- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Sister Helen Prejean could have been at the White House on Wednesday, welcoming the pope. Instead the Roman Catholic nun famous for writing “Dead Man Walking” chose to spend her day speaking to a group of Nashville college students about the death penalty.

Speaking at Belmont University, Prejean told a group of a couple hundred students how a chance encounter with someone who asked her to write to a Louisiana inmate led her to become one of the country’s leading death penalty opponents. And she urged the students to be willing to take the little steps that can lead to bigger things.

“When you see something that’s wrong, you’ve got to reach out and act,” she said. “And the quicker we can act out of our new consciousness, the freer we become. And when we don’t act, we become more paralyzed.”

Asked after the talk about Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., Prejean said she was invited to attend Wednesday’s events. “But I was going to be one out of 15,000 people, and I already had a commitment to come here.”

Prejean said the gospel of Jesus was about justice - “the kind of gospel Pope Francis is bringing to the U.S. today.”

Prejean has been the spiritual adviser to several death row prisoners, most recently Oklahoma’s Richard Glossip. His execution was halted just hours before he was scheduled to die last week after a state appeals court agreed to hear new evidence.

The chain of events that led to that reprieve was largely set in motion by Prejean, who says she got involved in January after Glossip listed her as the person he wanted to accompany him at his execution.

Glossip was twice convicted of ordering the 1997 killing of Barry Van Treese, who owned the Oklahoma City motel where Glossip worked. Motel handyman Justin Sneed admitted robbing and beating Van Treese, but said he did it at Glossip’s direction.

Prejean believes Glossip is innocent and that Sneed lied about Glossip’s involvement to avoid the death penalty. Sneed is serving a life sentence in a medium security prison.

Once Prejean agreed to help Glossip she decided she had to do everything she could to try to get the word out.

That included enlisting the help of Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, who played Prejean in the movie version of “Dead Man Walking.” Prejean also called in new attorneys, who began assembling the new evidence.

They found an inmate who claims that Sneed admitted to setting up Glossip and another who says Sneed described the killing in detail and never mentioned Glossip. The attorneys have also presented evidence from a methamphetamine dealer who said Sneed was a drug addict who regularly stole to support his habit.

It remains to be seen what the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals will make of the new evidence. Glossip currently is scheduled to be executed on September 30.


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