Angel on Death Row

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photo of Elizabeth Harvey

Q: Where was Faith that night....what was she doing?

Harvey: She left and went to work at the restaurant. She was covering for a girl that had covered for her while she was on her senior trip. She had final exams at school the next day. So they had swapped times. And then she went to tell some friends goodbye and went to the Lake Front Disco where one of her classmates was a disc jockey for the sound system down there that night at a fashion show.

Q: What was she about to do with her life?

Harvey: She was fixing to go into the Army. She had entered the summer before on the delayed entry program and her recruiting sergeant had called her on July the 18th in 1979. And said, "Are you ready? Let's go sign." And she said, "No, today is my mother's birthday. I'm going to spend it with her. I'll go tomorrow." And I thought well what a thing in history to remember on my birthday but it was though she had some premonition that she would never spend another birthday with me. And she completely refused to go that day.

Q: What kind of girl was she?

Harvey: She enjoyed life very much. She didn't meet a stranger, she got to have a lot of animals. She's had rabbits, horses, she used to belong to the Mandeville Saddle Club. We've had squirrels and we raised dogs and I had some poodles that were born on her last birthday that she was alive.

Q: What effect has it had on you and as a family, when something like what happened to Faith....

Harvey: It leaves a great big void. It's a great big empty hole that is always there. It's something that you never believe it will happen. It's just such a shock that it's hard for your mind to a) accept a process that this is actually happening to me. I don't know where my loved one is. And my first born for the first time in my life I could say I didn't know where she was. It was extremely hard to believe that this was happening to me.

Q: When you found out what happened......?

Harvey: Denial. I didn't want to believe that that was her. I told them prove it. I know what you've told me that has happened to this body. I don't wish it on anybody else. But prove to me that this is my daughter.

Q: And they did?

Harvey: No it took my own brother to finally come down to identify her and it was something that was extremely hard for him to do is to identify his niece and it was his first niece and they had become quite close.

Q: Robert Lee Willie and Joe Vaccaro were captured and there was a trial. What was your sense about them?

Harvey: Unbelievable--I couldn't understand how they could a done something so heinous, cruel and vindictive on another human being and you looked at them and they didn't look any different than anybody else. It was just something that that wakes up your mind that it could be anybody out there that was doing these things and there's no way to know that. There's no way of distincting one from the other. There's nothing different about them at all.

Q: And was there any way you could see that there could be redemption, that you could forgive them in some way for what happened.

Harvey: I never saw any remorse from them. I sat there all through the pre-trial hearings, the trials, the appeals. And I looked for any remorse or anything whatsoever that they could have been sorry for some of the crimes that they had committed because they had been on a crime spree. And never saw anything. They just -- they made me feel like if they got a chance to do it again that that's what they would do.

Q: You later learned -- what were Faith's last words to them that you know and their last words to her?

Harvey: Herb Alexander, the prosecuting attorney's opening statement to the jury in Robert Willie's case, said that Faith's last words on this first was, "Please go away, leave me alone, let me die by myself." And the last words that Faith heard on this first was, "This bitch won't die. Die bitch. Die."

Q: Some people make the argument for life imprisonment and talk about rights that these condemned men have. How do you feel about that?

Harvey: If they got a life sentence they could talk to their family on the telephone, they could visit with them, they can see 'em at holidays, they can visit with them at Christmas time. Christmas time my chair is still empty at my table. To go visit Faith, I have to go to the grave. She can't come -- I can't talk to her. I can't put my arms around her. A condemned man can get all of that if he spends his life in prison and I think he gave up that right whether it was a man or whether it was a woman. I think they gave up that right when they committed that -- the day that they committed the crime.

Q: So you feel comfortable with the death penalty as punishment....Tell me how you come to that thinking.

Harvey: Well it's on the books and it's the law. And if you don't want to be executed then don't commit the crime. It's that simple. You can decide whether you commit that crime or not but a victim can never decide whether they are a victim or not.

Q: Did Robert Lee Willie's execution, did it give you some peace?

Harvey: I know he won't kill again. I know there can't be another mother that comes to me and tells me he had a history of escaping from jail, you knew what he was like, why didn't you try to see that he got the sentence that was handed down and felt like I had to.

Q: Going back to the prison, as you do for other executions, why do you do that?

Harvey: I go to Angola when there's an execution up there and I stand at the front gates to support capital punishment because the victim cannot be there. This day we wouldn't be standing there if there hadn't been somebody inside that has decided themselves to commit that crime. And the victim cannot be there any longer. And the news media, our society doesn't remember any longer who that victim was. And I'm there representing that victim because they can't be there.

Q: Tell me what you think of Sister Helen Prejean-- her work and her views.

Harvey: Well, I try to get to know her. I thought that she has a lot of contacts out there with nuns. There's a lot of people that are victims throughout the United States and if you go to court to a murder trial, you'll see a lot more people there supporting the criminal side than you'll ever see supporting the victims. By that time all their support is gone and they're usually sitting there in the courtroom all by themselves. And I thought that the contacts she had she could -- I thought nuns helped people in situations like that and stuff and that maybe there could be support out there for other ones -- they've had no one. And I know I've been going to court and there was a mother there all by herself and no one there to support and that's something I don't believe that anybody should go through all alone. Especially when it was just an eight-year old child, a little girl that was so brutally raped and killed and she was raped afterwards. And I wanted her to see the other side of the coin. I knew she did not know the other side of the coin. And that was what my whole outlook was and trying to be able for her to reach others that was victims, that there was help out there. But it didn't work out that way.

