Common Reading: The Death of Innocents
University of Oregon's Common Reading for 2011
Which story was the most meaningful for you? Why?
The story about George W. Bush’s executions when he was governor of Texas was actually what stirred some of the strongest emotions for me….page 241 to page 250. I already thought he was an idiot, but this just made me absolutely despise him with a passion for being such a selfish hypocrite. I can’t believe he was president for even one term, let alone TWO! But no matter how much I hate him I still wouldn’t put the death penalty on him ha…
But between Dobie and Joe O’Dell, I’d probably say Dobie’s was more meaningful for me (even though I have the same birthday as Joe) because he was so forgiving of the people killing him. That seems so impossible, to know your innocent and still forgive the people killing you for something you didn’t do. I just respected him so much for that, he really amazed me. Since Dobie’s was first in the book, it was the story that really showed me the wrongs of his trial, and how evidence can be withheld and how prosecutors can just make stuff up and get away with it. By the time I got to the Joe O’Dell story , I was a little more jaded and wasn’t at outraged and shocked. It was still very meaningful, because again, he was refused DNA testing and witnesses were threatened and evidence withheld (like the umbrella).
oh and also, i loved how dobie refused to eat dinner with the warden the night before. And i loved how he was mad at himself for not listening to his mom that night, it kind of showed me that i really should listen to my mom more ha ha and i realized that some of the worse nights and consequences of my life could have been avoided if i’d listened to her, so i thought that was pretty true how often times moms know best.
The awful behavior of the prosecutors reminded me of the Ace Attorney games. The fact that prosecutors are willing to do anything to enhance their “careers” just sickens me. Both cases, but especially O’Dell’s, greatly remind me of the these games, but far more serious and more corrupt. Miles Edgeworth used to be like that as well, but (spoilers) by the end of the first game, he knew that finding the truth about what happened was more important than getting a “guilty” verdict. Why can’t Alberi and Test be more like him? Oh, that’s right, we’re in a society where corruption is rewarded instead of scolded. Both the games and the book are not just about the wrongs of punishing the innocent, but also about the corruption of the justice system in general.
For the same reason, there aren’t any good defense attorneys these days. I wish there were more people like Phoenix Wright out there, but it seems like no one wants the job because of the system alone! Because of all the bad attorneys he got, O’Dell was forced to have none at all!
I was unsure about whether I was for or against the death penalty before reading The Death of Innocents, but now, with this book combined with this video:
I am DEFINITELY against the death penalty now.
I have to agree with Suzanna, that the most meaningful story was Dobie’s. I admire his remorse as well as his Christ-like behavior before death in forgiving his executioners. I’ll admit though; all of the stories i read tore me up inside. The book reminded me of a book called “Shattered Lives: Portraits of America’s Drug War”. In the book, less time is spent on each individual and there are many more stories than the two in Sister Prejean’s book, however, both books show how the justice system is flawed, and how innocent people are wronged by it. I cannot imagine being in a position of trying to provide comfort for a death row inmate, which makes me respect and want to meet Sister Prejean even more. Additionally, Edward chose a great video link (Anything using Stephen Colbert to prove a point is genius in my book), and i must say that i am, and always have been against the death penalty, as well as some other laws and practices in our country. We should pick and choose who we incarcerate (we shouldn’t get to decide who lives and dies) a lot more wisely. Anyone who reads the 2009 FY budget report for the bureau of prisons would be shocked. I’d definitely say that America needs a wake-up call in many respects. We need to practice democracy, rather than just believe in it.
To me, O’Dell’s story was more meaningful because that story included a lot more facts about the actual trial and what happened. I thought that the amount of corruption shown in this story was astounding. Not to mention the apparent lack of concern over the way that O’Dell was treated. Also, while Dobbie’s story was more touching emotionally, O’Dell’s was, in my opinion, scarier. It was amazing to me that someone as smart as O’Dell seemed could so easily be run over by the court. Reading about what he did in response to what happened to him with his lawyer, the withheld evidence, and the inability to get the DNA test, I couldn’t help thinking that if I was in his position, I probably would have reacted and tried to do the same things to prove my innocence that he did and just like him, I very well could have lost.
