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After the execution, Vernon Harvey tells reporters that
Robert died too easily. Elizabeth Harvey says Robert was unrepentant,
and her fourteen-year-old daughter says that Robert’s execution
was the best Christmas present. Prejean tells the reporters that
Robert’s execution accomplished nothing, and that he did show remorse.
The next day, ABC Evening News interviews Prejean. Her
opinion about the death penalty is contrasted against the Harveys’
and that of syndicated columnist George Will. Vernon Harvey says
he wishes every victim could see his or her killer executed. Prejean
says she believes that if people could witness executions, they
would see what a horrible and brutal act it is. The death penalty
is surrounded with euphemisms that pretend torture and killing are
dignified, and that mob vengeance is noble, she says.
When public executions were public events, Prejean says,
the cruelty of the punishment was at least honest and apparent.
She references a study that was done in the United States that found twenty-three
people innocent after they were executed. In England, the hanging
of an innocent man led to a moratorium and eventual abolition of
the death penalty, but in the United States, the death penalty is
At Robert’s funeral, his mother and stepbrothers huddle
close together. His mother faints while staring into the casket.
After the burial, they return to Elizabeth’s house and look at old
pictures of Robert.
Prejean says that after Robert’s execution, she decided
to avoid the Harveys, but two years later they attended a seminar
organized by Prejean’s abolition group and invited her over. The
Harveys help other victims’ families by informing them of their
rights, which they themselves never knew. They tell Prejean how
poorly the D.A. and the police treated them after their daughter’s
murder, and how their friends stayed away from them. Prejean tells
them that Robert’s last words were sincere. Vernon, unable to let
go of his grief, begins to cry.
After a weeklong abolition march, Prejean runs into the
Harveys, who are staging a counter demonstration. Elizabeth Harvey
speaks to the crowd, asking people to write letters protesting Congress’s plan
to cut victims’ assistance funds. They meet again outside of another
execution, where the Harveys defend Prejean against their pro death
penalty friends. Vernon invites Prejean to a Parents of Murdered
Children’s Meeting. She relays some of the tragic stories she hears
at the meeting. She is amazed by how many people feel victimized
by the D.A. and police. She organizes a victims’ families’ assistance
program in the inner city with the assistance of local churches
and federal funds and advocates for a reform that would allow for
victim restitution and addresses the rise of violent crime. In August
1988, the victim assistance group is established. Prejean takes
the new program director, Dianne Kidner, to visit the Harveys to
seek their assistance and opinions.
In July 1989, Vernon Harvey has a heart attack. Prejean
visits him in the hospital, and during their playful debate over
the death penalty, she sees the life returning to him. Two years
later, Prejean attends a meeting of Survive, the victims’ families
assistance program she helped found. Most of the parents are poor,
black women who have lost their sons to gun violence. Prejean discusses
the drastically low number of prosecutions in murders in which the
victim is black.
Prejean ends her story with Lloyd LeBlanc, whom she has
kept in touch with throughout the years. One day, Lloyd, Prejean,
and her brother meet for a prayer session at a small church. Prejean
says that Lloyd prays not only for his son, but for Patrick and
his family. Even as he stared at his son’s body, Lloyd says, he
forgave the men who murdered him.
As Prejean’s narrative draws to a close, the focus switches
from the men on death row to the victims of murder. The last chapter
of Dead Man Walking revisits the two families affected
by the murders. The perspective of Lloyd LeBlanc and Vernon Harvey
could not be more different, yet each is an understandable response
to tragedy. Vernon Harvey’s rage at Robert has not subsided over
the years. Even as he lies in a hospital bed, his thoughts turn
to capital punishment and his daughter’s murderer. His anger is
what sustains him. Advocating for the death penalty and assisting
victims’ families keeps him going in the face of overwhelming grief.
Vernon’s grief, however, is also self-destructive. His anger compels
him to fight, but it’s clear that it does nothing to comfort him.
He questions the value of life because for him, there is little
pleasure left in the world. There is only anger and grief.
In sharp contrast to Vernon Harvey is Lloyd LeBlanc. Patrick’s execution
has made him realize that capital punishment only causes more grief.
Whereas anger sustains Vernon Harvey, Lloyd LeBlanc has made his
way to forgiveness and reconciliation. His grief over his son’s
death remains, but the rage is gone. He has forgiven his son’s murderer,
and not only because Patrick asked for that forgiveness before he
died, but because he believed in forgiveness as an article of faith.
Prejean has already argued that capital punishment is
arbitrary and unjust, and now she adds that the criminal justice
system mistreats not only criminals, but also victims. What lies
at the heart of the mistreatment is the lack of value placed on
the lives of minorities by state officials. The injustice of the
criminal justice system goes both ways, especially for the poor
and black. By pointing out yet another serious flaw in the judicial
system, Prejean strengthens her argument for serious reform. Everything
must be changed, from the way criminals are treated and prosecuted
to the respect shown to victims’ families. Before we can do that,
however, we need to take an honest look at the system and acknowledge
its errors. The euphemisms that Prejean notes, which are so pervasive
in the system, must be dispensed with: killing, whether it is done
by hanging or by lethal injection, must be called by its name. In
addition, we must acknowledge that capital punishment does not deter
crime, and that race and class play far too great a role in determining
not only who lives and who dies, but who is prosecuted in the first
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dead Man Walking!