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The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executionsby Helen Prejean
Synopses & Reviews
Dobie Gillis Williams
When I first met him I was struck by his name, Dobie Gillis, and then when I heard he had a brother named John Boy, another TV character, I knew for sure his mama must like to watch a lot of TV. Betty Williams, Dobie Williams's mama, is here now in the death house of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a terrible place for a mama to be. It's January 8, 1999, at 1:00 p.m., and she’s here with family members, two of Dobie’s lawyers, and me, his spiritual adviser, and we’re all waiting it out with Dobie to see if the state is really going to kill him this time.
Dobie's had eleven execution dates since 1985 and close calls in June and November when the state came within a couple of hours of killing him but had to call it off because of last-minute stays of execution. I feel this is it, they're going to get Dobie this time, and I’m praying for courage for him and for his mama and for me, too. I've done this four other times,1 accompanying men to execution, first with Patrick Sonnier in 1984, walking through this very room on his way to the electric chair, and here we are sitting with Dobie, hoping against hope he won't have to make that walk through this room tonight. His execution by lethal injection is scheduled for 6:30. About five hours to go.
Dobie’s death is set to conclude a story that began more than fourteen years before, in the early morning hours of July 8, 1984. It was then that forty-three-year-old Sonja Merritt Knippers was stabbed to death as she sat on the toilet in her bathroom in Many, Louisiana, a small town in north central Louisiana. Mrs. Knippers's husband, Herb, who said he was in the bedroom during the slaying, told investigators that he heard his wife yelling, A black man is killing me, which led police to round up three black men, Dobie Gillis Williams among them. He was home on a weekend furlough from Camp Beauregard, a minimum-security detention facility, where he was serving a term for burglary. He had been allowed the visit because he was a model prisoner, not prone to violence.
At 2:30 a.m., police officers seized Dobie, asleep on the couch at his grandfather's house, brought him to the police station, and began interrogating him. They told him that they would be there for the rest of the night and all morning and all the next day if need be, until they got to the bottom of this. Three police officers later testified that Dobie confessed, and at the crime scene investigators found a bloodstain on a bathroom curtain, which the state crime lab declared was consistent in seven categories with Dobie's, and statistically, that combination would occur in only two in one hundred thousand black people. Investigators also found a dark-pigmented piece of skin on the brick ledge of the bathroom window, through which the killer supposedly entered and escaped.
Dobie's trial didn’t last long. Within one week, the jury was selected, evidence presented, a guilty verdict rendered, and a death sentence imposed.
Now, waiting here in the death house, I pray. No, God, not Dobie. I've been visiting him for eight years. He’s thirty-eight years old, indigent, has an IQ of 65, well below the score of 70 that indicates mental retardation. He has rheumatoid arthritis. His fingers are gnarled. His left knee is espe
The best-selling author of Dead Man Walking and an ardent spokesperson on the issue of capital punishment raises profound constitutional questions about the legality of the death penalty and reveals how race, poverty, publicity, and prosecutorial ambition can determine who lives and dies after a murder conviction. Reprint. 30,000 first printing.
From the author of the national bestseller Dead Man Walking comes a brave and fiercely argued new book that tests the moral edge of the debate on capital punishment: What if we’re executing innocent men? Two cases in point are Dobie Gillis Williams, an indigent black man with an IQ of 65, and Joseph Roger O’Dell. Both were convicted of murder on flimsy evidence (O’Dell’s principal accuser was a jailhouse informant who later recanted his testimony). Both were executed in spite of numerous appeals. Sister Helen Prejean watched both of them die.
As she recounts these men’s cases and takes us through their terrible last moments, Prejean brilliantly dismantles the legal and religious arguments that have been used to justify the death penalty. Riveting, moving, and ultimately damning, The Death of Innocents is a book we dare not ignore.
About the Author
Sister Helen Prejean travels extensively, giving, on average, 140 lectures a year, seeking to ignite public discourse on the death penalty. She has appeared on ABC’s World News Tonight, 60 Minutes, Oprah, NPR, and an NBC special series on capital punishment. She is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Medaille and lives in Louisiana.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Dobie Gillis Williams — Joseph O'Dell — The machinery of death — The death of innocence.
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