Dead Man Walking
Sister Helen Prejean
Mr Harvey, Faith's father
Another Victim (Morris)
Sister Helen Prejean
Q: What impact do you see the book and the film having?
Prejean: One tremendous difference that the film is having is the way people are approaching it and the new possibilities we have now for debate and discussion on the death penalty that we've never had before. Community discussion that we did in Baton Rouge... community discussion about the film Dead Man Walking. Before this film if we had sent an invitation to people to gather in a place and come talk about the death penalty, we would have been lucky if 25 people woulda showed up. But look, a whole group of people. I mean they were packed in there standing against the back wall. And I think the key difference is the film has brought them there. So they feel like players in the discussion. They feel like they've been there. And so that was a world of difference in the kind of discussion that happened in Baton Rouge because people were saying what about this scene with the family of Matthew Poncelet or just - they feel like they're participants now in the discussion in a way that we never have had before.
Q: What difference do you see the book and film making in the work you do?
Prejean: The big difference is changing consciousness. On this issue people have not been reflecting about it very much. It's been like yeah people do terrible crimes. We hear the politicians tell us all the time we got to execute them, end of discussion. Most people are not affected directly personally by the death penalty. This is making them think about it and also to experience it through the film in a very visceral way. Not just rationally.
Q: Are you trying to convince people?
Prejean: Yeah, I mean I am. I'm trying to - I mean ever since I walked out of the execution chamber on the night of April 5th 1984, I remember saying this very clearly; it was in the middle of the night, it was dark, I had watched a man die and I said to myself very distinctly, I know if the people of Louisiana could really be brought close to this and know what went on here tonight, and I don't mean just the physical aspects of execution but how selective it is, all the things about the death penalty, they'll reject the death penalty.
Q: Tell me about the Sean Penn character in the film and how he compares to Robert Lee Willie in characteristics, looks, attitude.
Prejean: When I met Sean, we spent a day together and went to the prison and so forth. And I would slip sometimes and call him Robert because he's a dead-ringer, if you'll excuse the expression, for Robert Lee Willie. And some characteristics of Robert are in the character like the press interviews and saying how he admired Hitler, the tattoos on his arm, being so tough, all of those kinds of things are true about Robert Lee Willie. The scene with the family is real close to what it was like when Robert Lee Willie's family visited him for the last time. His mama wanting to hug him and they saying, 'sorry ma'am security.'
And that - the toughness of him. I would call him the Marlboro Man. And I would say you know Robert, real people, real men can cry. You can have some tenderness in your and - and Robert Willie, the first time he cried was when he told his mama good-bye, he said, 'I just let it flow.' So all these things are similar.
Q: And what about the characteristics of the character that aren't likable, how much of that is like Robert Lee Willie?
Prejean: The unlikable characteristics in the Matthew Poncelet character, that hardness, that trying to get him to take responsibility for what he had done in - I had said to Robert Lee Willie, what if somebody killed your mama what would you want to do to them? Try to just get him to just cross out of himself into the pain that he had inflicted on these families. And he said I'd sure as hell want to kill 'em. I would you know. And then to, also to try to - when he was working on his last words as to what he would say, he was going to come out with all kind of tough stuff or ... and I was just saying, 'Robert, you know it's your chance-,' and then he said, 'well, look I really hope my death gives them some peace, the victims.' And boy I latched on to that. I knew that was a little part of this soul that could be built in terms of - because he was thinking of others. And it was really a wish - it was a love wish for other people that perhaps his death could give them peace. It wasn't hate, and it wasn't arrogance, and so that part was true. The Matthew Poncelet character is worse than any single person I've ever encountered. He was harder and I concurred with Tim when he said we cannot make him sympathetic at all because the moral issue of the death penalty is not whether we can kill sympathetic people, but the Matthew Poncelets of the world.
Q: And the real Robert Lee Willie, I'm told is also not a very sympathetic character a lot of the times.
Prejean: There are people around Angola, some of the guards, some of the news media said I don't believe in the death penalty but for Robert Lee Willie. Robert Willie, in many ways, locally around here was a like a poster boy for the death penalty because the nature of his crimes, the nature of the crimes, the killing of Faith Hathaway was so brutal. It was so terrible. And then his arrogance in the courtroom. You know like calling the judge Cap - making like he was gonna cut his own throat when he saw the -- you know the abducted couple that had come very close to death - those characteristics were all similar to him.
Q: And would you describe the pair - with Joe Vaccaro as the follower or the leader?
Prejean: Oh that's a key question. Yeah I mean who's the leader in what? I mean it's not just being with Robert Willie in this but other people that I have known on death row who are involved with other people and violence happens. And it gets very enmeshed together at some particular time like it might be one person who initiates the robbery or whatever, and then the violence that ensues might be somebody else. I mean the way I got to know Robert Willie was he wanted to take the lie detector test the day that he died so his mama would know that he hadn't killed Faith Hathaway. He didn't pass the lie detector test but I mean as I said to him it registers stress. But he was so insistent on that. And he said to me I don't hurt women, I don't hurt women. What he said was that he had not been the one who had slashed Faith to death but he did admit that when Joe Vaccaro told him he held her hands which is a participation in the death of her person. I mean you're equally guilty even if you're not the one wielding the knife.
But he was very insistent on that lie detector test and bitter disappointed that it didn't show what he evidently wanted to show his mother. Now I mean that's what Robert, and I only knew him two months, I tended to believe him just by the level of his disappointment when the lie detector test - and also it wasn't for the world, it wasn't to prove it to anybody but to his mother which made me kind of want to trust it. I'll never know. I'll never know which part during those wild days, the two of them did so many despicable things of who was leading who or what.
Q: Mrs. Harvey told me they didn't see any remorse in Robert Lee Willie. Did you see remorse? Was he capable of real remorse?
Prejean: The most that he had to say to them was I hope my death gives you some peace. There are other options of what he could have said. If he wanted to be arrogant and thumb his nose at them before he died he could have said something about their daughter. He could have said what he felt about them and he chose those words. But they're right, he didn't show a whole lot of remorse. That was the amount of remorse and that's not much. It's really not much.
Q: What do you say to Mrs. Harvey when she says about life imprisonment that someone shouldn't deserve the rights that Faith doesn't have? You know life imprisonment, she can't hug Faith every year, Faith's chair is empty...
Prejean: Yeah, first of all I stand on very hallowed ground at that point because I haven't had her loss. I haven't had my mother killed like that. And there's a metaphysical truth in what she's saying. She has lost the personal universe of her child that can never be replaced and she cannot stand the thought that he could be alive. I understand that with her loss that she would say something like that. I personally do not believe that the death, Robert Lee Willie, they could have watched his death I think a thousand times but that vacuum and the loss that they have sustained could never be filled by the death of another person.
Q: You just started to allude to some of their wild days. They raped Faith, they tortured her, they did some pretty heinous, brutal things, I mean is that human behavior that they showed toward her?
Prejean: No that's truly animalistic behavior. I mean the way that Robert Willie and Joe Vaccaro taking this girl Faith Hathaway alone in that truck, bringing her down to that gravel pit, raping her, stabbing her, killing her, she's all alone, she begged to die. We look at that and we go that's not human, that's not human behavior. It isn't. It's like a wild animal tearing someone, it's violence where you treat a person not as a person but completely as an object. I'm horrified at that. I mean when I hear of anybody doing that, a mugger just blowing somebody away with a gun in their face or here's a girl all alone. She was all alone in the darkness of the woods with these two savage people, who were not acting in a human way. Who were completely unresponsive in a human way. It must have been so terrifying.
Q: So why give them human rights?
Prejean: Because there are some human rights that are so deep that we can't negotiate them away. I mean people do heinous, terrible things. But there are basic human rights I believe that every human being has. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the United Nations says it for me. And it says there are two basic rights that can't be negotiated that government doesn't give for good behavior and doesn't take away for bad behavior. And it's the right not to be tortured and not to be killed. Because the flip side of this is that then when you say OK we're gonna turn over - they truly have done heinous things, so now we will turn over to the government now the right to take their life. It involves other people in doing essentially the same kind of act. In executions that have gone on here in Louisiana and one very recently I heard that the captain in the death house said to one of the people there as they were leaving, he said, leave this place and leave this to us idiots to do and there were tears running down his cheek because he was involved in the process of killing a fellow human being.
Q: What about the Robert Lee Willie you knew, versus the Robert Lee Willie who did these crimes?
Prejean: I mean I see Robert Lee Willie when he's behind bars and contained and not on drugs and so, I didn't know the vicious Robert Lee Willie. But what intrigued me about him, I only had two months with him and truthfully when I heard what he had done, I was just so appalled by the viciousness of it all and I don't know going in there if I'm gonna be able to have a normal conversation with this guy or not. And he said when I walked in he went, "Mmmhm never thought I would be talking to no nun before." You know it was like, "I'm not very religious myself" and there was a - there was an honesty in him about religion. He said I don't believe in that jail house religion, everybody sucking up to God and stuff. I did give him a little cross which he put in his blue jean pocket before he walked to his death.
But there was that - the way he talked about his life, the way he talked about being on the barges and the experiences that he had had in his life, the experiences that he had had with women. One woman in particular whom I believe he probably reached the closest of a personal relationship and loved.
Q: Some people at the execution said that when he talked to the Harveys it wasn't with forgiveness, it was with a bit of a smirk frankly. Why wasn't he begging for their forgiveness at that point?
Prejean: I think that Robert Lee Willie was a besieged person himself from the way he grew up. His father had been in prison. He was kind of small in stature. He got in fights from the time he was young. The same reason - like he said before he went to the pardon board, I'm not, I'm not kissing nobody's ass. I'm not - it was totally opposite of anything he knew to do in terms of the way he saw maintaining his own dignity was to kneel or to cower or to beg anybody for anything. He had to fight for everything all of his life.