I believe Inessa makes an excellent point when describing how O’Dell’s story affected her. “I thought that the amount of corruption shown in this story was astounding. Not to mention the apparent lack of concern…” Those two things were what made O’Dell’s story more meaningful to me. I could not believe how through all the appeals, the new DNA evidence, the defective lawyers, the support of the Pope and the people of Italy, a judge could overturn it all. I left that story feeling like it was easier to send a man to his death then keep him alive. How could anyone justify that?
Between Dobie and O’Dell’s stories, I have to agree with Inessa (his smartness, the facts, the fight he put up) but honestly, all these stories made me so frustrated and somehow powerless. I felt like I needed to do something but it just seems so impossible because it’s such a big issue. Dobie and O’Dell’s story are meaningful not only concerning the death penalty but also concerning the American judicial system.
However, in the less detailed stories, the story of David Lawson was the most meaningful for me when it comes to the death penalty (The Death of Innocence chapter right at the end). He wanted to die in a gas chamber and have the whole thing videotaped but the courts did not allow him to. David Lawson had murdered one man. On the day of his execution, he is naked, wearing only a diaper. He’s strapped into a chest and has a leather mask on (ok this is the 1980s but still…). While the gas is spreading, he cried out choking and sputtering and ultimately whispering “I am human. I am a human being.” A few minutes later, he’s dead with all sorts of fluids coming out of him.
This story although it is not fully developed in the book absolutely traumatized me (I was picturing it…). I mean, David Lawson was probably a horrible criminal. Wayne Shinn’s family probably wanted him dead for the murder he committed but damn it… he is a human being… The murder was inhumane but is it a reason for us to do the same thing to him? I mean doesn’t it sort of justify his act in the end?
The death he has been condemned to is atrocious. He is not a human being anymore after going though that torture. He’s completely vulnerable… he’s wearing diapers! he dies drooling and soiled… he’s wearing chains and a mask… I mean he is stripped of all his humanity. He took away Wayne Shinn’s life but how is it ok for us to take away his life that way… We’re not God… we don’t have that right and how can we condone his act if we’re doing to him exactly what he did to Wayne Shinn?
I think that the “I… am… a… Human… being…” <== that drove me mad. And it's true… we're killing a human being the way we would kill an animal… We can't do that especially because we're telling him that what he did was wrong… it makes no sense.
This story combined with the Bud Welch's story right before makes the story even more meaningful. it shows us that the capital punishment is awful and ultimately useless… there are other forms of punishment. doing those things to other human beings (gas chambers, lethal injections, electrocutions…) is inhumane…
I have not met anyone who supported the treatment of the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, mentally handicapped … well all the victims of the World War II gas chambers so I don't understand how anyone can read the two/three paragraphs on David Lawson and not react…
The stories that hold the most meaning for a reader are always the ones that hit closest to home. In my case, it was the execution of Jerome Bowden, the 33 year old black man with the mind of an 8 year old. My Great-Uncle’s son is a 50 year old man, with the mind of a 5 year old, and I cannot fathom any way that he would understand what murder is, nevertheless, kill someone. Even if he did kill someone, it would be a very misguided, inaccurate spout of energy or anger, and that would be nowhere close to voluntary manslaughter. Poor Jerome was forced to confess by the police, who subsequently wrote out the confession for him because he didn’t know how to write or read. His last words before he died were, ” ‘I want to thank the people of this institution for taking such good care of me'”( Prejean 186) and they nearly broke my heart. I wanted to cry for the loss of such innocence and the unmated cruelty of the State judicial system. With Akins vs. Virginia in 2002, it is Unconstitutional to kill mentally handicapped people, but I know now that this piece of legislation won’t stop some states from killing them. Like any other law it can be made ineffective through wordy jargon and misinterpreted. From Sister Helen’s account it seems that the State loves killing the mentally handicapped, the poor, the crippled, the disenfranchised, even children. There is something completely wrong with your system when the Somalia is the only other country that agrees with your stance on killing juvenile defenders. In many ways this system has the power to permit genocide behind bars, and it is sickening.
