Angel on Death Row

Newspaper Accounts

Stepfather relishes execution


Copyright 1984 The Times-Picayune. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the Times-Picayune.
December 27, 1984

By John Fahey
St. Tammany bureau


Vernon Harvey says he would like to throw the switch that sends electricity surging through the body of Robert Lee Willie.

He twice considered taking the law into his own hands and murdering Willie, he says.

Now, Harvey says, he will settle for being there when the state executes Willie, one of two men convicted in his stepdaughter's death.

Harvey and his wife, Elizabeth, the mother of Faith Hathaway, will be among the witnesses to Willie's electrocution, scheduled early Friday morning at Angola.

"We both plan to be there unless the world comes to an end," he said.

Barring a final-hour intervention, Willie will be strapped into the electric chair between 12 and 3 a.m. Friday. The 26-year-old Covington man was convicted of the May 28, 1980 rape, torture and murder of Hathaway, 18.

Other family members, including her 14-year-old sister, Lizabeth, also plan to be at Angola. They will be there to support capital punishment, Mrs. Harvey said.

"There's always these sob sister groups that show up and burn candles talking about their opposition to the death penalty, but they don't know how it feels to lose someone you love to these fiends.

"They say it's cruel and unusual punishment. But I'd like for the newspapers to publish the coroner's report on the death of Faith next to the story of Willie's execution and show how she suffered before she died at the hands of Robert Lee Willie and (co-defendant) Joseph Jesse Vaccaro," the mother said.

Time has not erased the sense of loss she feels, Mrs. Harvey said. "I miss the day-to-day things we'd do together. Although it's four years since she's gone, it seems like just yesterday. She'd call and tell us all her plans for the day and we'd discuss other things at night."

She said Faith and her stepfather had a close relationship. "I'd hear her talking things over with him that she didn't think of coming to me with."

Faith Hathaway graduated from Mandeville High School in early May 1980 and on May 27 was saying goodbye to friends at a Mandeville disco. She planned to leave the next morning to begin an Army tour of duty.

Late that night she accepted a ride home with Willie and Vaccaro. It was a fatal mistake. They drove her to Fricke's Cave south of Franklinton, where she was raped and repeatedly stabbed in the neck.

Several days later, her nude, mutilated body was recovered.

Testimony at Vaccaro's trial showed that the 18-year-old begged her assailants to "kill me and get it over with."

Vaccaro was sentenced to life imprisonment after a separate trial.

Harvey says he will be happy to "see the smoke fly off his body and I know he's dead. It'll be like somebody took a great big heavy load off my back."

Harvey said he has contemplated killing Willie and had two opportunities.

"In the courtroom during his second sentencing trial, a deputy sheriff was standing less than two feet in front of me with his unstrapped holstered .357 magnum pistol," Harvey said. "I though about stepping up and grabbing it, but there were other people too close to Willie."

Harvey said later he was driving to New Orleans on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and saw federal marshals escorting Willie to New Orleans.

"I contemplated ramming the car and trying to push it into the lake, but then I figured those federal marshals hadn't done me any wrong," he said.

Harvey said he and his wife visited John Willie, Robert's father, at his Covington area home.

"I wanted to see the man and what kind of family it was. I had heard so many stories about him and how bad he was," he said,

John Willie has spent 27 of his 53 years in prison.

"If it hadn't been under these circumstances, I believe I could be a very good friend of him. As it is I invited him to my home and he asked that we come back to visit him. I don't blame John for what his son did."

Harvey met his stepdaughter's killer once, as Willie came out of a restroom in the Franklinton courthouse.

Harvey said Willie told him he would never be convicted of murdering Faith Hathaway. "I told him, 'I'll see your ass burn.'"

Willie would be 6th to die in La.

The execution of Robert Lee Willie, scheduled for shortly after midnight Thursday, would be the sixth in Louisiana since the Supreme court allowed states to restore the death penalty in 1976.

Only Florida, with 10, has had more executions than Louisiana since the death penalty was restored.

Here is a list of those executed in Louisiana:

Robert Wayne Williams, 31, electrocuted Dec. 14, 1983, for shooting a supermarket guard during a holdup in Baton Rouge.

Johnny Taylor Jr., 30, electrocuted Feb. 29, 1984, for stabbing a man to death in Kenner.

Elmo Patrick Sonnier, 35 electrocuted April 5, 1984, for killing two teen-agers near New Iberia.

Timothy Baldwin, 46, electrocuted September 10, 1984, for beating an elderly woman to death during a house robbery in West Monroe.

Ernest Knighton Jr., 38, electrocuted October 30, 1984, for shooting a service station owner during a robbery in Bossier City.



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