Angel on Death Row

Newspaper Accounts

Willie showed remorse, nun says

Copyright 1984 The Times-Picayune. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the Times-Picayune.
December 29, 1984

By Jason DeParle
Staff writer

Vern Harvey, who poured drinks and offered to dance with reporters after watching the execution of his stepdaughter's murderer, said Friday he feels 100 pounds lighter knowing that Robert Lee Willie "has gone straight to Satan's company and the fires of eternity."

But Sister Helen Prejean of New Orleans, Willie's spiritual adviser, said Willie expressed remorse for his crime and his violent decadent life. He said, "God, I believe, is going to take care of me," Prejean said.

Willie, 26, died in the electric chair early Friday morning for the 1980 murder and rape of 18-year-old Faith Hathaway of Mandeville.

Harvey and his wife, Elizabeth, were stone-faced as they watched the execution from a witness room 10 feet away. But 30 minutes later, outside the penitentiary gate, Harvey toasted the killers' death with a bottle of whiskey.

"He mouthed off to me and said 'it'll never happen,'" Harvey said. "I told him 'I'll see your ass burn.'"

Willie became the sixth man executed in Louisiana in the past 13 months and the 32nd nationwide since executions resumed in 1977.

Willie, who had boasted of not fearing the electric chair, was clad in blue jeans, a white sweatshirt and white slippers as he entered the death chamber surrounded by six guards.

Willie's brief statement offered no explicit apology for the rape, torture and murder of Hathaway, who he stabbed 17 times.

"I would just like to say Mr. and Mrs. Harvey that I hope you get some relief form my death." he said. "Killing people is wrong. That's why you put me to death. It makes no difference whether it's citizens, countries, or governments. Killing is wrong."

Prison guards lowered the wet leather death hood over Willie's face, but lifted it briefly at Willie's request.

He then winked at Prejean. She said Friday that Willie told her he would wink at her as a sign "that I'm free inside and God's taking care of me."

Prejean bowed her head and prayed as an electrician fired the voltage into Willie's strapped body. "Forgive those who collaborate," she said.

The surge of electricity began at 12:07 and ended at 12:08. After five minutes, West Felicians Parish Coroner Alfred Gould examined the body and pronounced Willie dead at 12:15.

In addition to the Hathaway killing, Willie claimed involvement in at least one other murder, another rape and shooting that left a man paralyzed.

In the weeks preceding his execution, Willie expressed little remorse about his life of drugs, alcohol and violence. He said if he was released from prison he would become a terrorist and destroy government buildings.

Willie's admission that he was sorry about his lifestyle and his crimes came several hours before the execution, Prejean said.

"I dealt with him about that macho man stuff," Prejean said. "I said, 'You know, Robert, you don't have to be the Marlboro man. Being a real man means you can cry ad show emotion.'"

At 10:30 p.m., Prejean said Willie called his mother, who had visited him earlier in the day, and told her "I just want you to know I love you." Then he cried.

"I said, 'Oh Robert, now you're really a man,'" Prejean said.


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