happened.
Many years later, of course, I figured out what that hot summer night’s discussion was all about, but even then, without knowing the full meaning, I knew that this “angst” had to be big and widely felt if it landed in the Sherriffs’ Dining Room in the wee little town of Beausejour, Manitoba…
The Angst: The need to keep killers off the streets in a permanent way through the sin of committing murder ourselves.
The Story: This last little while (well, who’s kidding who here…*sigh*…), I have been focused on murderers…but especially on one (even when others are what I’m “supposed” to be writing on…)…
Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 5In 1977, one year AFTER Canada abolished the Death Penalty, Elmo Patrick Sonnier - the one half of an amalgam that was the male character in the book and movie, “Dead Man Walking” (starring Sean Penn in the movie as the Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 6convicted-soon-to-be-executed killer) - and his brother Eddie were convicted of killing two Louisiana teenagers, Loretta Ann Bourque and David LeBlanc, who were parked in a lover’s lane part of St. Martin Parish, both shot three times in the back of the head, Loretta also raped.
To this day, mystery still swirls around exactly who killed who. Eddie had confessed to the police that Pat killed both teens, so during the trials, Eddie got Life and Pat, Death, yet when Pat got Death, Eddie recanted and claimed he had been the only shooter…the recantation didn’t help take Pat off of Death Row.
Regardless, the duo had been harassing lover’s lane teens in this area for months, posing as police officers, threatening the couples at gunpoint and sexually assaulting the females. The teens were too frightened to come forward until the Brothers Sonnier upped the ante and murdered their last victims.

Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 7Sister Helen Prejean (who is portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the movie), Sonnier’s soon-to-be-drafted spiritual advisor,  manages, just hours prior to his execution, to get Patrick to own up to shooting David and raping Loretta, leaving one to assume that his brother, Eddie, shot Loretta, raping her as well.
Sonnier was executed just after midnight on April 5, 1984 in the then infamous Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 8“Gruesome Gertie” electric chair housed at Angola (Louisiana State Penitentiary).
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This was Sister Helen’s first brush with the issue of “social justice” – the debate over the righteousness of an “Eye for an Eye”…
Being a nun, of course, the “answer” for her had always been Pro-Life, from conception to natural death, the publicly held view of the Vatican, so Sister Helen, despite later becoming aware of the absolute heinousness of the sexual attack and murders, felt a need to seek out the worth of this man beyond his worst acts.
Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 9In the online magazine, The Catholic Exponent, (click pic for website) columnist, Marly Kosinski quotes Sister Helen thusly,
“She said she once attended a retreat in which the participants had to complete spiritual ‘exercises.’ One was on how to discern if the Holy Spirit was moving in his or her life or if there was another kind of spirit moving in their life. She said, as a general rule, if the Holy Spirit is moving in our life, even if what we are doing is difficult, there is peacefulness in it. When the evil spirit is moving us, it’s agitation that stirs us up.
‘But when the Holy Spirit is trying to move us out of a groove and into something new, there is agitation first, like the angels are trying to stir the waters before we make the move. And I recognized that I didn’t get it. And the story of my conversion is in ‘Dead Man Walking’ – the story of, first, just understanding the Gospel of Jesus and that the preferential option of being with the poor is what Jesus in his own life did. I realized I was agitated and resisting because the Holy Spirit was about to move me into something new that would change my life,’ Sister Helen said.
Sister Helen said it was while praying with David LeBlanc’s father that she realized he had been on an incredible spiritual journey to live the life God expects of all of us. She said the realization came when, in addition to praying for his family and the family of Loretta, he also prayed for Sonnier’s mother.
‘He taught me the Gospel of Jesus in his own flesh, in his own life, in his own sorrow. He said to me, ‘Sister, this is how I look at it. Society thinks forgiveness is weak. That by forgiving I am condoning what those men did and I gotta be for the death penalty. But I didn’t like the way that made me feel inside. Because I have always been a kind man and I said they killed my son, but I wasn’t going to let them kill me.’ And he forgave them. Not just once, but every day of his life. And that is what Jesus wants for us – to not let ourselves be overcome by hatred.’
Sister Helen said it is easy to become outraged by the death of innocent people, but far harder to become outraged by the death of someone who is being punished for a terrible crime.
‘Where else in the criminal justice system do we let the behavior of the criminal be the thing that determines how we respond?’ she concluded.”
Quite the mouthful, and mindful, I must say…
Having been born of a Catholic Mother and a Protestant Father, who eventually opted for Atheism by the time I came along (Bill Maher, Father Catholic/Mother Jewish, he and I go to the same psychiatrist!), I feel this “Angst” possibly more than most.
The Old Testament in the Bible talks of an Eye for an Eye…The New Testament preaches Repentance and Reconciliation…doncha just WUV it when a book is schizophrenic? It’s like some kind of torturous mind-game which spews, “Make up your own mind already but it had better be the RIGHT decision or you WILL fry in Hell!”
The debate of whether or not to kill killers springs anew whenever you have a man convicted of a premeditated, especially heinous murder and a Jury of his peers inevitably has to apply its’ country’s or state’s version of “social justice”.
Canada opted out of Capital Punishment after a gruelling fourteen year debate, the U.S., a country more State-run than Federally run, chooses the fate of its prisoners State by State, often the more Republican-slanted States favouring the Death Penalty.
The Manson Family,
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all convicted murderers, my métier on theDead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 10
(click pic for website),
deals precisely with this issue – society’s need for retribution beyond just remorse and rehabilitation. In 1971, The Manson Family were all given the Death Penalty, but by a legal quirk of fate, the California Supreme Court ruled such punishment as “cruel and unusual” and in 1972 the entire killing gang were commuted to Life With the Possibility of Parole, as in ‘72 the Life Without option did not exist.
Since then, all seven have been sitting in California prisons (Susan Atkins, 2nd in from left in the photo above, has since died of brain cancer while incarcerated), and according to the U.S. Ministry of Justice 2001 statistics, the average annual cost for an inmate in a maximum-security prison is $64,779…doing the math, The Manson Family murderers are costing the California tax-payers a nice tidy sum of $453,453.00 PER YEAR…and as published by the L.A. Times, Charlie’s “Hotel California” sojourn from ‘71 to ‘98 alone, came in at a whopping $770,000.00.
According to theDead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 11 (click the pic for website) the net cost per inmate for lethal injection in the State of Texas is: $86.08.
John McAdams, Political Science Professor at Marquette University and Lone Nut Proponent of the JFK Assassination states the following:
"If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call."
IF Capital Punishment is on the books,
The gross cost to the killer’s victims: Death…either way.
The gross cost to the victims’ surviving family members: Life without Joy…either way.
The gross cost to the killer: Death…with a chance at salvation if he repents as he nears the Pearly Gates.
The total cost to society…either way: As Yet Unknown.
When the amalgam character, Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 12Mathew Poncelet, finally admits to Sister Helen his culpability in the story “Dead Man Walking”, he transforms from a man of rage and hate to a resolute, remorseful and repentant man. His words -  daring the victims’ parents to “pull the switch” on him, filled with that “agitation” of which Sister Helen spoke, naturally segued to his hope that his death would “give them all relief”.
The cost of a bad soul gone good through Death?: Priceless…maybe.
If I’m anything in my belief in God, I’m rather a believer in Reincarnation…yet, because I’m such a warped human being, my take on it is rather warped too…
I believe that we remain for eternity with the same soul but we are born, the first time, with very base desires, and with each successive “life” lived here on Earth, we learn, we grow, and as our soul continues to return to Earth, an ever loftier, more worthy human being develops…the End-Game: we achieve ever-lasting Life in a better world once we have achieved and lived the final life of a truly good human being, a pure Child of God, here on Earth…or something to that effect…
Hey, don’t quote me, I’m on my third Rum & Coke already!
The Crux: Would Poncelet, aka Patrick Sonnier, have achieved that repentance and remorse if he hadn’t had Death breathing down his own neck?
My Guess: No.
He would have remained in prison, “sucking up tax dollars”, ever the professional con, stating to all who cared to listen that he had never killed those teens…that he too was just a “victim” in all this…
Do any of us own up to our sins until we have to? Not usually. But most of us are not Mother Teresa nor Sister Helen.
Survival of the Fittest at any cost…animals are hard-wired to act this way and we humans ARE animals in the basest of forms.
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The Manson Family members now, save for Charlie (as he’s as steadfast in his murderous beliefs as he always was and wisely, long ago, gave up on parole), feign remorse and repentance at every Parole Hearing they get, several having “Found Jesus” in yet another attempt to bolster their cause for freedom. Yet, every one of these convicted killers, who should have been gassed in ‘71 (San Quentin’s Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 14Green Room now uses lethal injection), still sit in prison, the tax-payers keep paying for that sit and the murderers’ “con” keeps breathing evermore.
If being accepted as a Child of God is our ultimate goal, maybe the only way predatory killers - who only had base desires as their reason for being to begin with - can achieve said is to face the spectre of death and admit to their sins in the process…
Maybe killers need to kill, then must be killed, to stop being killers.
Sister Helen doesn’t agree.
John McAdams does.
I keep watching “Dead Man Walking”, over and over again, to find the answer. To date, I have no answer…
Dead Man WalkingDeathPenaltyPatrickSonnierSisterHelenPrejeanSocialCommentary 15Oh, and by the way, I prefer Crown Royal to Canadian Club and Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone killer of JFK.


Anonymous said…
spot on, Burb. That movie has alwas caused me a great deal of discomfort. Your analysis really explains why.

Nice writing, writer. You done good.


B.J. Thompson said…
Awww...thanks "you"...your comments mean allot...:)

me too...;)
Bruce Coltin said…
Randall Adams.
B.J. Thompson said…
Yes, Bruce...Randall and others like him...some crossing that Thin Blue Line when they shouldn't...

And then I say to you...

Casey Anthony.


Thanks for dropping by Bruce...:)