Home
Episodes
About Us
Store
Other Programs 
Donate 
Contact Us 
Transcript
Guests
Book Information
Feedback




Debbie Morris



Sharon Ratcliff



Dan Matthews

   
Debbie Morris:

I think that anytime we forgive someone when we feel deeply hurt, we have to come to a point in our lives where it's just not worth being unforgiving anymore.

Sharon Ratcliff:

I have not come nearly as far as Debbie with her forgive...with forgiveness. I'm still angry at the men that did this even though one of them is dead, I'm still angry.

Dwight Nelson:

Hello, I'm Dwight Nelson. Welcome to the Evidence. Debbie Morris's boy friend was tortured and left for dead. She was raped multiple times by the man Sean Penn played in the film, Dead Man Walking. When you've been hurt that deeply, how can you possibly forgive?

Dan Matthews:

It was the Spring of 1980. On a typical Friday night in Madisonville, Louisiana, sixteen year old, Debbie Morris, was on a date with her boyfriend, Mark Brewster.

Debbie Morris:

It was very typical that we would go get a milkshake at the end of a date and drink it on the river front. And we did that that particular night. We went to Battos and we had gotten our milkshakes and went and sat in his car on the riverfront.

Dan Matthews:

The evening took an unexpected turn when two armed men hijacked Mark's car. Robert Willie got in the driver's seat. Joseph Vicarro got in the back seat and put a gun to Debbie's head. They drove out of town. It was the beginning of what would be a thirty hour ordeal. After 15 minutes of driving, they pistol whipped Mark and forced him at gunpoint into the trunk of his car. Then Robert Willie shoved Debbie into the back seat and told her to remove her clothes.

Debbie Morris:

And you know I couldn't believe it. I...I really couldn't, I couldn't imagine any thing worse than what he was going to do to me. And all I could think about was just how awfully disgusting he was and what he was about to do to me.

Dan Matthews:

After Robert Willie raped Debbie, they headed East away from Madisonville, Louisiana, away from home. As they neared Mobile, Alabama, they stopped and took Mark out of the trunk of the car and put Debbie into the trunk, telling her they were going to release Mark in the woods, then release her further down the road. As they lead Mark away, Debbie prayed they would keep their promise.

Debbie Morris:

When I was in the trunk of the car, however, I heard the gunshots. I heard two gunshots. And I still didn't know what to think. You know, I could hear Robert Willie and Joseph Vicarro come running back to the car. And they were shrieking and screaming like they were excited, elated.

Dan Matthews:

When Joseph Vicarro removed Debbie from the trunk she asked about the gunshots. He told her they had simply fired into the air to scare Mark. Later she found that they had hung Mark from a tree, stabbed him in the side, cut his throat, burned him with cigarettes, and shot him in the back of the head at close range. They left him for dead, then continued East towards Florida. But realizing they had no drug connects in Florida, they turned around and headed back to Louisiana.

Sharon Ratcliff:

I felt it. You know, I knew whether it was instinctual, or just knowing Debbie's history of responsibility, I knew something terrible had happened.

Debbie Morris:

By this time they started saying, we know where we're going to take you. We know the perfect spot. And Robert would say that. He'd say, right Joe, right? And he would say, yeah, that's right. We know where we're going to take her. We have the perfect place. And I didn't know of course at this time that the place that they were talking about was a place called Fricky's cave which is where three days earlier, they had taken another girl, an eighteen year old girl, and they raped her and stabbed her to death at this place.

Dan Matthews:

They drove down the long isolated dirt road towards Fricky's Cave where they probably intended to kill Debbie. But on the way they passed an old man carrying a fishing pole. It's likely Willie feared the old man would over hear the murder. So after he raped Debbie again, they left Fricky's Cave and went to drug dealer, Tommy Holden's trailer. There Debbie was raped yet again. This time by Joe Vicarro.

Debbie Morris:

I was in the...like the little living room area. And he was down the hall and he called me down the hall. And I thought maybe he was going to show me a way out, a back way out or something. And I went down there and he told me very politely that it was his turn to have sex with me now.

Dan Matthews:

After Vicarro violated her, Debbie was tied up so the kidnappers could sleep. In the early hours of Sunday morning drug dealer, Tommy Holden, sobered up enough to realize Debbie was underage and being held against her will. He demanded she be taken home. Robert Willie initially agreed. But insisted they first destroy the hijacked vehicle.

Debbie Morris:

At this point Robert started saying that...Robert Willie started saying that he didn't want to let me go. And when Tommy Holden was frustrated he walked back over to the car. And I asked him about it. I said, they don't want to let me go, do they? And he admitted that they didn't want to let me go. And I said, they want to kill me, don't they. And he said, yes. That's what they are talking about. And I heard Robert Willie say that they should just burn me up in the trunk of the car.

Dwight Nelson:

Welcome back to The Evidence. When Debbie Morris heard Robert Willie say that they should lock her inside the trunk of the car, then burn it, she decided to make a run for it. She had little hope of escape. But she knew she'd rather die by being shot than by being burned alive.