The other story that had a lot of meaning for me was the story of Steve Watson, the jailhouse snitch in the O’Dell case. I actually have a lot of empathy for this man. He hardly knew O’Dell at all, and he knew that if he said a few magic words he could get a plea agreement. Everyone loves to pretend that they love all human beings equally, but the truth is that we don’t. Watson had a beautiful family to go home to, and what did O’Dell really mean to him; he couldn’t even be sure if he was innocent or guilty. However, when he did want to own up to his lie, which was a very mature thing to do, he was threatened by the courts with a perjury claim, keeping him silent while they finished the death penalty case. This, in turn, reflects again on the massive corruption in the American Judicial System, especially in the South. It is a system where the truth is downplayed and you are encouraged to lie. Its seems that the only way to mitigate your sentence is to lie (that is if you are innocent) and then you are caught in your own trap of confession. On the other hand, you tell the truth, and you get executed. Also, in Steve Watson’s case, and in the case of the Greenriver Killer, if you give information about other prisoners, whether true or false, you get your sentence drastically changed. This all promotes a judicial atmosphere of falsehood, and in the right circumstances, men in power will use that to their advantage. It comes to a point where you never know what is really true, and people will be allowed to say anything and get away with it. It seems that in the current system, most of the times you are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around. In addition, the fact that Steve Watson was bullied into not telling the truth shows the inherent control the court has over proper witnesses and juries. Perhaps in the future, men will get plea agreements by helping to prove someone’s innocence, not their guilt.
I agree completely with what Suzanna brought up, how that incident truly showed Bush’s foolishness in action and insensitivity towards cases and his own constituents. It is a true pity that he was president for two terms. I also found Dobie to be the most meaningful story to me between Dobie and Joe’s, even though Joe’s reminded me immensely of a manga that I recently read called “Our Happy Times” (Which was one of the few mangas that has actually made me cry, but that’s beside the point). When I first started the book, I did not have much thought for and about the death penalty, in my mind, it was just something that was there, to deal with criminals, I knew about wrongful execution so I was interested to hear Sister Helen Prejean’s take on it. Since Dobie’s story was the first, his story was the one that showed me the corrupt system of our justice system and the death row sentencing and it really allowed me to sympathize with the inmates that were wrongfully thrown into death row. I also felt very touched about how Dobie was able to forgive the people that had put him into that position till the end.
The story of the “anguished juror” (P 237-238) was another story that I found meaningful. I understand exactly how he felt, because I can imagine that I would have doesn’t the exact same thing as him, if I was put into the same position. I too would have caved under the pressure and the anger of the other jurors and afterwards felt the guilt that he had felt. I am the type of person that feels guilty and bad very easily for every little thing I do wrong (I once felt guilty for a week for accidently knocking someone’s water over their homework). I know that if I was in that anguished juror’s place the guilt would have weighed down upon my conscience heavily. It also angered me that the defense lawyer did not point out his client’s mental handicap. I have an old friend who is mentally handicapped and if he was to commit a criminal act, I know that he would not understand exactly what he was doing, he should not just be sent to death row just because for committing something he did not understand, did not know the consequences to.
For me, the story of Joseph O’Dell was especially meaningful. Obviously, all the stories were quite chilling in their own ways, but O’Dell’s was particularly so because of the seeming magnitude it had. The Italian Parliament got itself involved as did the Pope. About three-quarters of the way through the story, I asked myself how on earth this story could end with an execution. Although I was too young at the time to pay any attention to the case, I felt as though the attention of millions had been captured, and that it had become too important for the United States to sign off as yet another incomplete case for an execution. It seemed triumphant and exciting that maybe, everyone would finally see the problems with the legal process of the U.S. and maybe they would change. What’s more, Joseph O’Dell would probably be released. It disturbed me beyond belief that this man was actually executed, despite all the flaws with the case. It seemed as though it didn’t matter that so many people cared, and that a foreign country’s government cared enough to get involved. It terrified me and broke my heart that, despite all the attention paid to this case, he was still killed.
I think Dobie’s story was most meaningful to me. I think that was partly due to his intelligence. In the way Prejean describes him, he seems kind of childlike, especially in the way he regrets not listening to his mama. He just seemed so kind and it sort of made my heart go out to him. Then hearing his case made me even angrier. It was just so obvious that he could not have committed his crime. And besides the fact that he was innocent, his conviction allowed a guilty person to walk free!