Q: Do you feel in some way like she's judging you?

Harvey: I don't know whether Helen Prejean is judging me personally or not, but I know she has a goal and there's a lot of support. Helen Prejean is out for us to lose capital punishment. Her goal is that we have capital punishment here in the United States no longer. And I don't think that there is any way in this world that we can send the message out that only the people are going to speak up for people that have committed such a heinous crime that we're going to work to try to see that you go on living. I think we have got to and the public better realize that if they do not speak up, they do not react, you know the victims have a voice no more. And if we don't speak for them, they are going to be silent forever. And we have got to speak up that no, we don't want our loved ones murdered. It isn't OK for you to go on living and kill our loved ones.

Q: Three-quarters of the people as I understand it in the country are for capital punishment. Why do you think Sister Helen Prejean is getting so much attention?

Harvey: Because that's what the news media is doing. They've given her that attention. She couldn't have gotten it all by herself.

Q: What were Robert Lee Willie's last words to you?

Harvey: Well, I was sorry that we weren't allowed to speak on the Angola grounds. But he was brought in by the guards. And they had him underneath his arms if he had balked or his legs gave way. They brought him up to the mike and warden asked him did he have a last statement and he said, "All I have to say is Mr. and Mrs. Harvey I hope you get some satisfaction from my death, that killing is wrong. With this individual society nation the killing is wrong."

Q: Did he mean it? Did he feel like he was apologizing to you?

Harvey: He definitely didn't sound like he was apologizing. To me it sounded like words coming out of Helen Prejean's mouth and it was never any words was typed that would have come out Robert Lee Willie's mouth. And he didn't act like he was sorry for any of his crimes that he committed, much less the brutal murder of our daughter.

Q: How did it make you feel, his punishment?

Harvey: I thought he got the sentence that he deserved. That he decided himself. He knew it was on the books. He chose to go ahead and murder her and I thought he deserved that sentence.

Q: And when you learned what happened to Faith.....

Harvey: She was found at Frickie's Cave near Franklinton, Louisiana. And she was left there with her throat cut. She had been brutally raped and she fought for her life and had some fingers cut off. And she had been raped long after her death. It took us eight days to find her.

Q: It took you eight days.....

Harvey: Could you forgive somebody that last minutes, hours, seconds, that was lived in the torture and the hell that an 18-year-old went through? Can you think of forgiving somebody for what all that her last hours on this earth was like? I don't think Faith ever did anything in her life to deserve an exit from this earth like that. It's nothing I ever imagined for her. She had too many plans. She was off to go into the service. She's off to serve her country. She was planning to do a lot of things with foreign language, she thought that there was an endless list of how she could help others and translating for them that were in trouble.

Q: And when people say that the proper punishment for those two was life imprisonment, what do you say?

Harvey: If they didn't commit the crime, they wouldn't have gotten the sentence. They didn't have to brutally murder her. They took her to rape her. And then they didn't want her to be able to identify them. And so they killed her the way that they did. But they didn't leave her there. They raped her long after her death. I think they gave up that right when they made those decisions.

It really frustrates me that people won't get out and voice their opinion and support the capital punishment. You know the victim's voice is silent forever and if we don't speak up for them, who is going to? Every right that they ever had on the face of this earth's been taken from them. And I don't think that there is another human being that has a right to decide your fate and take the one thing from you that is really yours -- and that's your life. That you can't get back. If somebody steals your car, you can work harder and you can get another car but there's no way for you to work or do anything else in this world to get back your life. When it's gone, it's gone. And if people don't start voicing their support for capital punishment we're gonna lose it again. They think no we won't. Most of us are for the capital punishment. But look at history. 1972, we lost it.

Q: Again, this question of forgiveness ...Could you have forgiven Robert Lee Willie for what he did to Faith?

Harvey: When he took the stand in the second sentencing phase of his trial, he admitted he was in between Faith's legs. In other words he admitted raping her. The first thing the coroner said to us that she could have never been saved because of the brutal rape. I couldn't have forgiven him for torturing her so. I don't think that -- he was asked why didn't you try to get help for her? Why didn't you try to take her to the hospital? They told her -- I told him how many miles it was to a hospital and all the world he cared for was about himself. And what he wanted to do. He was through. He had done his damage and he was ready to go and he wanted to get out of there. He just didn't want to be found there with the body. And that I can't forgive. He didn't care anything about her.

Q: What do you think of when you go visit her gravesite?

Harvey: The love, the joy that I enjoyed with Faith. The time I'm thankful that I know where Faith is. That I know what I have buried there, what I don't have buried there. She brought a lot of joy in my life. Did you read that poem that my sister wrote? She meant a whole lot to our family and she was a lot of joy. And I miss that. I miss it a great deal.


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