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Wake Forest's first 'Town & Gown' event focuses on death penalty, features Helen Prejean

January 31, 2007

Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch will host the university’s first “Town & Gown” event, featuring author and death penalty opponent Sister Helen Prejean at 7 p.m. Feb. 15 in Brendle Recital Hall.  Prejean will present “Dead Man Walking:  An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the U.S.,” followed by a question-and-answer session.  The public is invited and admission is free. 

In conjunction with the event, a film screening and booksigning will be held.  The film “Dead Man Walking” will be shown at 7 p.m. Feb. 13 in Pugh Auditorium.  Admission is free.  A booksigning will be held following Prejean’s lecture in the lobby of Brendle Recital Hall.  Prejean’s books, “Dead Man Walking” and “Death of Innocents,” will be available for sale in the College Bookstore and in the lobby of Brendle Recital Hall prior to the lecture. 

The “Town & Gown” event is designed to feature a topic that would appeal to a broad segment of the community.  It is part of the new “Voices of Our Time” speaker series, which brings distinguished scientists, writers, business experts, activists, politicians and ministers to campus to discuss the challenging issues of our day.  

“As an institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to explore various

issues, like capital punishment, with our students,” said Hatch, who initiated the speaker series last fall.  “And, I also believe universities have a responsibility to serve their surrounding cities and towns by offering learning opportunities for members of the community.” 

Wake Forest has traditionally offered numerous events, including cultural events, concerts, art exhibits and conferences that are free for the public.  “My hope is that Town and Gown events will draw members of the community to campus to join in the conversation, so to speak, and learn more about difficult and sometimes controversial issues that directly impact our community and world.”

Hatch pointed out that hosting a speaker on campus does not mean that he or the university endorses the speaker’s viewpoint.  “We want to provide opportunities for civil, intelligent discourse on issues and their ramifications,” he said. 

In 1981, Prejean began a prison ministry and became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers, who was on death row in the Angola State Prison in Louisiana.  At Sonnier’s request, she also visited him as his spiritual advisor. 

The visits opened her eyes to the Louisiana execution process and became the basis of her book “Dead Man Walking:  An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” which became a number one New York Times bestseller, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis of an Academy Award-winning movie.

Her second book, “The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful  

Executions,” tells the story of two men executed on death row, whom she believes were innocent.

Prejean has witnessed five executions in Louisiana, become an avid crusader against the death penalty and established victim advocacy groups.  She has received numerous honors throughout the world for her work.  She lectures extensively to educate the public about the death penalty. 

Prejean requested that all proceeds from her book sales go to the Moratorium Campaign, her nonprofit campaign against the death penalty. 

The film and lecture are also part of the “For Whose Humanity?” film and speaker series sponsored by Wake Forest’s Pro Humanitate Center, which is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment.

The next Town & Gown event is titled “Creating Competitive Business Advantage.”  It will be held April 10 and will be a panel discussion featuring journalist Charlie Rose as moderator and leading business executives as panelists. 

For more information on the “Voices of Our Time” speaker series or “Town & Gown” events, visit or call (336) 758-6075.

Press Contacts:

Pam Barrett
(336) 758-5237

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

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