I think the stories from this book that have stuck with me the most are those about the corruption in the justice system. I just can’t get over the fact that innocent people are being convicted and then aren’t being allowed appeals. The fact that the wrong person was convicted in the initial trial, didn’t really surprise me, I mean that’s what appeals are for right? Apparently not, as shown in the O’Dell case, people with obvious need for appeals are being rejected. That, I think, is what makes me feel the most anger.
All of the stories were stimulating in their own ways but Joseph O’Dell’s was particularly poignant because he fought seemingly insurmountable odds. It was amazing to hear how he received miraculously good fortune yet at the same time experienced extremely bad luck. I was surprised to learn that jailhouse snitches exist and that they will offer their “services” to the prosecution in order to mitigate their own sentences.
Hearing how O’Dell desperately fought for his life in a David-and-Goliath type situation made me sad. He tried to become a lawyer overnight, dealt with abysmally limited resources and false testimony (snitch Steven Watson), a prosecution that withheld exculpatory evidence and blocked the jury from knowing about the life-without-parole sentence, and fought off trained and experienced attorneys in Court.
O’Dell did all this while carrying the burden of proving his innocence. Even though was able to get the following: DNA testing, an evidentiary hearing in federal court, a prominent DNA expert on his side, and Pope John Paul II to speak out on his behalf, he was still found guilty and was killed by the government. Knowing about his good fortune deepened my sadness when I learned he was killed and this was why his story was so meaningful to me.
The story of Bud Welch was the most meaningful to me, because it presented a heart-wrenching yet positive message within such a sobering book. Just for a recap, Welsh was a man whose daughter was killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh. When I see violence between people, groups, or nations, it makes me sad, because so much suffering could be avoided if people chose to respond with peace instead of more violence. My favorite quote from this story is from his daughter, Julie, who said “the death penalty is nothing but vengeance; it just fuels hate.” This reminds me of another quote in which Gandhi said: “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”. I did not support the death penalty before I read this book, but I feel a much stronger conviction now, that the death penalty is unnecessary, unfair (in many cases), and an insult to the human life and spirit.
I don’t presume to know the pain of losing a loved one to a violent crime that would lead to a death penalty, but Bud Welch’s story reminds me that, no matter how much a person is hurting, in the end, it is healthier and more constructive to respond with love instead of hate. I am also outraged that prosecutors would push for a death penalty without regard to whether or not the defendant is actually guilty! I find it hard to believe that these prosecutors would let their lives be dictated by money and status in such an amoral way. Feel like these selfish people are truly a disgrace to humanity.
On addition, I found Joseph O’Dell’s story very shocking and unsettling because it revealed the many flaws in the justice system. I wish I could do something to combat the corruption, but I realize that this problem has a long and complicated history that must be dealt with one small step at a time.
All of these stories effectively serve their purpose of opening the eyes of the general public and bringing them closer to the flaws within the american legal system. Specifically, capital punishment is an issue I find myself quite removed from because I have no personal experience with it. Learning about the intricacies of these trials is shocking because it is something that is easily overlooked when one hears of a death sentence, or most sentences for that matter. This is exemplified in the story of David Bates (222-223), the former prisoner who commented against Justice Scalia and his court systems. It just proves how difficult it is for a person to understand something if they haven’t experienced it. That was the most effective part of this book to me. It gave me a higher level of knowledge on an issue I had little more than a very basic understanding of.
With that in mind, I found the story of Joseph O’Dell the most meaningful. Not only did it cue the reader in on facts of O’Dell’s personal life, it used description of the trial to give a much larger picture of the American legal system. Granted this was provided by a barrage of Prejean’s interpretations of the notes which at times felt like I was just reading court transcripts, it is still hard to not be phased by the injustice present in this case. While I do feel it is very difficult for most people to effectively defend themselves in court, it is baffling how flawed many aspects of appellate jurisdiction and lower level courts appear to be. I don’t understand how evidence that can potentially prove innocence could ever be overlooked or denied.