And I think that was part of the way he died. I mean Robert Willie, he told me when I get in the chair, I'm gonna let you know I'm all right. And they actually had put the mask over his face and suddenly here he is signaling like that for them to lift it. I mean this is so unusual. And they lift it and he looks at me and he winks. I mean a lot of the media said, "Robert Lee Willie you know arrogant and boasting and ..." but when people are killing you, it is a way of showing your own transcendence over what they're doing to you and I think he had done that his whole life.
Q: Did he take responsibility at the end?
Prejean: In a limited way I think he did, though not fully. Not like the Matthew Poncelet character does in the film.
He took responsibility probably more for his death than he did for his actions in his life and by that I mean because what he said to the Harveys was, "I hope my death gives you peace." But he never said things like, "God the pain I've caused, please forgive me for what I've done to your life, to your daughter." He never said, I pray for them. And so, I don't - in fact even the way he dealt about feelings in general, I felt that he was - for example, he ate his last meal down to the last fried shrimp and enjoyed it. He was talking while he was eating. I had to keep reminding myself that he was gonna die in a couple of hours. He had found a space to inhabit. Maybe he had done this his whole life - of hey, this is a nice meal, living for the present moment and somehow he had pushed the arenas of suffering and pain and death that was coming to some horizon that he didn't have to deal with them.
I don't know - I mean the fact that he cried when he talked to his mother was a major thing for him to even feel and acknowledge that he was feeling anything that showed tenderness or what he would consider weakness. I kept calling him the Marlboro Man. I said you keep being this Marlboro Man, they're only on cardboard, trying to move him into realms of experiencing humanness and feeling. The feeling include the crying for his mother but I'm not sure it ever included feeling really sorry for the Harveys and the pain that he had caused others.
Q: Good moral people believe in the death penalty. They find direction in the Bible, what do you say back to them?
Prejean: I say the God you're describing to me is a God that wants pain for pain, life for life, suffering for suffering and a death for a death. I do not believe in that kind of God. And I know that in the Bible there are many, many references to very harsh punishments but the Bible was written over 2000 years, a lot it comes out of the Mosaic Code where people didn't have alternatives. By the time you get to Jesus Christ the thrust of his life and his message is not to return hate for hate. I don't believe in that kind of God and I personally believe that's a monster God who wants pain for pain and suffering and suffering like we do. I think that's making God in our own image. And I disagree with that image of God.
Q: And what do you say to that person who disagrees with you but says but I ain't gonna argue with a nun, they feel intimated by you.
Prejean: Whenever we start with the God thing but then I always move on to saying to people I really understand because there I try to stand on common ground with people, what would make them say that. Because there are such outrageous crimes that people do and you are outraged when you hear that and I say you're saying that because you're a decent person and decent people are outraged over the terrible things people do and I agree with you that those people need to be contained so that they can't kill again.
But I just don't believe in imitating it and doing to them what they've done. And then I say to them, and I know you really don't have a way of getting real information about this, I know there's a lot of rhetoric that you hear about this but I would like to invite you to find out more about the death penalty because I think when you do get that information you might feel differently, but I respect that you feel the way you do and many good people do feel that way.
Q: How do you answer the fact that Faith's chair is going to be empty?
Prejean: It's every parent's worst nightmare to look at the empty chair and know that they will never have her again. They'll never be able to talk to her or celebrate her birthday, the loss of a child who is irreplaceable. And I haven't lost anybody like that. But knowing some people who have lost somebody like that there are other options because what the decision basically implies — `I can't allow that he can ever do that' means — she wants to deprive him of his life, that is what he must pay. She cannot stand the thought that he would be alive and her daughter is dead. But what that implies is there will be another family who then will be deprived of their child because they will kill him.
There's another mother - there's another family, and people in their pain and their loss say I don't care about that because I can't stand the thought that he would be alive. So whatever it takes, I want him killed so that he can't have what my daughter can't have even though it means inflicting pain on another family. And not everybody makes that option. Though out of pain and loss I can understand that people would.
Q: We talked about the new opportunities the film has created in the book. Have they also opened up some old wounds?
Prejean: The biggest wound that the movie has done that I can think of is the Harvey Family who are so upset over the film. Because Elizabeth Harvey said you crucified us. And I thought I would die when I heard her say - I had a chill. It was similar to the way I felt in the execution chamber you know you feel cold. And I put down that phone and I went oh my God! Like what have I done? And actually when I was writing the book, but the book hadn't for them didn't seem to be as bad - I mean I ran the manuscript by them, I said correct anything in here that's not accurate. So Elizabeth Harvey read every word of that before came out. The film I think she felt evidently she said it brings all this up for us all over again, how could you do this to us? And ... I just went how could I do that to them?
And then I had to like go to another whole part of my soul in which I stand about the death penalty and what it does to the people involved in executing other people and what it does. I guess the moral equivalent that I came to was but there will be an - as long as we have the death penalty, no matter how much in her pain she wants to see him dead, it will involve another family going through this and burying their loved one.
And I stood on that. It gave me some peace that the death penalty really doesn't help anybody and I had to stand behind that. I also know that the Harveys have made an option to continue going to every execution and they have chosen to go down that road of wanting execution, supporting it and so then I also thought to myself, well, the movie in a way is bringing it up. But they choose to keep bringing it up by attending every execution outside those gates, so they can never let it go themselves.
Q: What do you think when you see them at the execution, like last night?
Prejean: So terribly - just seeing the Harveys outside the gates just recently when we've had an execution again, I almost feel like they've gotten fixed in a public position and maybe there's a part of them that would feel if they would stop doing that because they're so public in this that they would feel they're betraying Faith. I think there is something very deep there that now that they're so fixed in that publicly they would feel they're betraying her. And I wonder how much of that is at work of their continuing to go to the executions.
Q: Tell me about Vangie [Roberts] last night. What did you say to each other. What was going on with her when you saw her?
Prejean: When I saw Rangie come out from those prison gates, first I looked at her, I was so struck by her appearance. She looked like she had been someone who had gone to the foot of a cross or her face. Yet it was - it was not all distraught. It was like I could tell that her soul was together. And when I met her and we put our arms around each other, she said to me thank you for bringing me to Tony. His life has been such a gift to me. And then she said to me how they had talked and how he was filled with such gratitude that it poured over into her and that he looked at her face when he died and said I love you. And I sensed that she was buoyed up, that she wasn't completely so distraught that his death had undone her. There was something in her that had remained intact. And then she said to me, he's not dead. He lives. And he is inside of me.
Q: And just tell me briefly about bringing Rangie and people like her into the kind of work you do?
Prejean: After I had witnessed Patrick Sonnier's death, that was in '84, I came out of there and I said I am never going back there again. I just - but then time went by and one of the lawyers Millard Farmer came and said look we have these two clients and I said I'll take them one at a time and so I went back. But I also knew there were more people on death row than I could ever minister to that we needed to get other people involved. One of the first things we did was to have a training session for people who wanted to be spiritual advisors to death row inmates. Thangee came because she's so didn't believe in the death penalty and everybody around work when executions would happen she'd hear all these people celebrating you know the death of this person and all. She said where is there - there must be some group somewhere that doesn't believe this should be happening.
And so she looked through the phone book and found us. Pilgrimage for Life. Called up. And began to be involved with us. So I said Rangie, maybe there's somebody that you would like to take on death row and go visit and be a spiritual advisor. And she said sure.
And that's how she hooked up with Antonio James 11 years ago.
Q: You know I talked to the deputy sheriff in Faith's case, a cop kind of guy and he said - he went to the execution and he said he was struggling with his feelings about the death penalty and he was talking to God and - it's not easy. Do you ever question your own beliefs? Do you struggle yourself with it?
Prejean: When I question it the most is when I'm in the presence of someone like the Harveys who says we'll never see our daughter alive again and you know that they want this. And desire the death of a person. And I feel so morally inept to meet that - that is when I most - my foot swings over the cliff and it doesn't stand on just even though intellectually I know that I'm against the death penalty, in their presence and in their pain I think I would want to give them anything - that is when I question myself the most.
Q: At Robert Willie's execution, you started praying out loud at the end. Why did you do that? Some people take real offense at that and told me so.
Prejean: Yeah. I didn't know I was gonna do this. This was the second execution I had been through. And I remember praying you know God forgive us, God forgive all who participate in this execution. It just sprang out of me. And later of course people said that was not a prayer, that was a political prayer. You were making the victims feel guilty. It was such a spontaneous thing that happened with me witnessing this I guess for the second time that...how people would take offense at that. They were all silent. I didn't even realize there was a rule you were supposed to be silent. And I would never do that again. But it happened to me very spontaneously.
Q: Some people involved in these cases say that you don't have your facts straight. That you rely too much on what someone in this case, Robert Lee Willie is telling you, that you're getting a version....you don't go back to the files.....
Prejean: No. In Robert Lee Willie's case I did go back through all the transcripts of the trial and go through that very very carefully. I didn't just have a conversation with Robert Willie and what he said. Also all the newspaper accounts of it - so I don't believe that's true that I don't - that I didn't know what was involved in the case. That I only listened to Robert Lee Willie.
Q: So you make a good faith effort to do an almost kind of journalistic job? Is that what you're trying to do? You're trying to tell the true story or, are you trying to tell your impressions?
Prejean: Well I mean if you go to the transcripts of a trial then you look and see if everything that was done in that trial and what was said and what the prosecution said and what the evidence was. It's there. I wasn't writing this book to be a journalist, to try to go over the terrain again of Robert Lee Willie and what he did and to interview all those people. That wasn't the scope of my book. My book was to take it through the prism of my experience of accompanying people to their death, the victims involved in the case.
