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John Croft, a local attorney, tells Prejean they have
to convince Robert to drop his stance that he is a political prisoner
in preparation for his upcoming Pardon Board hearing. The Pardon
Board is composed of the same individuals that heard Patrick’s case.
Prejean notes that as political appointees, the board members cannot
ignore the governor’s wishes. Joe Doss, an Episcopalian priest,
told Prejean the board is not supposed to put “pressure on Governor
Edwards.” John tells Prejean that Marion Farmer, the D.A. in Patrick’s
case, had been criticized by his opponent for not seeking the death
penalty in a previous case. He likely sought the death penalty for
Patrick because of his own reelection campaign.
Prejean visits Robert, bringing him money for coffee and
cigarettes. He gives her a copy of his presentation to the Pardon
Board and reads it aloud without any emotion. He says he confessed
without an attorney because his mother had been arrested for driving him
and Vaccaro to Mississippi, that he is a political prisoner, and that
he did not have a proper defense attorney. He apologizes for the death
of Faith Hathaway at the end. Prejean tells him not to mention politics.
He agrees to drop it but says he will not grovel for his life. He
says his mother served six months in prison for helping him, and he’s
not sure if he wants her at the hearing.
Prejean drives to the Pardon Board hearing with Marcia
Blum, the attorney director of the Louisiana Capital Defense Project,
and Liz Scott, a reporter writing an article on Robert and the Harveys. Prejean
knows the board is going to approve the execution, which makes this
hearing harder than Patrick’s was for her. Prejean and her friends
sign in and sit on the defendant’s side of the room. Elizabeth, Robert’s
mother, doesn’t know what she’s going to say. Prejean shakes hands
with the Harveys.
D.A. Marion Farmer and Assistant D.A. William Alford,
Jr., represent the state. John Croft, in his presentation, lists
all of the flaws in Robert’s initial case. Elizabeth tries to testify
but quickly breaks down and is escorted out. Robert reads what he
has prepared. Prejean follows him. She talks about Patrick’s execution,
her visit to the Harveys, and the racial and class bias of the death
penalty. She calls on the board to take personal responsibility
for the execution, and not to hide behind bureaucracy. Mr. Marsellus,
the Board chairman, say they cannot be held responsible. Prejean
asks him what would happen if they recommended life, rather than
death, for every person that came before them.
Marion Farmer reviews the details of Faith Hathaway’s
murder and says Robert is unrepentant. He says Robert has given
up his right to live. Vernon and Elizabeth Harvey talk about Faith
and about having to wait for justice. After twenty minutes of deliberation,
the board unanimously votes for the sentence to remain. Robert naively
believes he could have won had it not been for Mrs. Harvey’s speech.
Prejean describes talking with Howard Marsellus in September 1991,
after he was released from prison for accepting bribes while working
on the Pardon Board. He witnessed one execution while on the board,
that of Tim Baldwin, a man of whose guilt he was never convinced.
He voted against Baldwin because as a political appointee, he was
expected to be a “team player” and to spare the governor the political
burden of having to commute a sentence. Marsellus describes the
corruption in the Pardon Board and explains that legislators also
work as criminal attorneys and buy commuted sentences for their
clients by agreeing to support the governor. As he describes Baldwin’s
execution, he begins to cry. He asks, “Who was I to sit in judgment?”
Howard Marsellus’s remorse hammers home one of Prejean’s
essential arguments against the death penalty. The state, she has
argued, is not only fallible but often actively corrupt. Therefore,
it cannot be trusted with the responsibility of deciding who lives
and who dies. Camus’ assertion (i.e., if the condemned is considered
absolutely evil, then the state that condemns him to death must
be absolutely good) is especially appropriate in light of Howard
Marsellus’s confession to Prejean. In addition to explaining the
fraud and corruption that makes the Pardon Board system fallible,
Marsellus recognizes the immense responsibility entrusted to the
board, and to him specifically. The power to determine who should
live and who should die was too great for him as an individual and
for the entire system in which he worked.
During Robert’s Pardon Board hearing, Prejean challenges
board members to consider their own actions, and the role they play
as individuals in perpetuating the death penalty. Her challenge
is answered at the end of the chapter with Marsellus’s apology.
The man who once claimed that the members of the board were not responsible
for the system is the man who, in the end, understands his role,
accepts his responsibility, and apologizes. Throughout her narrative,
Prejean has asserted the importance of individual responsibility.
Marsellus’s startling admission of guilt and remorse is the first
example of a government official acknowledging that responsibility.
Robert’s petition to the Pardon Board is a hopeless affair.
What is striking is that the impossibility of saving Robert’s life
makes his case all the more difficult. The motions to commute the
death sentence feel just like that—motions performed for the sake
of themselves. For Patrick, every moment and piece of information
seemed to matter. For Robert, there is little to be said. There
are no last-minute personal appeals to the governor, no religious
leaders pleading on his behalf. The twenty minutes the Pardon Board
spends deliberating seem mostly ceremonial. Robert, with his carefully scripted,
passionless testimony seems to know this all too well himself. His
plea to spare his life is emotionless, and the D.A.’s argument is
simple and direct.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Dead Man Walking!