'Dead Man Walking' author visits Eugene for operatic version

'Dead Man Walking' author visits Eugene for operatic version »Play Video
Sister Helen Prejean opposes the death penalty

EUGENE, Ore. - Sister Helen Prejean started her prison ministry in 1981 in Louisiana when she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, convicted killer of two teens who was awaiting execution on Louisiana's death row.

Prejean became Sonnier's spiritual advisor, an experience that became the basis for her 1994 book "Dead Man Walking."

Her eyewitness account of the death penalty became a movie in 1996 with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Sarandon won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portryal of Prejean. Penn, director Tim Robbins and musician Bruce Springsteen were nominated for their parts in making the movie.

Prejean has visited Eugene before but is in town this week for the local premier of "Dead Man Walking" the opera, written in 2000 by Jake Heggie.

Her visit happens to coincide with a visit by the Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday to hear oral arguments in the case of Gary Haugen, a death row inmate who wants to waive his appeals and be put to death.

The opera is being presented by the Eugene Opera Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

"The aria is my journey," she said of the opera, which she said does justice to the book.

She said her fight against the death penalty "brought her to the dignity of the human person."

She said states should move away from the death penalty, arguing that it doesn't protect society from crime, and focus instead on the "roots of violence."