But I would get knowledge of each of the cases. I did the same thing for Patrick Sonnier. To read all the accounts of it and especially the transcript. The transcript of a trial brings you through the trial. So you hear everything that's said against him, not just his own view of himself.
Q: And what do you say to somebody who says you've moved beyond saving souls now. You've moved beyond being a spiritual advisor even though you do that a little bit. That you're going for the Nobel Prize.
Prejean: No, I'm not going for any prizes. People when they see this they just assume that I must be self-seeking in some way. Either for media attention or some prize that I'm gonna be given. What has happened is when you witness and see as I have witnessed what the death penalty entails, the suffering, the pain, the injustice of it, you either they just say I'm just going to be minister to private individuals and comfort them or you begin to pick up the issue and see it as an issue of justice and begin to move it wider that we need to change something socially here and then you become an activist and that's what I've become.
Q: I wanna ask you specifically about Debbie. Debbie has gone through an evolution in her thinking. Both about the death penalty and about you. She said originally back then she was really shocked ...angered by the book. She saw herself as a victim. You didn't come to her. You didn't seek her out, why didn't you?
Prejean: Well I mean it's a failure on my part. I mean - once I go back in hindsight and see all the people and when Debbie and I first talked, she said I just have to ask you this question, why didn't you seek me out? Because I hear you try to help victims. And I go wow you know it was like, I knew I had to seek the Harveys out because Faith had been killed. She was alive and it was like, I'm sure now because I've developed much more in my sensibilities about things in that, that I should have sought her out. I should have. I just said to her when she said that to me, I said I'm sorry I should have. I said I was dealing with so much in trying to deal with the Harveys and I knew that you were alive, that you had come out alive, that I just didn't, I didn't do that and I - it's - I mean all I can say is it's a failure on my part, that I didn't embrace or think that, that even I could be of help to her.
Q: People who criticize you say that it's a failure that's happened more than once. That you don't think through the crime, the seriousness, the victims, that you just don't give it as much care as you do the condemned killers and that's what they resent. What do you say back to them?
Prejean: The people - the victims that are involved on the opposite side of people on death row it's a very - it's - I keep thinking of the image of a seesaw with them and me. Because it is so hard for them to accept me because I'm not for executions. And if they are for the death penalty, the possibility of our being able to meet and to be able to mutually support or to help each other is very, very minimal. So those people it has been minimal in terms of what I have been able to do. But for example, just a couple of weeks ago a woman called who had seen the movie and she said my 16-year-old daughter was killed and I've really been going through a lot and I would like to talk to you. And so I said sure. And I'll respond to people if I feel I can be of help to them. Probably the best thing I've done for murder victims' families was to start Survive because then they can help each other. Because I'm such a strong opponent of the death penalty I think it makes it very very difficult for many murder victims' families to relate to me.
Q: Let me ask you one more thing about what Debbie said early on. Early in her thinking, she said you didn't know the mean, vicious, evil Robert Willie and that she could have told you about him. Why didn't you ask her? She could have told you so much? That only she knew.
Prejean: Well I had two months with Robert Willie. I felt, no, I didn't know the mean, vicious Robert Willie that she knew. I did know just from reading the accounts of things of what the mean, vicious things that Robert Willie had done. But I guess I didn't feel it was my place or my role to try to absorb the - like to go - if I wanted to know the mean, vicious Robert Willie, I should have talked to the investigators, I should have talked to the people who discovered the body. I should have talked to the -- you know all the people concerned and I felt from what I knew that he had done a horrendous thing that I was horrified by and I didn't know how much of the details of that I really needed to absorb from each of those persons in order to really know that.
Q: I mean what she says is that he was the leader. That it was him, not Vaccaro - what do you say to her?
Prejean: Yeah, well he was the leader in the sense of through the whole thing and that she experienced-- that Joe Vaccaro did what he said. What he did in the end was he let her go. That he didn't kill her - and as to who was in leadership and who was calling the shots, I don't know. The end result was that he did not kill Debbie. But in terms of the leadership style and who was doing what, I mean I really don't know.
Q: Debbie has come through this sort of full of -
Prejean: It's amazing, isn't it? Isn't she one of the most self-possessed people you have ever met in your life? She's a story in herself.
Q: You said you don't go back to everybody and ferret out every detail that you don't think you need to do that. But if you don't, - can't it be seen as a kind of propaganda?
Prejean: I don't feel the way I tell the story and what I say in the book is propaganda. Propaganda is where you have these absolute principles that you say no matter what or how it falls in regard to the experience of people. I tried to share as honestly as I could my own experience of the reality of this as it came to me. And there's a victim's family that I do visit who took me actually down the road where his son had been before he was killed. It was like making the way of the cross - took me to the places that - where his son had suffered. And I wanted to go on that with him. But he brought me into that and he wanted me to see that. I knelt by the spot where his son was killed. I wouldn't automatically think though that I would need to, to go physically into all those places or talk to all of those people in that way.
I mean there're so many realms of suffering here and viciousness and cruelty and things that people do to each other. As people come to me and as I meet them, where I feel there can be a meeting, then I do go down that road with them in the way that I can. So like I mean I'm thinking of Lloyd LeBlanc, we went in the car, where his kids had been abducted. They went to this bridge. They brought them here. They were here. And just to experience that with him. You know it was - and then to kneel at the spot actually where his son had been killed. But he allowed me to do that with him. And so I responded to that.
Q: Helen - what was your gut reaction when Debbie called you?
Prejean: I went oh my God! She said you'll know me as the 16-year-old from Madisonville. I went oh my God! And what was so hard about it, I had just gotten off the phone with Elizabeth Harvey who was so upset. And my first instinct was like oh God this is gonna be terrible. But I did sense in her voice there was an aliveness and a wholeness in her voice that - and then she said who she was and I went oh my God! And then she - of course she was very forthcoming. I didn't have to say why are you calling and all that.
Q: What was your impression I mean - here was a film, what happened? Just tell me the whole story of Debbie calling you.
Prejean: Yeah well you know with the film coming out I mean the number of people were like emerging from different corners and so here she's calling me and then she just says I've heard about the film and I knew about your book and then she said something very interesting. She said, 'I think maybe you and I may know a part of Robert Lee Willie or maybe we knew him better than anyone else.' That intrigued me. And then I said oh, and you came out alive. They brought you home after this 'cause I could remember - and she says yeah and she says it's really quite a story and she began to tell me. She said how she related to them and how it, how it was nip and tuck and how she you know was such an active proponent throughout the whole - I said you must be an extraordinary human being that you would have been through this and that you came out whole and unscathed. And she said well, it's really been a lot of ups and downs about it and then she said, 'can I ask you why you didn't come see me?' And then I went, I'm sorry, I should have come see you. And she said I'd really like to talk to you. I'd really like to but I said absolutely. But I was thinking where do you live? And I said it will take a couple of weeks because I have all this onslaught of stuff happening but I will come and see you Debbie and - and I knew then that I would.
Q: One of the things Debbie said early on, she wanted to say to you was that not everyone who supports the death penalty is doing it out of hate and revenge. I mean in her case, it was fear. Do you accept that people can be for the death penalty for other reasons?
Prejean: Yeah I mean especially somebody like Debbie when she said to me, 'I didn't rejoice in his death but for the first time I did feel safe.' I said Debbie I really do understand. That she knew he couldn't ever get at her or her sisters again. I said that's a feeling of safety. That's not really a feeling of hatred.
No, I believe that one of the things that drives the death penalty is people don't trust the criminal justice system and the only way they feel they can be safe of these terrible murderers is to execute them. I do understand that.
But I mean I also know that when people are given alternatives to the death penalty - where they are assured that a person will stay in prison for life - that support for the death penalty radically drops. The desire to be safe that's supposed to be one of the things that society offers you, is safety, public safety, and I know people, look I've been talking to people on this issue for 14 years and I know that the desire for safety and being protected from real dangerous people is something that drives really good decent people about the death penalty. It's not that people want to be vengeful or, or to kill people.
They want to be safe from them.
Q: There's a moment at the very end of the movie Dead Man Walking you're with - I call him the LeBlanc character - De La Croix. You ask each other about finding your way out of these differences. What's your experience about this movie and where the discussion is now and where we are as a society?
Prejean: First of all what the movie is doing is taking the experience of the death penalty and getting it out of politicians' rhetoric. It's bringing people close to it in a way that they've never been before so that they're discussing the issues of it and what it means and probing the moral implications of it in a way that they never had before.
I saw like in that discussion in Baton Rouge where people were asking - probing it because I think they feel like hey I've been there, I've experienced this. One thing I've noticed with the murder victims' families though is I gave a talk in New Orleans just a couple of weeks ago and one of the first people to stand up at the end of it was somebody who had lost her daughter to murder and she said, 'Our family has been so conflicted over the death penalty. I'm personally not for it but my daughters are. My daughters went to see the film. One saw the film two times, another three times. The film is helping us to come to grips with our feelings about the death penalty and what the death penalty can solve.'
And so that's one side of it. The other is I believe that the film really brings people close to what it means to kill a human being, albeit by human methods, what does it mean? Because they see the process close-up. The people involved have to do it, who have to be the ones to, I just think it brings them there in a way that they had never been before. I think maybe for the first time people are thinking about the death penalty in a way that they've never been able to think about it before.
Q: Tell me about that. I mean people do cite this Romans 13. Just tell me what you were just saying. What do you say to them about that?
Prejean: I've witnessed so many times people want God in their corner to support what they believe. And Romans 13 says basically God's in Civil Authority. If the civil rulers, our government says in its law and its sacrosanct and it's not to be questioned. God must be in it. It's kind of at variance with a lot of questioning that's going on about government today and when government does good things for us or when government doesn't. And once you begin to get your real experience of government you know there can be all kinds of governments. Governments like the Nazis that kill people or - we have to question government. But people want, there's definitely an authority argument in the death penalty and Romans 13, the people who are seeking that out, that's their proof text for that.