When flipping through the channels on TV, I sometimes pass by those really exhaustingly boring courtroom shows like Swift Justice with Jackie Glass or Judge Judy or Judge Whomever. Well actually, they can sometimes be entertaining, but that is my point. I look at those shows and I don’t see much in them other than entertainment to pass the time. In other words, I never really care about them and I don’t give much sincere thought into the case. When watching those kind of shows, the subconscious mind tends to pull to clear-cut sides from the situation, the good side and the bad side. So, I’ve come to realize that my initial subconscious opinion about the defendant is that this person is guilty.
For this reason, I feel as though the story of Joseph O’Dell was the most meaningful to me. It showed me the corruption of the courts from the perspective of the defendant, a side to which I had never given much consideration. Joseph O’Dell’s encounter with the injustice of our criminal justice system, the prosecutors’ determination to hold back potent exculpatory evidence, the support O’Dell received from Italy, the love Lori Urs developed for O’Dell, and finally O’Dell’s execution all helped me to see that there is so much more to a case than what happens in a courtroom. Joseph O’Dell’s story taught me to view a person for more than his or her actions, and that actions do not define a person. And that even those facing the death penalty, whether guilty or innocent, can be loved.
If I had to choose between Joe’s story and Dobie’s story in terms of which one is more meaningful, I would have to point towards Joe’s after hesitating for a bit. Like Inessa said, Dobie’s story was emotionally touching, and truly, his story and everyone’s story in this autobiography are unique and hold their own special meaning. But after reading page after page about Joe fighting for his life and losing in the end, I felt the cool ashes within me fire up into anger at the injustice he faced. Just how even though he was fully aware of his innocence, he stayed calm throughout, even till the point of death. I admired that so much, how he didn’t lose control over his emotions or did irrational things out of frustration, which I probably would have done if I were in his situation. That’s why I think his story is more meaningful; his story contains more hardships than Dobie’s, and he, in my eyes, won in the end by keeping his dignity.
Not to disregard the story of Dobie and O’Dell–both were truly powerful stories and I am glad that they will forever be on paper to tell of the horrible injustice they faced–but the story that was most meaningful for me was Sister Helen’s story. In the second half of the book, she mentions how she decided that we humans are responsible for making the world a better place and thus, brought herself to live amongst the poor people as Jesus did. That takes a great deal of courage, compassion, and selflessness and I admire her for that. I also truly admired Lori’s story about her zeal and relentless effort to fight for Joseph O’Dell, even to the point that she marries him. One of my greatest desires is to be able to find the cause that God has created me for. I believe that Sister Helen and Lori are in the midst of the purpose that God created them for, and I hope for the same passion and relentlessness in my life as well.
Many moments in this book left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Too many moments, it seemed. It was difficult for to stay sitting while reading this book; many times I wanted to shout or kick something due to the horrible injustice of it all: Dobie’s forgiveness, O’Dell’s evidence, Justice Scalia’s cold logic of the death penalty.
There was one particular scene that made me stop everything that I was doing and just stare at the page. It came from the last pages of the book. The execution of David Lawson was one of the most disturbing accounts I’ve ever had the fortune (or maybe misfortune) to read. He was the man in North Carolina who was on death row for killing a man in a burglary; he was perhaps most memorable for insisting that: 1) he get gassed instead of the lethal injection and 2)his execution be videotaped and broadcast. “He said that he wanted the people of North Carolina to know they were killing a man” (264). Lawson was led into the chamber in socks and boxer shorts covering his diapers and strapped into the chair. A leather mask was placed over his face and the fumes began to infiltrate the room. As he was gassed to his death, he struggled against the straps and repeatedly cried out, “I am a human.” These were his last words.
If that doesn’t make you drop everything in your life for a moment, I’m not sure what does.
David Lawson was guilty of a horrible crime but that didn’t mean that he deserved to be killed publicly. It takes some sort of man to acknowledge the day he will die and ask for it to be videotaped and shown to the world. It takes the same sort of man to choose to die the more painful death through the gas chamber than the lethal injection, even though his lawyers tried to get him a stay of execution because they considered the gas chamber to be cruel punishment. And it takes everything that man’s got to have his dying words be those of redemption: he was not a monster, he was a human being, and he knew it.
