ANGOLA -- This morning's electric-chair execution of rapist-killer Robert Lee
Willie was too quick and painless, said Vernon Harvey, who watched the murderer
of his stepdaughter pay with his life.
"I feel it was... too quick -- too easy. He didn't have to suffer the pain my
daughter had to," Harvey told reporters after he and his wife witnessed the
He circulated written comments from the coroner's report that said his
18-year-old stepdaughter Faith Colleen Hathaway of Mandeville suffered a slow
death from stab wounds. Some of her fingers were severed in the attack.
"There's no comparison of how Willie died, compared to how Faith died," said
Harvey. "He didn't even know what hit him..."
Willie had said he felt he would be received by God in heaven, according to
his spiritual adviser, Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun who was with him to
the last. Harvey said he thought Willie would burn in hell.
"I think that little jolt of electricity that they gave him over there that
killed him...was just the begining of the heat that his soul is going to have
to put up with for eternity," said Harvey.
Willie's death by electrocution was not without pain, Sister Prejean said,
"To say that people don't suffer because electricity is quick -- you know the
day and hour of your death and it's like psychological torture," she said.
Sister Prejean said after the execution that Willie was on the road to
rehabilitation. "Robert, if he had a chance, was beginning to change," she
said. "He died sorry for what had happened. He said 'Sister Helen, I think
God is going to be waiting for me.'"
Willie, who prided himself on being a tough guy, shed tears Thursday when he
met with members of his family prior to the execution, Sister Prejean said.
Mr. and Mrs. Harvey were composed after witnessing the execution. They talked
with reporters outside the gates of the prison. "I wish this day could come
for all the victims out there," Mrs. Harvey said.
"I am thankful that Robert Lee Willie will never be able to murder again. He
won't be able to (add) any more victims to his list -- it's a long list," Mrs.
The victim's 14-year-old sister, Lizabeth Harvey, said she would have liked to
watch Willie die in the electric chair, but she was too young to qualify as a
witness. "He watched my sister die... He slit her throat and continued to rape
her even after she was dead," Miss Harvey said. She was 9 at the time of her
She was among a small group of Harvey family members and friends that gathered
at the gates of the prison to show their support for capital punishment and for
One of the demonstrators, Buster Crawford of Pearl River, a friend of the
family, said the concept of justice has changed for the worse. "I can remember
a time when my grandfather wouldn't have spent $1 million to get rid of 150
pounds of trash," said Crawford, referring to the cost involved in the case.
Some people wore signs saying, "justice at last" and "justice prevails."
The Harveys were among eight witnesses to the execution, but generally, they
were kept separate from the other six witnesses. All the witnesses left the
execution chamber in single file, all with emotionless faces, after Willie was
pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m.
When Warden Frank Blackburn gave the signal at 12:01 a.m. to begin the
execution, Willie took a short walk of about 50 feet from his death-house cell
to the electric chair. He was in leg irons and handcuffs and wore a T-shirt.
His left arm, showing a tattoo of a woman's face, was bare. The left leg of
his blue jeans was cut off at the knee, making room for the electrode. Despite
his shaven head and pallid complexion, he looked younger than his 26 years.
His last words were brief and directed at the Harveys.
"I would just like to say, Mr. and Mrs. Harvey, I hope you get some relief
from my death. Killing people is wrong, that's why you've put me to death; it
makes no difference whether it's citizens, countries or governments - killing
is wrong," said Willie.
Willie, in earlier interviews, reflected with fond memories on the life of
crime, booze, women and dope that led him to the executioner, making him the
sixth man to die in Louisiana's electric chair since capital punishment was
resumed in 1983.
The 1980 murder-torture rape of Miss Hathaway came after a high school
Miss Hathaway graduated from Mandeville High School in May of that year. She
planned to begin a tour of duty with the Army. But after saying goodbye to
friends at a Mandeville disco on the night of May 27, she accepted what she
thought would be a ride with Willie and his accomplice, Joseph Jesse Vaccaro,
31 of Pearl River.
The two ex-convicts drove her to a cave south of Franklinton, where she was
raped by both men stabbed in the neck and some of her fingers were
Willie was convicted of two other killings for which he received life
sentences, assorted robberies and the kidnapping of a young couple in
Madisonville. In the kidnapping, Willie raped a 16-year-old girl and attempted
to kill a 20-year-old man. The man was paralyzed from the waist down after
being shot and stabbed.
Willie pleaded guilty to robbing and killing Dennis Buford Hemby in St.
Tammany Parish and, in an unrelated crime, he confessed to killing St. Tammany
Parish Deputy Sheriff Louis Wagner III. Later, however, Willie recanted,
saying he confessed to the deputy's killing only so he could stay in the St.
Tammany Parish Jail, where he thought it would be easier to escape than in
other institutions. Since Willie's confession in the Wagner case, serial
murder Henry Lee Lucas confessed to that crime.
Willie denied he killed Miss Hathaway. He claimed Vaccaro did the stabbing.
Willie said earlier that he was ready to die. "I'll hold my head up. I've
got pride." Willie said he had lived a good life, soothed by dope, alcohol and
"I've had a number of women, drugs. I've experienced about everything there
is to experience."
Willie's 52-year old father, John Willie, who lives near Covington, also
served time at Angola. He served sentences for crimes that included
Louisiana resumed executions when Robert Wayne Williams, 31, was electrocuted
December 14, 1983, for the shooting death of a Baton Rouge supermarket guard
during a holdup.
Four other executions were carried out this year including:
-- Johnny Taylor, 30 electrocuted Feb. 29 for the stabbing death of a man in
-- Elmo Patrick Sonnier, 35, electrocuted April 5 for killing two teenagers
near New Iberia.
-- Timothy Baldwin, 46, electrocuted Sept. 10 for the beating death of an
elderly West Monroe woman during a robbery in her home.
-- Earnest Knighton, Jr., 38, electrocuted Oct. 30 for shooting to death a
Bossier City service station operator during a robbery.
Willie became the 32nd person to be executed in the United States since the
Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.