Q: But what do you say to that sheriff's deputy or whoever who says - I'm the government. I was the investigator. I found Faith's body. We're people. Even if there's some revenge, if somebody did that to my daughter -
Prejean: Yeah sure, if somebody did it to your daughter who wouldn't want to see that person dead, that's the most natural human emotional in the world, I understand that and investigators see these terrible things, I haven't seen those terrible things. I didn't find her body. I didn't look at all the wounds. People who have to investigate these terrible crimes they've said it to me before. They just say sister you only see these guys in their little cell and you're having a nice conversation. We see this stuff. And I know that they see parts of it that I don't see. But I see some things they don't see too, because I go through this whole process of what it means now to turn over to this other real-live human beings who're doing it for the government, who're going to kill the people now, who've killed other people and I've seen that part too.
Q: And what about the flip-side of this authority argument? That it's the eye for eye, or even the Harveys say - so another family loses their child, that's fair, I lost my child. What do you say to that?
Prejean: I think the victims' families are the most vulnerable ones in this discussion and they're the most understandable in wanting vengeance. What I don't accept is the politicians going for it because they have their ready little symbol. They are the ones most believable and most understandable that they have sustained this terrible loss and they want to see that loss compensated.
Q: How do you answer when people say - three-quarters of the people in the country are for the death penalty. You're in the minority. Even though you're very persuasive about your point of view. How do you answer that?
Prejean: I've been talking to groups across this country for 14 years. When I walk in the room if I ask people to raise their hands who's for the death penalty or at least ambivalent about it, most of the hands in the room go up. When I finish, and when people then are exposed to all the dimensions of this, they reject the death penalty.
I mean those polls that say 75 percent of people - that's always an abstract question - what would you like to do with first degree murderers? You think they should get the death penalty? Any of the questions though that point to the ambivalence in people where they're offered an alternative, it drops radically. So I don't simply accept that people just accept the death penalty. I think that there are layers in that acceptance and in that ambivalence and when that's tapped and especially when people are educated about it, that they will not accept the death penalty. But there are two things that play into their ready acceptance of it. One is politicians who use it a symbol and manipulate the fears. And the other is the media.
No matter how many peaceful things go on between people in the city on any given day, in 12 real minutes of news, five of those minutes will be violence, either in the city, and if nothing's happened in the city they'll pull in violence from around the world and so people have an exaggerated sense of how dangerous our society is.
Q: Tell me about last night...the execution. Just describe it.
Prejean: It's the longest, darkest road in the world at those gates at Angola. And you know what's waiting for you when you get there. It's always colder in executions. So bitterly cold. And then there were all of Antonio's family, not just his mother, and his immediate family, but his nieces and his nephews and the Harveys were there. They were there and there they were with their signs upholding the execution and these kids, especially the nieces and nephews of Antonio were so upset, they were so upset that their uncle was being killed, they were so upset over the death of this person so close to them...
And when I arrived they were already confronting the Harveys. I could hear them saying, how can you people be here? How can you - And I could hear Elizabeth Harvey saying, but our daughter was killed and they go, well our uncle is gonna be killed. And then I formed a circle and I said everybody kind of gather round and we formed this little circle to pray together and to sing and to join hands, to kind of form another current away from the antagonism and the anger that was seething out.
And then some of the children just began to weep. There was one young girl whose grief could not be contained. She was crying and she couldn't be stopped. And it was like against the night. She was crying and crying and crying. And I'm standing there holding Antonio James' mother's hand and then his aunt on the other side. And you start reaching for words to pray with the crying and screaming going on and all and, and then to sing, and so I began to sing Amazing Grace. And, then to pray. And then other people came in and you could tell then a calmness kind of came over people and people held each other real, real tight.
And I was trying not to look at my watch but I knew it was just a question of time. Then when I did look at my watch actually it was five to 12 and I knew by then they had him all strapped and ready to go. I knew what was happening on the inside you know from having been through it. So eerie. Because you're outside and you know what's going on inside and that a man's being killed in the middle of the night. I never get used to it. It's like I was saying oh God not again. Not again, we're doing it again. And this family is grieving and can't be consoled. And some of the older ones like Antonio's mother was very strong and she's trying to like help the younger ones. And then to drive down that road when it's all over, a man's dead then. The guard comes out, the guard says at 12:27 Antonio James died. I've been through it so many times. I couldn't believe it was happening again.
New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/FRONTLINE
Q: Can you tell us what brought you out there?
Varnado: A young girl by the name of Faith Hathaway had been kidnapped in Mandeville. Two boys- we later found out their names to be Robert L. Willie and Joseph Vaccaro - kidnapped the girl outside of a local lounge there. And they brought her up here. They raped her up the top of the hill here. We're at Frickie's Cave in Washington Parish outside of Franklinton. And then they blindfolded her and they beat her up there. They blindfolded her, made her walk down the hill. Come up I would said another hundred yards down into the bottom of the cave, raped her and beat her, kicked her some more. Managed to drop her purse and belongings up here about 100 yards or so and then brought her down in here where we're standing now. And raped her and killed her. Raped her again. Did some very vile things after she was dead also.
Q: The area had been searched but something made you come back and look again yourself about four days later ...
Varnado: This was a very common picnic area. And some people had come down the day after she was kidnapped and was picnicking and they found her purse. And some other items, I don't remember what they were but her driver's license, ID cards, overnight bag, things like that. And they brought it to the sheriff's office and they turned it in. Well we contacted St. Tammany deputies because this girl was from St. Tammany Parish and Mandeville police, St. Tammany deputies, FBI, and a lot of the family and stuff came up here and searched the area. And they searched for about four days and they never found her. They never found anything. So being familiar with this area, I've hunted in here and I've lived here all my life. This is my home. It was unusual to me that they would give up on the search because coming in and out of here is not a easy feat. So I decided to come back down and take a look. A deputy showed me where the clothes were. I started another search and it didn't take but about 30 minutes later I run upon her body.
Q: What happened when you followed the smell.
Varnado: When the smell hit me I immediately knew what it was. There was no doubt in my mind, it was so strong. So I followed it on down, I hit this little creek over here. Followed the creek on down and I could see her probably 20 yards through there, I could see the body. And I walked up to it before I really could believe that it had been overlooked and you know after I found the body, I had a friend over there, I guess he was about a hundred yards through the woods over there helping me search, I hollered for him to go get on the radio and call the sheriff's office and send the investigator that had been working for the sheriff's office at that time to come down here. And after I did that I just stayed with [the] body until - I also notified the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab who worked the crime scene for me. And I guess it took four or five hours to do all that. And we loaded the - loaded her up and took her out of here.
Q: When you came upon the body, what was your reaction?
Varnado: Well I was shocked. As soon as I saw it my ears were roaring so loud, I couldn't even think what I should do. And I bet you it was at least two or three minutes before I even thought to yell to my partner to come try to help me out and call the radio and stuff like that. But I've never seen anything like that and I've been working violent crime on both sides, defense and prosecution for 20 years and I've never seen anything like it. And I guess I was down here about an hour by myself with her and about 15 minutes after the shock I started doing what a policeman's supposed to do, I started making notes and description of what I saw and things like that.
Q: What did you see?
Varnado: The girl was spread out, spread eagle, flat on her back, completely nude. Her legs were stretched as wide as they could go and her arms were held up above her head like this and her head was cocked back and her mouth was wide opened. And her mouth - I mean her head had skeletized to the point of where it looked like a skeleton and, the rest of the body other than being bloated and you know the terrible wounds and maggots and stuff it was obvious it was a young white female. And it was obvious what they had done to her as far as raping her and things like that.
Q: Was there an expression on her face?
Varnado: The first thing that hit my mind is I said, 'My god this woman was screaming when she died.' That was the first - that's what it looks like when you look at the pictures. It looks like the lady is still screaming.
Q: And can you tell me a little bit about what kind of wounds she had ... what had happened to this girl?
Varnado: She had a terrible wound - I found out of course after I started the investigation I got some suspects and I went and interviewed the suspects and after talking to them I really realized then why the wound around the neck and all was so bad. They had jugged her is the word they used, cut her throat and jugged her, and kept jugging her and there was a massive wound here and in the chest. And I believe it was her left hand where the fingers were cut off. When she grabbed the knife, that's a typical defense wound, where she grabbed the knife and they ripped it back out and it severed her fingers. They cut her so hard that when we moved the body her head fell off. Her head was not, not intact with the body.
Q: What kind of crime was this and what kind of people must have committed it?
Varnado: This is Washington Parish. This is the crime that caused everybody to start locking their doors. This is a very small country community. I was outraged immediately that they would bring this girl up in here, this is our home, and do these, do these vile things to her. I'm still outraged about it. I don't like it. I don't know what to say to you other than it's affected my life since this has happened. I've worked a lot of violent crime like I told you before, since then, a lot but it's not - it's been nothing like this. Nothing. And today I resent those boys for coming up here in our community. My - as a kid I come up here and picnic with the school. And that's all gone now because when you come down here now you can't bring the little kids because all they want to talk about is this is where that girl was murdered, where Faith Hathaway was murdered. So it ruined this place. It's closed now, you can't even get in here.
Q: Describe quickly again for me the things you said that this picture shows.
Varnado: OK - this picture shows her whole body except maybe for her right hand and her right foot and it really shows the size of the wound around the neck. The white stuff you see here is actually maggots - they tend to attack wounds first. And her legs are spread as wide as they could be spread. Her arms are way up over her head where it was so obvious from what had happened to her that somebody had held her hands down above her head. And also somebody had to be either holding her feet apart or between her legs. And as it later we determined that's exactly what - what had happened is one person was holding her arms up over her head and the other person was stabbing her while he was between her legs.
Q: These pictures....