I think it’s hard to determine which story is the most meaningful since every story that Sister Helen Prejean includes is there to show how multi-faceted the issues relating to the death penalty can be. In terms of the two central stories, I found Joseph O’Dell’s to be slightly more emotionally moving in the sense that EVERY THING that pointed to his innocence was either disregarded, ignored or covered up. It became so frustrating to read because the reality of a certain amount of corruption in the government system was unavoidable. I can see why she structured the book in this way because Dobie’s story seems to set up how unjust the justice system can be and it leaves the reader shocked, but I found that O’Dell’s story was absolutely saturated with injustice; it was just one unbelievable thing after another that it makes you doubt the justice system almost more than Dobie’s story.
I also found Sister Helen’s own story very moving, I particularly liked her realization that the poverty in the world is not God’s will, but it was created BY humans, so should be fixed by humans. This was just another aspect that contributed to the power of this book.
There are many reasons why Joseph O’Dell’s story stood out to me. He showed constant determination when his requests for DNA testing were turned down, time and time again. However, I think one of the main reasons his story stood out was because I saw it through Lori’s eyes. I felt how desperately she wanted to help him, and the internal struggle she felt with marrying a man that she has never touched. Sister Helen Prejean writes, “Would she be inclined to marry him if he weren’t facing death?…Is it compassion or love? Or maybe it’s both” (Page 138). Lori’s struggle to prove Joe’s innocence was extremely meaningful to me, and I read as her life became tangled with Joe’s. It was a story within a story. It was meaningful to me because I saw how much Joe wanted to live, and I also saw how much his death would directly hurt and affect Lori. Lori’s story frankly showed me the side of the families of those condemned to death. Even with all the public support, Joe faced obstacles and could never fully overcome them.
It is so difficult to choose between Dobie Williams and Joseph O’Dell and say which one had more meaning to me. Each case had its own particular slap in the face. Dobie being so compassionate all the way up till his death and Joseph with his commitment to himself while writing documents containing his side of the story and creating a pile of evidence that would prove his innocence. Although having to choose I would have to say that Dobie’s case was the most meaningful to me. Perhaps it was his solicitude towards others, especially his mother that made me care so much about Dobie. Right until the end of his life he still was unhappy with his decision to disobey his mother and go out and drink on the night of the murder he was so wrongfully accused of.
Furthermore, I find the way Dobie handles his death sentence right up until the last second so invigorating. He showed strength when most men would be weak with fear. Dobie forgave those people around him who had put him in the awful situation. I like the metaphor used, whether intentional or not, when Dobie eats the ice cream and says it is sweet. I took from this that even though he is in a horrible situation Dobie could still find the good parts. From page 53 “…the way that even in the last hour of his life he could taste the ice cream and say it was creamy…”
Dobie was a strong individual and I commend him for that. Because of his bravery, compassion, and especially his forgiveness do I find his case the most meaningful to me.
I think that the stories were both meaningful in their own right. They also both embody the books title and theme, Death of Innocents. Dobie’s was emotionally gripping–I for one cried my eyes out the whole way through. His story was posed as one of a man who’s innocence and lack of resource has been taken advantage of. He was the lost puppy in the wrong place at the wrong time, and all the blame was forced upon him. O’Dell’s story however, was powerful in the way that he was cleared by DNA evidence, and yet still put to death. His story severely shook my faith in our legal system, of which I had once been so proud.
I think that the stories were both meaningful in their own right. They also both embody the book’s title and theme, Death of Innocents. Dobie’s was emotionally gripping–I for one cried my eyes out the whole way through. His story was posed as one of a man whose innocence and lack of resource has been taken advantage of. He was the lost puppy in the wrong place at the wrong time, and all the blame was forced upon him. O’Dell’s story however, was powerful in the way that he was cleared by DNA evidence, and yet still put to death. His story severely shook my faith in our legal system, of which I had once been so proud.
The most meaningful story to me was that of Bud Welch, who lost his daughter in a mass murder. However, he still did not call for the death of her killer, and is now a member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights and travels the country giving speeches on the matter. I admire Welch, because he was able to transform his feelings of vengeance to something helpful, and he turned his hate into a significantly more healthy and less dark intent: to educate and help others.
