Angel on Death Row

Newspaper Accounts

Willie's execution called tragic in eulogy

Copyright 1984 The Times-Picayune. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the Times-Picayune.
December 30, 1984

By Jason DeParle
Staff Writer

About 70 mourners attended a brief funeral service for executed murdered Robert Lee Willie Saturday, and his spiritual adviser told them it was "a tragedy that society felt Robert's life was not redeemable."

After the service in a Covington funeral home, a sheriff's escort led a 30-car procession to Folsom, where Willie was buried in the family plot.

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

In addition to killing Hathaway, Willie was convicted of another unrelated murder, a rape, and a shooting that left a man paralyzed below the waist.

Willie projected a defiant image in the weeks preceding his death, telling reporters he didn't fear the electric chair and that he'd become a terrorist if released from prison.

But Sister Helen Prejean of New Orleans, Willie's spiritual adviser, told the mourners that "Robert was filled with love when he died.

"He expressed sorrow and remorse about the wasted years of his life and about the sorrow and pain he had caused (his victims and their families)."

Willie's body lay in an open casket, dressed in blue jeans and a white T-shirt. His heavily tattooed arms displayed a peacock, marijuana leaves, and a bracelet of skulls. His tattooed fingers spelled "L-O-V-E."

Willie's mother, 42-year-old Elizabeth Oalman of Covington, fainted after kissing him in his coffin before the service.

"Oh, dear God help me," she cried. "Oh Robert, how much I love you."

Funeral home employees then closed the casket, and Oalman stayed in a nearby parlor during the service.

Relatives chased away a wire service reporter and a newspaper photographer who attempted to enter the funeral home. Bessie Willliams, Willie's aunt, ran after them holding her shoe in her hand.

Willie's father, who served 27 years in prison on charges that included manslaughter, told reporters earlier in the week that his son deserved to die for his crimes. But Saturday he said that the newspapers misquoted him and lied about his son.

"He's a good boy," said Willie, dressed in denim overalls and shedding tears at his son's gravesite. "He just got mixed up with the wrong crowd."

Relatives gathered back at Oalman's house after the burial and thumbed through family picture albums.

"My son paid for all the mistakes he's ever done," Oalman said. "And now I'd like for his name to remain quiet from now on. We loved him. Let him rest in peace."


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