Varnado: This first picture is a picture of her face and the second picture is the picture that the same thing only it comes from the other side and a different angle. And the final picture is a picture that shows what I thought it was - she was screaming. And it also shows the wound. It shows the massiveness of it and the depth of it. They used this knife and the first thing according to Willie himself, he took this knife and he cut her throat like this. And then he takes the knife and he starts - he calls it jugging, of course he's given two different versions of this, one to a cell mate and one to me but to me he's saying that Joey is jugging her deep as the knife would go. Blood everywhere type thing. And the knife was also used in other parts of her body.
Q: You interrogated Willie ...
Varnado: [A] couple of days after I found the girl's body I flew to Fort Smith, Arkansas with trooper Ronnie Pierce and Washington Parish US deputy Richard Newman and Donald Short from St. Tammany and I interrogated Willie after I got up there. I went to Texarkana where Willie was jailed at the time and interrogated him while I was up there. I took a - actually it was closer to an interview. I talked to him about everything from where he was raised to telling him about myself, where I was raised, and the key to him confessing is, he asked me a question. He said `I guess I'm a big man.' Or I'm making the headlines down there a lot and things like that. And I said yeah. I said you are. I said you could be like Jessie James. And he said yeah I'll tell you about it. Yeah I killed her. Or I was with Joe when he killed her. I'll give you an interview and he gave me the interview.
Q: Did he show a lot of remorse after this killing?
Varnado: Willie showed absolutely no remorse through the whole thing. None. He was proud of what he had done. He talked to me like this was a Sunday afternoon football game we were discussing. He didn't have any problem telling me what they had done, the brutal details. The problem he had was actually owning up to being the one that actually cut the girl's throat. I guess he felt awkward about doing that. He would use words like you know before we actually turned the tape recorder on when we were just talking he would use words like bud and things like that just to - I guess it was just tough guy talk. And he really tried to be a tough guy through the whole thing.
Q: Tell me about what you learned - Faith's last words to him probably...
Varnado: What I learned is what he told me. He told me that Joe's last words to her were 'This bitch won't die, this whore won't die' as he kept jugging her. And of course he didn't say these were his words, he said these are Joe's words but he did say that the lady at some point told them please just let me go and die by myself. You all just leave and let me go and let me die by myself, something like that. And all Willie had to say to that is she was trying to wiggle around while she was saying it so he said I held her hands and said come on now behave. That's about all I remember of their conversation.
Q: Faith Hathaway, who was she and where she was heading in life?
Varnado: Faith had just graduated from Mandeville High School about seven or eight days prior to this. She was out with some friends that night on the lake front, a nice lounge on the lake front. And at some time after midnight is when her friends said she left, right after midnight. And she had to go home. She told them I got to go, I got to get up early, the recruiter is coming to pick me up early in the morning, she had joined the army. And she was real excited about going into the army. She had learned to - her father or her stepfather, Mr. Verne Harvey had spent a career in the Navy and during that time she did a lot of traveling and she learned to speak several different foreign languages. And she wanted to go into the army and one of the reasons she wanted to go in was to learn these different foreign languages. And felt like that was the thing for her to do, go serve her country. From what I understand she was extremely excited about it.
There was a lot of other people killed that night besides her. Her parents - her mother and her stepfather - even though they tried to play like they're not obsessed with it. They have no more life.
Their life's ruined. It's over. I spoke to them twice a year since this thing's happened. I've kept up with them and they've kept up with me. And it's just as bad and just as bitter to 'em and maybe bitter is the wrong word but just as terrible to them as it was the day it happened. And they have another daughter and I'm sure she's suffering over this because of - the grandparents I'm sure they're not in the position to treat her like they would have had Faith not been killed.
Q: Given how terrible the crime is though, does that give anyone the right to take his life?
Varnado: Absolutely! Absolutely! I hear all the death penalty talk and - been a deterrent and I think it is because obviously he's not going to kill anyone, I think that's everybody's favor. But I don't see anything wrong with executing them to punish them. You know to punish him for what he had done. I see nothing wrong with that. I think it should be. And I had said before, I was struggling a little bit with this. I'm policeman, I'm not a religious man, and I've done this for 20 years. But our chief deputy is a baptist preacher and he guides me through a lot of these things and he clearly gave me my authority in the Bible under Roman 13. And I had searched for it. And I found it. And I feel very comfortable with what I'm doing and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I wouldn't - Obviously I'd do it exactly legal. And I followed the law to every step. And wouldn't - wouldn't go out of line in any way to see that it's done but I'll do everything that I legally can to - if another - if I'm unfortunate enough to have another crime like this happen to me, or in my jurisdiction or the sheriff's jurisdiction, I don't have any problem doing what I did the last time.
Q: Where do you find a moral place to feel comfortable with the death penalty in this case especially?
Varnado: OK - well- I don't believe that the death penalty should be used in every murder case. For instance...when a husband comes in and catches his wife in bed with another man -another man and he kills one of them. Well, and he drops to the floor and he calls the police and say look what I've done. Well he's gonna go to the penitentiary for doing that but by no means should he go - be put in the electric chair for that. I feel sorry for the people that do things like that but you can understand it. I can even understand when somebody doesn't have any money and they're desperate enough to go into a bank and some poor guard comes over and they didn't go in there to kill the guard. And they, and they kill him. And it's terrible. And technically under Louisiana law I guess the death penalty would apply there too. I wouldn't feel real comfortable with somebody dying with the death penalty on that. But what they did to this girl, they tortured her, they beat her, they raped her, they didn't want her money, they just wanted to degrade her, and just dehumanize her and just see how it feels to do this to someone. And it was just senseless. It was just absolutely positively no reason to do this. No matter how far you stretch your imagination there's no ... and that's the difference in the crimes that deserve the death penalty. Some do and some don't. And very few do. Very few do. But this one did.
And I struggle when I read the Bible. I can't really understand a lot of it and I think I know what something means and sometimes it really doesn't mean that after talking to him but Romans 13 is so clear, I told my wife, I said I think God made this so I could understand this real clearly. It's so simple and so clear of `the submit to government' and that do evil and the government's going to get you basically and do good and the government's going to praise you for it. And God doesn't give us the authority to do this. He demands that we do this. It made me feel a lot better about it. And Chief Wood knew I was - had my thoughts about it and I wanted to be on religious firm ground doing this because I do the violent crimes now, and I'm sure I'm going to run across probably nothing this bad but something potentially where people are getting the death penalty and I feel real comfortable with what I'm doing.
Q: Someone like Sister Helen Prejean says that somebody like Robert Lee Willie did evil things, no doubt about that. But she also says that somebody who does evil things isn't necessary totally evil.
Varnado: I don't want to get into and one of the guards told her one time, I'm not going to get into religious debate with you and he used the term sister because I'll lose. But from what I understand through my spiritual advisor that we're baptist and we take the Bible literally. [I]f it's inconvenient and I know it was for Sister Prejean and some of this stuff, I don't want to say that, that she tells anything that's not true but she doesn't - she can adjust the Bible, if the Pope says something different. And being a Catholic. And I'm not trying to say that Catholic is a bad religion but we don't adjust the Bible, we take it for what it is. And she does - she bend the rules a lot to get her point across.
Q: And what is the impact of this kind of thing on the victim's family on the Harvey's? -
Varnado: I have a 18-year-old daughter and if they do that to her, we won't need the electric chair. And it's devastated the Hathaway family. Their lives are over. They're all over. They pretend that they're not obsessed with this and and things like that because they do want to move on with their lives but he might as well have cut their throats too.
Q: Do you think it's revenge for them?
Varnado: No, I don't think it's revenge. I think they got - they have another daughter and that's what they've expressed to me many times and that's how I feel about it. I don't think it's revenge. I don't see anything wrong if they wanted a little revenge. I would like to have revenge if they did that to my daughter. But I think they were real comfortable that he's dead and they don't have to - he can't do anything else to 'em. That's what I think.
Q: Why did they go to Angola again and again as they do for the execution?
Varnado: Because they firmly - if they could - if they could stop - if they could keep one other family from going through what they went through they'll spend every day for the rest of their life to keep that from happening. They've told me that numerous times. And I think it's a good cause where they do - they're trying their best to keep this from happening again to anybody. 'Cause they - they know that another family couldn't take this any better than they can. And ...
Q: Do you hold Willie responsible for what happened to their family?
Varnado: Robert Lee Willie has devastated that family. He is - like I said he, he might as well have killed them while he was killing their daughter. He's responsible for that, him and him alone. And Vaccaro, they're responsible for that. There's nobody else at fault on this. Nobody.
Q: Just before the execution what kinds of things were going through your mind?
Varnado: I was here several hours before the actual execution took place. And I remember - this has been 12 years but I remember being concerned - I had never seen any one go from completely living to totally dead. You know I've seen people die but not like that. Completely healthy. And I was concerned how I was going to feel about doing that. There was people eating and things like that. I had no appetite. Obviously you know, I didn't want anything to drink or eat. And most of it was just filled with conversation between me and the prosecutor that was here just trying to kill time up until the execution. I really don't know and I've asked myself a lot the main reason that I'd come to witness a execution. And I don't know that there was one main reason. One of the reasons is that I had got word that the family wanted me here to help support them. And I said to myself, I said to myself a lot that I was concerned how Mr. Harvey was going to act when he got here. And I had developed a relationship with him and I felt like I would come to kind of keep an eye on him too because he said what's on his mind and he may do what's on his mind too. But I guess the main reason that I came is I was so involved with everything and it was like seeing the final chapter of it. I just wanted to make sure and I might be involved in this again, I want to make sure I got the full picture before I'm involved in anything like this any more.
Q: Were you talking with God? Were you praying then?
