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 place.