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.