It was challenging to choose between Dobie Williams and Joseph O’Dell stories as to which was more meaningful. Both stories were moving and shocking in their own way so choosing between the two was not an easy task. In the end I think I attached myself more to the story of Dobie Williams because of his ability to forgive, wish to be forgiven, and still push for justice. Dobie was remorseful up until the end of his life and wished that he could have obeyed his mother and come home early. At the end of his life he wished to just ease the suffering of his family. He was able to enjoy the time he had with his family and the little perks he had in prison, like the cigarettes and the ice cream, up until the very end. It was so sweet to hear him talk about how he taught sister Helen Prejean how to roll cigarettes in his time in prison.
Dobie seemed like the kind of person who would somehow manage to find any little happiness even in the darkest of places. I think that quality of Dobie really made me feel passionate about his story and be astonished at the injustice that he had to suffer through. He took what he could get and did not beg for other people’s sympathy. He was brave and dignified up until the very last moments of life, which is exactly what sister Helen Prejean wanted for Dobie. Dobie was able to forgive the people that had unrightfully punished him, which many people would never be able to do. If more people forgave the people that were hurtful towards them, then maybe the world as a whole would be a more compassionate and peaceful place.
I found Joe’s story to be more meaningful. In Dobie’s case it was an unintelligent man defending himself from fiercely determined prosecutors and misinformed jurors. It seems almost inevitable that he would be found guilty, innocent or otherwise. However, in Joe’s case he had multiple news conferences publicizing the injustices of his trials to the point where even the Pope was supporting Joe. And he was still executed. It blows my mind that the judges in Joe’s case knew that the man could be innocent, but refused to let him test the exculpatory evidence because of a technicality (Virginia’s 21 day law). This more than anything shocked me, because it shows that our justice system is more concered with protocol than revealing the truth.
Similar to many people who have already commented, I found it hard to determine which story I found more meaningful. Both share similar components and yet are so different that both stories are exceedingly meaningful in their own way. However, I think that Joseph O’Dell’s story was more meaningful to me because of the way that he fought so hard and collected every single piece of evidence that could prove he was innocent and yet the state still decided to send him to his death.
I was appalled to hear that Virginia has such a quick turnaround from the trial, to the sentence, and finally, to the death chamber. A 21-day period for any evidence that could prove your innocence? That seems completely unbelievable and yet Joseph O’Dell continued to press forward in his effort to prove himself innocent. O’Dell’s story was more meaningful to me partially because of the hard facts that O’Dell could have presented if he had been allowed a new trial. He had blood experts, DNA testing, video surveillance, and proof from the coroner that the timeline did not fit the time of death that the police gave to the jury. None of these things need to be deeply thought about. The fact that all of this was overlooked is so hard to believe and yet it happened. This story affected me more because of how it showed serious flaws in the legal system.
O’Dell’s story was the most meaningful to me because I felt like it really dug into the very core of the justice system and exposed the flaws and injustices that were present in O’Dell’s case. It was frustrating and devastating to see a man who had fought for 12 years for justice with so much evidence pointing to his innocence be executed in the end. O’Dell’s case wasn’t about race, it was about poverty. But more than anything, it was about geography and the rules that the court system in the state of Virginia had. Throughout his story, it felt as though the figures in the justice system were doing everything possible to keep O’Dell from proving his innocence. Every sign of leeway that he had was blocked by the state of Virginia which made me realize just how corrupt things could be. The 21 day cutoff date for presenting evidence of innocence didn’t make sense to me. Why would any court system ever invent a cutoff date when it comes to the life of a person? Sister Helen portrays these people as lazy and arrogant…people that didn’t want to have to bother with having to review cases over and over again but wanted to uphold their reputation. In addition, Steve Watson’s email to Sister Helen was also meaningful, I felt, because he really brought to light some important flaws in the justice system. He says in his email, “In my case, to do a bad thing I got rewarded. To try and do a good deed I was going to get punished…me I get off Joe dies. Its not right…” (166).
Another story that I felt was powerful was the story of Bud Welch who lost his daughter Julie in the Oklahoma City bombing. Bud stated that killing Timothy McVeigh wouldn’t do any good or honor his daughter because it didn’t bring back any of the people that he killed in the bombing. Quoting his daughter, “the death penalty is nothing but vengeance; it just fuels hate” (263). I think this story is important because it reveals that the real reason behind executing someone for committing a crime is not necessarily to bring justice and peace for the victim’s family as those who support the death penalty argue. There is a more sinister side to the death penalty. Not every family who has lost a loved one desires revenge. It has more to do with realizing that every person, whether they are innocent or guilty, are people and allowing the death penalty to solve our problems only, as Bud’s daughter states “fuels hatred”.