Varnado: I was praying. I mean the whole time. I did more praying, I'm sure than anybody in this building. I asked God numerous times if there was anything that I did in this investigation that I should bring to light, any problems I've got anyway that I should immediately tell the prosecutor so this thing could be stopped and it could have been. And my conversation with God was probably the deepest and the closest I've ever been able to communicate with him. I actually really felt like I was communicating. Sometimes when I prayed I don't know if I'm, I'm really getting through or communicating. But I was communicating very well. And the message I was getting is there's no problem here, this is, this is my way of and this is going to be done.
And trust me if I thought for one minute there was any reason to try to stop the execution or at least voice my opinion or back out of this thing, I would have. You know I'm my own man, I would have backed out of it and said I don't want anymore of this but this was necessary.
Q: Were you struggling with at that moment yourself in your own mind or with God?
Varnado: I was struggling at that time - is the death penalty right? I had a terrible struggle with it. I didn't answer that, that night. That question wasn't answered to me that night. I was 25, 26 years old when this happened and it wasn't but four years later when they executed him. Yeah, I was struggling with it. [A]nd like I said I was praying so much that it did help a little. You know it helped my conscience a little that I felt comfortable that I could have definitely caused this execution you know to be stopped through the prosecutor if I had any misgivings about it going on. And God chose to let it continue through my mind and my prayers. So I feel - you know I feel as comfortable as you can feel about this kind of thing.
Q: And if I just asked you head on why do you believe in the death penalty?
Varnado: Primarily I believe in the death penalty because I believe in somebody should be punished for what they do. I know that's not the popular way but me I see nothing wrong with anybody being punished for doing something like what these boys did. And absolutely to keep, well I've mentioned it before, I believe in it - I was real comfortable after I saw that Robert Willie was dead because of my family. I was real comfortable that that man was dead and I didn't have to worry about some governor or something turning him loose and then my family being at risk.
Q: Is redemption possible for somebody like Robert Willie?
Varnado: I do believe that there would be some redemption. I think it would be a hard road for him to hoe. I think the - you know they're going to have to - they got a extra large burden to overcome and to think that - that they're going to say well I think I might start believing in Jesus just in case or believing in God just in case, and I see a lot of people that once they get in prison God is the only way to go. I don't think Robert Willie was redeemed. I saw him stand at this podium right here and he looked at us and he said if you all think killing's wrong, what do you think you're doing to me? And I saw him look at Faith's mommy and daddy and say I hope you're getting some satisfaction out of this. And this is the tone. He should have been begging for forgiveness from these people and crying and saying please, and if he didn't do that, he certainly is in hell. He's got to be.
Q: Is there a question of the person being better than the most evil act they commit?
Varnado: I think if a person does something this terrible, I think that he can still go to heaven. I believe you can. I believe he's got a hard road ahead of him. I think from reading Helen Prejean's book and getting a feeling and she had a lot of time with this Sonnier guy, I think he possibly - I am having to take her word for something which I don't like to do because of the other problems I've got with that book, but I think possibly he may if I understand that he confessed to her at the last minute what he had done, and really felt sorry for what he had done, I think she might have got through to him. I don't think she had enough time with Robert and I don't think that was her interest with Robert. That may not be fair but I don't - from reading her material it's a different deal. She didn't make it with Robert Willie. She may have with Sonnier but she didn't.
Q: Some people say the government is killing these people and they talk about the government not having a right to. And when they say the government--they kind of mean you.
Varnado: Well, one of the things that I really resented in reading that book is Helen Prejean referred to the government doing this. And the government doing that. The way it sounds is like somebody up in Washington DC is ordering us to do things. The government wasn't doing this. It was Mike and it was Bill, and it was Willie J and Herbs and people. And I really resented her using the term government. But if she wants to use that term government she should go directly to Roman 13. Directly there. And that will relieve her.
Varnado: I mean it's - that's the `submit to government.' It spells out exactly what authority we are working under. I mean it spells it out so clean and so clear, I feel great once my preacher showed me that I feel great. I feel like he commands us to do what we're doing. And she's go to totally ignore that you know. But if she wants to use the term government, use it. But this wasn't the government.
Q:Just tell me-what did it mean to you to see somebody actually dying? Put yourself back to that moment and what you were thinking.
Varnado: What I was actually thinking 12 years ago - all I can remember mainly doing especially once we got in this room was praying. I mean I was praying like I've never prayed before. And I'm sure everybody else in this room was praying. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. And one of the things that I, I resent about Helen Prejean, I mean I was talking directly to God. I mean directly to as I could to God. She comes in and stands right behind me and, and she starts, she interrupts my prayer. She starts playing like she's praying out loud. Forgive these people for murdering this man. That type stuff. Well that totally distracts me from what I'm doing. And, I resent that lady for doing that. That wasn't the time and that was not the place to do that. If she wanted to be praying she should have been praying for us too. Because we needed it. I don't even know if that's the right question but - the right answer but once I got in.
Q: Do you respect Sister Helen? Do you respect her views and the views against the death penalty?
Varnado: I would have respected Sister Prejean's views and I've had trouble with using that word Sister but out of respect I'm going to try to use it. I, I have trouble with her views or I wouldn't have had as much trouble with her views if she would have told the truth, if she would have researched the case. She didn't go to the files, she didn't go to the clerk's office, she didn't - certainly didn't interview me, didn't interview any of the witnesses in the case. Didn't look at any of those pictures. Didn't read any of those statements. Didn't listen to any of those confessions, admissions, whatever you want to call them. All she did she based her book on what was in I guess a defense file and what Robert Willie telling her. She had things in the book, the ridiculous things like well one of the answers to this might be that they moved the body, the police moved the bodies before the - before they took the photographs. Well that kind of stuff was ridiculous and if she would have bothered to research it she could have eliminated all that. But she was - she's trying to mislead people in the book. And that's something that she's going have to work out with herself.
Q: What do you think she's doing?
Varnado: I think Helen Prejean is after the Nobel Peace Prize. She's certainly not after giving anybody spiritual advice to try to save their soul. She might have originally started off with that at Sonnier but this lady is signing autographs in New Orleans for 10 dollars. I saw one man ask her how does it feel to be a superstar? And her comment's something like well I'm getting through it. And that's an inappropriate comment. From a nun.
Q: And the Harveys. Why do they keep coming to this place?
Varnado: I think the Harveys keep coming because if they can keep this from happening to one other person, one other family, they're going to feel like finally their life has purpose again. Because even though they try to hide it and stuff, Robert Willie might as well have cut their throats too when he cut their daughter's throat because their lives are history other than trying - I think they're trying their best to keep anybody else from doing this to anybody.
Q: Tell me what effect this case has had on your life.
Varnado: All policemen have a certain amount of pride and ego and you work cases and you get your picture in the paper and you get a slap on the back because the pay is no good. And everybody likes that. My picture's been in the paper many time on this case. Now all of this stuff. I could live without it. This is the worst thing that I can think of right now that is happened in my life. I could do away with all - I don't want any of this in my life any more. I thought it was gone. And Helen Prejean brought it back to the surface. I hope she's doing right. But she has brought all this back to the surface. And- for the last week I haven't been able to have any family life again, I can't get it off my mind and things like that. I really resent her bringing this back up.
New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/FRONTLINE
Mr Harvey, Faith's father
Q: Where was Faith that night....what was she doing?
Harvey: She left and went to work at the restaurant. She was covering for a girl that had covered for her while she was on her senior trip. She had final exams at school the next day. So they had swapped times. And then she went to tell some friends goodbye and went to the Lake Front Disco where one of her classmates was a disc jockey for the sound system down there that night at a fashion show.
Q: What was she about to do with her life?
Harvey: She was fixing to go into the Army. She had entered the summer before on the delayed entry program and her recruiting sergeant had called her on July the 18th in 1979. And said are you ready? Let's go sign. And she said no, today is my mother's birthday. I'm going to spend it with her. I'll go tomorrow. And I thought well what a thing in history to remember on my birthday but it was though she had some premonition that she would never spend another birthday with me. And she completely refused to go that day.
Q: What kind of girl was she?
Harvey: She enjoyed life very much. She didn't meet a stranger, she got to have a lot of animals. She's had rabbits, horses, she used to belong to the Mandeville Saddle Club. We've had squirrels and we raised dogs and I had some poodles that were born on her last birthday that she was alive.
Q: What effect has it had on you and as a family, when something like what happened to Faith....
Harvey: It leaves a great big void. It's a great big empty hole that is always there. It's something that you never believe it will happen. It's just such a shock that it's hard for your mind to a) accept a process that this is actually happening to me. I don't know where my loved one is. And my first born for the first time in my life I could say I didn't know where she was. It was extremely hard to believe that this was happening to me.
Q: When you found out what happened......?
Harvey: Denial. I didn't want to believe that that was her. I told them prove it. I know what you've told me that has happened to this body. I don't wish it on anybody else. But prove to me that this is my daughter.
Q: And they did?
Harvey: No it took my own brother to finally come down to identify her and it was something that was extremely hard for him to do is to identify his niece and it was his first niece and they had become quite close.
Q: Robert Lee Willie and Joe Vaccaro were captured and there was a trial. What was your sense about them?
Harvey: Unbelievable- I couldn't understand how they could a done something so heinous, cruel and vindictive on another human being and you looked at them and they didn't look any different than anybody else. It was just something that that wakes up your mind that it could be anybody out there that was doing these things and there's no way to know that. There's no way of distincting one from the other. There's nothing different about them at all.
Q: And was there any way you could see that there could be redemption, that you could forgive them in some way for what happened.
Harvey: I never saw any remorse from them. I sat there all through the pre-trial hearings, the trials, the appeals. And I looked for any remorse or anything whatsoever that they could have been sorry for some of the crimes that they had committed because they had been on a crime spree. And never saw anything. They just - they made me feel like if they got a chance to do it again that that's what they would do.
