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Millard tells Prejean about Robert Lee Willie and Joseph
Vaccaro, who went on an eight-day rampage, raping and murdering
Faith Hathaway, raping another young woman and paralyzing a young man.
Prejean has heard Faith’s stepfather, Vernon Harvey, give interviews
saying he cannot wait to see Robert’s execution. In addition to
this murder, Robert was involved in two other murders. Robert and
Vaccaro were tried in the same courthouse. Vaccaro received life
in prison, while Robert was sentenced to death.
Prejean is terrified, but Millard says she will find a
child behind Robert’s macho exterior. Prejean writes to Robert asking
him if he wants her to be his advisor. He says yes. Since Patrick’s
execution, bad rumors have been spreading about Prejean. People
say she was emotionally involved with Patrick and caused problems
for the staff by fainting. In addition, the two Catholic chaplains
are trying to bar any female spiritual advisors.
Prejean meets with Frank C. Blackburn, a lay Methodist
minister and the new warden of Angola. Prejean challenges him on
the death penalty, but he says he sees no contradiction.
Prejean wonders how Jesus’ nonviolent teachings are so
easily brushed aside by people. She says she can’t accept the idea
of an angry, wrathful God. She grapples with the role Christianity
has played in accommodating violence throughout history.
Blackburn gives her permission to serve as Robert’s advisor.
Prejean moves out of St. Thomas into a house near death row attorney Bill
Quigley. In October 1984, she visits with Robert, a short young man
in his mid-twenties. She tells him about her life, faith, and opposition
to the death penalty. He asks her if she wishes she were married.
She tells him that she has all the intimacy she needs in her life.
Robert says that he is part of a class action suit on behalf of death
On October 26, Prejean and forty others begin their three-day march
to Baton Rouge. During the march, Prejean presents facts about the
death penalty, such as the cost of execution and the lack of effect
the death penalty has on the crime rate. She also presents the moral
argument that if murder is wrong, it is wrong for everyone. In Baton
Rouge, Prejean and her companions find a counter-protest waiting
for them. Vernon Harvey is there.
The following week, Prejean visits him and his wife. Full
of grief and anguish, they tell her in detail about Faith and her
murder. Faith was planning to join the military on the day she was
kidnapped, raped, and murdered. Eight days passed before her body
was found in the woods. Vernon’s pain nearly overwhelms Prejean.
He describes how he almost killed Robert himself. Robert almost avoided
the death penalty because he was serving life in a federal prison,
so Vernon wrote a letter to his congressman, Bob Livingston, who
gave the letter to President Reagan. Shortly afterward, Reagan called
Vernon and told him that once the Supreme Court turned Robert down,
he would be sent to Louisiana to stand trial.
Robert Willie’s role in the brutal rape and murder of
Faith Hathaway, along with his long criminal record and involvement
in two other murders, make him a much less sympathetic person than Patrick
was. Prejean’s doubts and fears about meeting him probably reflect
the readers’ feelings about Robert. As with Patrick, Prejean hears
about Robert’s crime before meeting him. The public finds out about
criminals in the same way, reading about their crimes and later,
perhaps, learning about their lives. Society’s judgment, like Prejean’s,
is cast as soon as the nature of the crime is discovered. Prejean’s
narrative takes on the difficult task of working backward, of building
a sympathetic and complete portrait of a man we have already judged
to be terrifying and evil.
What emerges from Prejean’s initial visits with Robert
is a complex image of a man who is seemingly unrepentant and surprisingly affable.
He is also intelligent, extremely well organized, and gentle. His
evident humanity makes it all the more difficult to reconcile the crime
with the man. Prejean is aware, however, that she cannot let Robert’s
crime recede into the background of her mind. The crime must remain
as evident as his personality and charm, for to allow his good qualities
to overshadow it would be an insult to the victim and her family.
Prejean’s encounter with Vernon and Elizabeth Harvey,
in addition to being one of the most painful experiences in her
life, is the first full portrait of grief in the narrative. It provides
an essential counterpoint to the suffering of the men on death row.
In order to fully consider the damage caused by murder, and therefore
honestly assess the value of capital punishment, the victims’ families
must also be understood. Vernon and Elizabeth Harvey, in all of
their grief and anger, become symbols of victims’ struggles. They
are the other half of Prejean’s narrative. Just as Prejean never
minimizes the suffering of Patrick or Robert, she never minimizes
the Harvey’s overwhelming grief. She also makes it clear that Robert’s
execution won’t heal their pain. Their anger is understandable and
justified, but of limited use.
Until now, Prejean’s faith has been a source of comfort
and support. In this chapter, she acknowledges that same source
of support has also played a role in the world’s long history of
violence. At the heart of Prejean’s religious argument against capital
punishment is her belief in a God who does not seek vengeance. Starting
at that fundamental point, Prejean is able to lay out a religious
argument that is uncompromising in its stance against capital punishment.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dead Man Walking!