I found Joseph O’Dell’s story to be the most meaningful because it really showed how flawed our legal system is, especially when it comes to the death penalty. It was shocking how obviously corrupt his trial was and how even though O’Dell received support from so many people, including Pope John Paul II, he was still executed. The way O’Dell’s trial and appeals were handled revealed just how selfish and corrupted the entire process was. So much evidence seemed to prove his innocence while none of it convincingly incriminated him. Yet he still was deemed guilty again and again, which seemed so ridiculously and shamefully wrong that it really opened my eyes to the faults of our justice system.
I found Joseph O’Dell’s story was the most shocking. I held a shred of hope that a caucasian male could avoid the fate of Dobie, where I felt racism played a role. However, O’Dell was undesireable–like Dobie, he had a criminal history and could easily be placed at the scene of the crime. I was then optimistic that the worldwide attention focused of O’Dell’s case could help bring about a just verdict. Yet I was dismayed when even the Pope’s personal attention to the case fell on deaf ears. I thought, “surely, all the international attention focused on O’Dell will force the courts and governor to exam the case more closely.” Unfortunately, the machinery of death was already in motion.
I also found the story regarding Justice Scalia to be quite dismaying. I had hoped that we could have Supreme Court Justices, charged to uphold truth and justice in the highest court of the land, that wouldn’t be remiss to change their views if evidence was presented to them.
The story of Joseph O’Dell shocked and frustrated me. His struggle to persuade the courts and juries before him of his own innocence was followed by a tragic ending. O’Dell’s case was upsetting to me for many reasons. Like Prejean pointed out while telling O’Dell’s story, one would think that if they were convicted of a crime wrongly their honest account of the truth would be compelling enough to convince a judge and jury of one’s innocence. Reading this, I had to agree with Prejean. In the United States, if I were innocent but wrongly charged of some crime, I would expect to be free from any jail sentence because of my trust in the court system of the U.S. and its ability to fairly evaluate whether a defendant is truly culpable for the offense they are being charged with, or not. I would also believe unwaveringly that just my honest telling of the facts would be enough to save me from being wrongly convicted. However, Joseph O’Dell’s story rocked that belief out of me and left me feeling upset with our country’s entire justice system. I read somewhere in this forum in an earlier question one student’s disbelief at the susceptibility of the judicial branch to corruption. She stated that she could understand and maybe even expect that the legislative branch and then the executive branches to be more corruptible than the judicial branch. But I completely understand her amazement at the way that the part of our government which is supposed to offer an unbiased viewpoint from which to weigh the facts presented in a trial and decide whether a punishment for the defendant is warranted is making the decision to kill our own citizens– often unfairly– for sometimes the furthering of a career. And to think that somehow “scoring” a death penalty in either a prosecutor or judge’s career can benefit their future election results just amazes me. How can this be the reason a prosecutor withhold’s evidence from a the defense– especially mitigating evidence– knowing that the consequence of these actions will be the death of someone who may have deserved a much less harsh consequence? And O’Dell did present a strong case of innocence. It was only a problem of the way he told his story in the court. It wasn’t up-to-par with the formal legal format of presenting arguments. Although he assured the court of his innocence in a much more convincing manner than any of his lawyers could have, because of the lack in legal background such as training, he was still at a great disadvantage facing those prosecutors who wanted his death sentence issued. Another point that struck my attention was just the plain unfairness in the appointment of lawyers to O’Dell. The court gave him defense attorneys because he couldn’t afford it on his own, yet they made no action to improve the work of any of those attorneys who were not even working in his interest or who were just disengaged from his case completely. How can the justice system in a nation that prides itself in it’s “freedom and justice for all” be doing this to it’s only people, let alone blatantly innocent ones? The case of Joe O’Dell brought a lot of light to my knowledge of the way capital punishment works in this country and the fact that injustice can happen so close to home. His story, along with this whole book, is a definite wake-up call.
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