Q: You later learned - what were Faith's last words to them that you know and their last words to her?
Harvey: Herb Alexander, the prosecuting attorney's opening statement to the jury in Robert Willie's case, said that Faith's last words on this first was, "Please go away, leave me alone, let me die by myself." And the last words that Faith heard on this first was, "This bitch won't die. Die bitch. Die."
Q: Some people make the argument for life imprisonment and talk about rights that these condemned men have. How do you feel about that?
Harvey: If they got a life sentence they could talk to their family on the telephone, they could visit with them, they can see 'em at holidays, they can visit with them at Christmas time. Christmas time my chair is still empty at my table. To go visit Faith, I have to go to the grave. She can't come - I can't talk to her. I can't put my arms around her. A condemned man can get all of that if he spends his life in prison and I think he gave up that right whether it was a man or whether it was a woman. I think they gave up that right when they committed that - the day that they committed the crime.
Q: So you feel comfortable with the death penalty as punishment....Tell me how you come to that thinking.
Harvey: Well it's on the books and it's the law. And if you don't want to be executed then don't commit the crime. It's that simple. You can decide whether you commit that crime or not but a victim can never decide whether they are a victim or not.
Q: Did Robert Lee Willie's execution, did it give you some peace?
Harvey: I know he won't kill again. I know there can't be another mother that comes to me and tells me he had a history of escaping from jail, you knew what he was like, why didn't you try to see that he got the sentence that was handed down and felt like I had to.
Q: Going back to the prison, as you do for other executions, why do you do that?
Harvey: I go to Angola when there's an execution up there and I stand at the front gates to support capital punishment because the victim cannot be there. This day we wouldn't be standing there if there hadn't been somebody inside that has decided themselves to commit that crime. And the victim cannot be there any longer. And the news media, our society doesn't remember any longer who that victim was. And I'm there representing that victim because they can't be there.
Q: Tell me what you think of Sister Helen Prejean - her work and her views.
Harvey: Well, I try to get to know her. I thought that she has a lot of contacts out there with nuns. There's a lot of people that are victims throughout the United States and if you go to court to a murder trial, you'll see a lot more people there supporting the criminal side than you'll ever see supporting the victims. By that time all their support is gone and they're usually sitting there in the courtroom all by themselves. And I thought that the contacts she had she could - I thought nuns helped people in situations like that and stuff and that maybe there could be support out there for other ones - they've had no one. And I know I've been going to court and there was a mother there all by herself and no one there to support and that's something I don't believe that anybody should go through all alone. Especially when it was just an eight-year old child, a little girl that was so brutally raped and killed and she was raped afterwards. And I wanted her to see the other side of the coin. I knew she did not know the other side of the coin. And that was what my whole outlook was and trying to be able for her to reach others that was victims, that there was help out there. But it didn't work out that way.
Q: Do you feel in some way like she's judging you?
Harvey: I don't know whether Helen Prejean is judging me personally or not, but I know she has a goal and there's a lot of support . Helen Prejean is out for us to lose capital punishment. Her goal is that we have capital punishment here in the United States no longer. And I don't think that there is any way in this world that we can send the message out that only the people are going to speak up for people that have committed such a heinous crime that we're going to work to try to see that you go on living. I think we have got to and the public better realize that if they do not speak up, they do not react, you know the victims have a voice no more. And if we don't speak for them, they are going to be silent forever. And we have got to speak up that no, we don't want our loved ones murdered. It isn't OK for you to go on living and kill our loved ones.
Q: Three-quarters of the people as I understand it in the country are for capital punishment. Why do you think Sister Helen Prejean is getting so much attention?
Harvey: Because that's what the news media is doing. They've given her that attention. She couldn't have gotten it all by herself.
Q: What were Robert Lee Willie's last words to you?
Harvey: Well, I was sorry that we weren't allowed to speak on the Angola grounds. But he was brought in by the guards. And they had him underneath his arms if he had balked or his legs gave way. They brought him up to the mike and warden asked him did he have a last statement and he said, "All I have to say is Mr. and Mrs. Harvey I hope you get some satisfaction from my death, that killing is wrong. With this individual society nation the killing is wrong."
Q: Did he mean it? Did he feel like he was apologizing to you?
Harvey: He definitely didn't sound like he was apologizing. To me it sounded like words coming out of Helen Prejean's mouth and it was never any words was typed that would have come out Robert Lee Willie's mouth. And he didn't act like he was sorry for any of his crimes that he committed, much less the brutal murder of our daughter.
Q: How did it make you feel, his punishment?
Harvey: I thought he got the sentence that he deserved. That he decided himself. He knew it was on the books. He chose to go ahead and murder her and I thought he deserved that sentence.
Q: And when you learned what happened to Faith.....
Harvey: She was found at Frickie's Cave near Franklinton, Louisiana. And she was left there with her throat cut. She had been brutally raped and she fought for her life and had some fingers cut off. And she had been raped long after her death. It took us eight days to find her.
Q: It took you eight days.....
Harvey: Could you forgive somebody that last minutes, hours, seconds, that was lived in the torture and the hell that an 18-year-old went through? Can you think of forgiving somebody for what all that her last hours on this earth was like? I don't think Faith ever did anything in her life to deserve an exit from this earth like that. It's nothing I ever imagined for her. She had too many plans. She was off to go into the service. She's off to serve her country. She was planning to do a lot of things with foreign language, she thought that there was an endless list of how she could help others and translating for them that were in trouble.
Q: And when people say that the proper punishment for those two was life imprisonment, what do you say?
Harvey: If they didn't commit the crime, they wouldn't have gotten the sentence. They didn't have to brutally murder her. They took her to rape her. And then they didn't want her to be able to identify them. And so they killed her the way that they did. But they didn't leave her there. They raped her long after her death. I think they gave up that right when they made those decisions.
It really frustrates me that people won't get out and voice their opinion and support the capital punishment. You know the victim's voice is silent forever and if we don't speak up for them, who is going to? Every right that they ever had on the face of this earth's been taken from them. And I don't think that there is another human being that has a right to decide your fate and take the one thing from you that is really yours - and that's your life. That you can't get back. If somebody steals your car, you can work harder and you can get another car but there's no way for you to work or do anything else in this world to get back your life. When it's gone, it's gone. And if people don't start voicing their support for capital punishment we're gonna lose it again. They think no we won't. Most of us are for the capital punishment. But look at history. 1972, we lost it.
Q: Again, this question of forgiveness ...Could you have forgiven Robert Lee Willie for what he did to Faith?
Harvey: When he took the stand in the second sentencing phase of his trial, he admitted he was in between Faith's legs. In other words he admitted raping her. The first thing the coroner said to us that she could have never been saved because of the brutal rape. I couldn't have forgiven him for torturing her so. I don't think that - he was asked why didn't you try to get help for her? Why didn't you try to take her to the hospital? They told her - I told him how many miles it was to a hospital and all the world he cared for was about himself.
And what he wanted to do. He was through. He had done his damage and he was ready to go and he wanted to get out of there. He just didn't want to be found there with the body. And that I can't forgive. He didn't care anything about her.
Q: What do you think of when you go visit her gravesite?
Harvey: The love, the joy that I enjoyed with Faith. The time I'm thankful that I know where Faith is. That I know what I have buried there, what I don't have buried there. She brought a lot of joy in my life. Did you read that poem that my sister wrote? She meant a whole lot to our family and she was a lot of joy. And I miss that. I miss it a great deal.
New Content Copyright © 1998 PBS and WGBH/FRONTLINE
Another Victim (Morris)
Morris: Let's see when I was 16 years old, I was with my boyfriend, we were on the riverfront in Madisonville, and these two strangers approached our car with guns and they kidnapped us at gun point, drove us to Alabama where they shot Mark and left him to die there. Brought me back to Louisiana. They drove me around for a long time. I was raped and after some time passed they let me go.
Q: Could you go into a little more detail...
Morris: It was about 11:30, 11:45 at night. Mark and I were sitting in a car on the riverfront in Madisonville. Which is a place that has restaurants and houses and there're frequently a lot of people that gather there, go sit there to look at the river, relax, whatever. And we were drinking milk shakes which we often did .... We were sitting facing each other in the car. He was leaning against his door and I was leaning against the passenger door, kind of hanging my head out of the window a little bit. It was a hot night. And a truck pulled up on the other side, on Mark's side of the car and I don't see well at night so I couldn't really see what the people looked like who were getting out at first. And they started approaching the car and I can remember asking Mark are these -- do you know these people? Are these friends of yours? And right about that time before he could turn around to look one of them had made his way around the car and they had guns. And they pulled the guns on us. One of them put a gun to my head and they forced their way in the car. They told us not to panic, they just wanted our car and our money and not to do anything stupid, that they had killed people before and they would kill again.
Q: And what happened to Mark?
Morris: Mark was tortured and then shot in the head. Before they did that to him they stabbed in the side and cut his throat, burned him with cigarettes, all tied to a tree. And then they shot him in the back of the head.
Q: What did you expect would happen to you? I mean --this is the hard part Debbie-- I mean did you think you were going to walk out of there alive?
Morris: Initially I did think that I was going to walk out alive. Initially I didn't think that they were going to harm me. They said that they only wanted our car and our money and you know that was fine. I became more concerned later but I never really thought that I was going to die until much later. I think all along I kept thinking that somehow I was going to get free. Somehow if I waited long enough there was going to be an opportunity for me to find a way to get away from them.
Q: Tell me about when you did think you would die?
Morris: When I did think I was going to die was when they were arguing about what to do with me. And Robert Willie started talking about killing me. He said that he was going to lock me in the trunk of the car and burn the car. And that was the first time I think that I actually thought I was gonna die is when I heard him say that.
Q: Where did that happen?
