America's death penalty divisions exposed as death row killings continue

Sister Helen Prejean witnessed two executions in the 1980s and has made it her life's work to overturn capital punishment in the US. Credit: ITV News
  • Words by ITV News Washington DC News Editor Alex Chandler

Brandon Bernard was executed on International Human Rights day, the ninth death row prisoner to die in the United States this year. He committed his crime at the age of 18, and had spent more than 20 years in prison.

According to witnesses at the jail in Indiana where federal executions take place, he spoke for three minutes in the execution chamber. He said he'd been waiting for the chance to say he was sorry to his victims' families and to his own.

"I wish I could take it all back," he said.

This case has again exposed America' deep divisions over the death penalty. Like so many issues in this country, the fracture lines touch on race, education, poverty and alienation.

I spoke to a woman who has campaigned tirelessly for reform. Sister Helen Prejean witnessed two executions in the 1980s while working with the poor and disadvantaged in New Orleans.

The experience led her to write a book, 'Dead Man Walking', the inspiration for the film in which she was played Susan Sarandon. For Sister Helen, the death penalty symbolises what's wrong with America:

America takes a high moral line with countries that routinely execute their citizens - China, Iran, Saudi Arabia - and yet the death penalty remains on the statue book. Sister Helen, as a practicing Roman Catholic this this in offence to Christian teaching .

President Trump's Department of Justice wants a further four executions to take place before Joe Biden moves into the White House. Sister Helen believes that the reveals the crucial flaw in the system .

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have both made their opposition to the death penalty clear. But another four federal executions will take place before they take office. Sister Helen is hopeful that come January there will be change in America.