Morris: That happened in an area right off River Road which is in Covington. It was out in the woods. They had taken me out there to get Mark's car which they were gonna burn. And they were arguing about whether to let me go or whether to kill me, you know just what to do with me. And that's when Robert Willie started talking about burning me in the trunk of the car.
Q: Tell me about the couple of times that they talked about killing you.
Morris: There were several times actually. One time Robert Willie was cleaning his fingernails with a knife and he looked at me and said do you know what I could do to you with this knife? And then other times if we happened to be anywhere near people or anything he would threaten to kill me if I made any noise or tried to get away or tried to do anything like that, he would kill me. It was a constant threat like that.
Q: And tell me about the -- you had said that there were really two times really when you started crying ...
Morris: The first time that I cried or got really emotional was when we were driving back after they had taken Mark out into the woods in Alabama and left him there. We were driving back through Pascaville, Mississippi which is where my dad lives now and did then. And we were going to come up to the red light that is the street that he lives on and I started trying to talk Joseph Vaccaro into letting me go. Robert Willie was sleeping in the back seat of the car and I guess being so near to safety and so far away from it made me very emotional. I started crying and just trying to beg him or talk him into letting me go quietly so that Robert Willie wouldn't hear. We got to the red light and we were stopped there. Joseph Vaccaro started getting extremely nervous and upset because I was crying and started telling me to stop crying, stop crying --he didn't like that-- and finally he reached over and punched me in the chest. And it knocked the wind out of me. So I stopped.
Q: Tell me about the other time you started crying.
Morris: The other time was the morning that they released me. I had fallen asleep for a short period of time and I woke up with someone touching my face and stroking my cheek and I had already been raped three times at this point and I thought that it was about to happen again. I think by that time I just was exhausted and I hadn't had anything to eat and I just could not go on with it. So as I woke up I just started crying and asking to please not do this to me again. Just take me out in the woods and kill me because that's what they were gonna do anyway. I started thinking at that point that this was getting hopeless, that I wasn't gonna get out of this. And I was just begging and crying, "Let me go -- just take me out in the woods and kill me, I'm tired of this, I can't do this any more."
Q: Tell me a little bit about where that happened? That was in the trailer or something right?
Morris: That was in a trailer, I'm not sure exactly where it is now, it was out in the woods, somewhere, I don't recall anything being close around, any houses or anything being close around. It was a trailer -- it had a fence around it, with dogs. It was the home of a person that Robert Willie and Joseph had come into contact with earlier that day for drugs. They decided to go back to his house and we got there, it was a trailer in the woods with a fence around it.
When we got there, we went inside and the three of them started using drugs, smoking marijuana and I think they may have had some pills -- I'm not sure I remember. And eventually the person whose trailer it was, his name is Tommy Holden, passed out. He had been using a lot of drugs earlier. It seemed obvious to me. And he passed out and then after that happened Joseph Vaccarro took me in the back room of the trailer and raped me.
Q: At that point when you think about this whole thing, you were with them what a day and a half, two days, 30 hours?
Morris: From approximately midnight on Friday until 7am on Sunday.
Q: From Friday night to Sunday, what was happening to you during that 30 hours? I mean, what were you thinking? What were you going through?
Morris: I think that they had just taken control of me. I was scared. I didn't know if they knew me and if they had planned to do this to me or if I was just someone you know that they randomly selected. I was wondering about that. I was trying to figure out how I was going to get out of this, how I was going to get through this. I was trying to predict what they were going to do, trying to figure out who I could trust the most or who was the weakest. You know, maybe there was a weak spot that I could capitalize on to get out of it. I just was trying to think of how I was going to get out of this.
Q: And what did you think of -- how did you understand what they were doing to you? Were they terrorizing you?
Morris: They did a lot of things. They -- they just were exerting their power over me. More than anything they were trying to make me scared with the guns and the knives. They teased me a lot. They were just making sure that, that I knew that they were in control.
Q: And how did you come to think of them? I mean, what did you think of them as? Were they gentlemen?
Morris: No. I could tell that they were -- they seemed uneducated to me. They didn't -- this sounds kind of weird when you're talking about people who are killers-- but I mean they had no kind of social skills or etiquette or anything like that. They used real crude language. They talked to me with no respect, you could tell that they just had no respect for women, in Robert Willie's case especially, but for people in general.
Q: And when you think back then, what did you think of Robert Willie? At that point.
Morris: Robert Willie was the leader of the two. He seemed much more in control. He was definitely the person calling the shots. He was the person that I was the most scared of. I knew it didn't take a long time to figure out that he was not gonna be the person that I would be able to get away from. He was just the meanest, he was the meaner of the two. The other person, the other guy, Joseph [Facer]??/ [Vaccaro], just seemed extremely unstable to me. Robert Willie seemed crazy to me because he would be really mean one minute and then the next minute he would be talking about me being his girlfriend or something and wanting to date a girl like me. And then he would be mean again the next minute.
Q: Can you detail for me when and how you got away. What happened?
Morris: We drove to this place right off River Road, back into the woods and it was the three of them, the three men and me. And Joseph Vaccaro and Tommy Holden left me there with Robert Willie, they were going to burn all of the evidence, the car and all and Joseph Vaccaro and Tommy Holden left to go into town to get some supplies and food and things like that and gasoline, they left me with Robert Willie and when they came back I thought that they were going to let me go and Robert Willie started arguing with them, and the three of them started arguing about what to do with me.
Robert Willie wanted to kill me and he said that he was going to -- I heard him saying that he was going to put me in the trunk of the car and burn the car. the trunk of the car and burn the car. And I was sitting in the car and they were a little bit in front of the car, so I could hear what they were saying. I think that was the first time that I realized that I was going to die, that they were really going to kill me and that I wasn't going to be able to get out of it. And all I could think was that I was not going to die by burning in the trunk of a car.
So I slid over the near door of the car and I just was gonna choose to take off running and make them shoot me in the back and kill me that way. So I scooted over to the edge of the car and I took my sandals off because I knew I couldn't run in sandals and I rolled up my pants legs so that I wouldn't trip and I was just about to start running because that's how close I was and Robert Willie said fine, 'We won't kill her, we'll take her home.' And so I stopped for just a moment and he said we'll go -- he told Tommy Holden-- we'll go in your car.
They drove to right outside of my hometown of Madisonville, they stopped the car in front of the cemetery and told me to get out. And I didn't really believe that they were gonna let me go, but I got out of the car and I can remember trying to be slow so that they would drive off ahead of me. But they didn't so I started walking and I didn't really think they were going to let me go. I thought that either they were going to grab me and pull me back into the car or that they were gonna run over me with the car. I just didn't real -- at this point they had teased me so many times without letting me go that I just couldn't really believe that they were gonna let me go that easily.
About that time the car just drove off past me. And when it got out of sight I just started running as fast as I could into town.
Q: When you were kidnapped did you know about Faith Hathaway? When did you find out about that?
Morris: The first time that I heard about Faith was when I was giving my statement to the sheriff's deputies. And I heard them talking about another girl who was missing and that this could possibly be related. I think the first time I remember knowing that it was related was when they found her body at Frickie's Cave and I had been to that place and identified that place as the place where Robert Willie and Joseph Vaccaro had taken me and Robert Willie raped me there.
Q: What kind of emotions did it summon up in you?
Morris: It, it terrified me knowing how close I had come to actually dying and knowing that I had been in the same place where her body was lying not too far away. It, it made me scared, it -- just the realization of it was terrifying. I was thankful at the same time. I felt so lucky -- lucky is not really a good word. Just, just so grateful and thankful that it wasn't me.
Q: When Robert Willie was executed.... how did you feel about that then?
Morris: I had a very numb feeling. After he was executed, I felt relieved. I felt like I didn't have to be as scared any more of him. But before, the couple of days before and the night before, just was a real numb feeling, I wasn't happy, a lot of people would ask me if I was happy that he was going to be executed and that's not ever a feeling I remember having.
Q: Tell me what your feelings were about Robert Willie being executed and, at that time, how you felt about the death penalty.
Morris: I think that although I had a lot of feelings, the main feeling I had was relief that he was never gonna be around to hurt me again. I was gonna be able to let go of some of the fear. It was -- however, very conflicting for me because it was hard knowing that a person was going to die, perhaps because of some things that I said in the trial or my role in it. I felt some sense of responsibility. I was definitely for the death penalty then. I wanted him to die. But there is no happiness or no joy in that at all. I think just because of the responsibility that I felt. I didn't really feel like it was my fault, just that I had a role in it and it wasn't a good feeling knowing that I had anything to do with something that eventually would lead to somebody's death.
Q: And at that time, was there something you were hoping he was going to say to you? Was there something you wanted to say to him?
Morris: I don't think I would have had the courage to talk to him. But a part of me wanted to. I think I wanted to know or I needed to know, did he have any remorse for what he did? Was he sorry for what he did to me? Why me? Did he ever -- I wanted to ask him-- did he ever think about that during the time he was in prison? Did he ever rethink that and think maybe I shouldn't have done that, she was a nice person, how could I have done that to her?
Q: And what about you to him? I mean was there anything that you wanted to say to him or something that you had to resolve in yourself before he died?
Morris: I needed to be able to let go of the hate and the anger before he died. I needed to find a way to forgive him. Even if I hadn't resolved the things that happened to me or I can't say that, that I had recovered from the things that happened to me but I didn't want a person dying without me being able to find a way to forgive him.
Q: Did you?
Morris: I think I did to the greatest extent that I could. I don't know if I was able to fully forgive him. I wanted to and I tried but I knew that later on in my life I had a lot more problems dealing with the actual things that happened to me, the rape and kidnapping and all.
And when I dealt with those issues, a lot of anger came up -- but it was different. It wasn't as much like it was directed at him. So I feel like I did forgive him to the greatest extent possible and I think since then, I've done a lot of healing which has brought me more to a fuller forgiveness.
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