Debbie Morris:

I was just about to take off running when Robert Willie said, fine, we'll take her home. We'll just take her home. We're making a mistake, but we'll just take her home. And they did. As I was getting out of the car and they were actually letting me out of the car, I thought that they were either going to shoot me or that they were going to run me over with the car. I really didn't think that they were going to let me go. And by that time, I couldn't even run. I just was willing to let whatever was going to happen, happen. And when they drove off I just couldn't believe it. My heart just started pounding. And I just started running.

Dan Matthews:

She ran to her Uncle's store and told him to hide with her behind the counter. She was afraid her kidnappers would come back. She grabbed the telephone off the counter and called her mom.

Debbie Morris:

And I told her not to tell anybody where she was going, just to get in the car and come get me.

Dan Matthews:

Two minutes later, Debbie's mom pulled into the parking lot. She ran out, opened the car door, and the first thing both she and her mother said was, where's Mark? Debbie knew something terrible had happened to him. She gave a detailed description to the police of where Mark had been left. They found him, barely conscious, but alive. Debbie immediately went to the hospital to see him.

Debbie Morris:

I could tell that Mark was relieved to see me. And he did certain things. He reached up to touch my neck, my throat, because he had been cut on the throat and his...his throat had been slashed several times across. And I think he was just trying to make sure that they hadn't done those things to me. I was very moved at the time by the fact that Mark was the one who was lying there in such serious condition. But he still was just concerned about me.

Sharon Ratcliff:

Right after the kidnapping, we went through a period where she was terrified. For a few days after the kidnapping just to go into the bathroom alone and shut the door would have been too much for her.

Sharon Ratcliff:

I think just all of her life kind of fell apart. She changed a lot from before it happened. She changed a tremendous amount.

Debbie Morris:

You would think that after surviving a near death experience you know in my kidnapping and rape and all that I would embrace life and not want to put myself back in danger. When it seems you know when I look back, it seems just the opposite. It seems like whatever they didn't do to me, I was determined to do to myself.

Sharon Ratcliff:

There were times that I you know, cried myself to sleep. There were times that I felt like Debbie had been so wronged and so hurt that you know, would she ever...would her life ever be ok?

Debbie Morris:

Every single night that I went to sleep, the last thing that I thought about was what if I wake up and he's there.

Sharon Ratcliff:

My big fear was that somehow he would get out of prison. We had heard from one of the officers that he had said, if he ever got the opportunity to do so, he would cut her up so badly that even her mother wouldn't recognize her.

Debbie Morris:

I lived with that fear. And I believed him. And he had actually escaped from that local jail before.

Sharon Ratciff:

I had someone call me in the middle of the night, a hit man, that I had no idea who he was. And he said, if you want him dead, they will be. And at the time, I said, no. You know, I believe that the process will take care of it. And thank God that I, you know, I did believe that.

Dan Matthews:

During the trial Debbie avoided eye contact with Robert Willie. On the other hand, Robert blew kisses at Debbie and made crude noises. He looked right at Mark and drew a finger across his neck. He bragged of other crimes he had committed and referred to himself as Jesse James. Like Jesse James, he was finally sentenced to death.

Debbie Morris:

Just the idea that there was a person who was actually going to die was just...it was hard to comprehend, really. And I started envisioning them walking him into this room and strapping him down on this chair. And while people watched killing him.

Sharon Ratcliff:

I wanted Robert Willie dead. I know that. At the time I did. I don't know how I feel about that today.

Debbie Morris:

I thought that I would feel excited, happiness, something like that. I knew by the time the execution occurred that I would not feel that. But I didn't expect the numbness that I felt.

Sharon Ratcliff:

I can remember one of the things that I hung on to was something that my father had said shortly after the kidnapping. He said, you know, he said, for some reason for Debbie to have survived this, God had a plan for her. He said, something good will come out of this because otherwise she would be dead. You know, God had a plan. And I kept trying to see, to realize, what that plan could be. Today I know.

Dwight Nelson:

On December 28, 1984, Robert Willie was executed. Justice may have been served. But did Robert Willey's death heal the wounds? We'll talk to Debbie Morris and her mother, Sharon Ratliff, about what came next, right after this.

Dwight Nelson:

In her book, Forgiving the Dead Man Walking, Debbie Morris recounts the story, really the chilling story of her kidnapping and subsequent ordeal. She and her mother are here to talk about that journey, a journey step by step towards forgiveness. Debbie, glad to have you. Sharon, welcome to The Evidence. You know our last segment ended with you describing your emotions as you came closer and closer to the day of Robert Willey's execution.

Debbie Morris: That's right.
Dwight Nelson:

What was going on inside on that day?

Debbie Morris:

You have to understand, this was a man that I had feared since the first moment I laid eyes on him.

Dwight Nelson:

How much time had gone by from that first moment until the execution?

Debbie Morris:

Four and a half years.

Dwight Nelson: Four and a half years.
Debbie Morris:

Four and a half years. And for four and a half years he was the first thing that I thought of when I woke up, the last thing that I thought of before I went to sleep. I would say, please don't let him be standing here if I wake up in the middle of the night. I was so terrified of him.

Dwight Nelson: I'm sure.
Debbie Morris:

So there was this great sense of relief that I was hoping to feel when he was finally gone and I thought that that part of my life would be over and I wouldn't have to fear anymore. But at the same time, the closer the execution got, the more anxiety I felt about it.

Dwight Nelson:

You wake up the next morning Debbie, what hit you when you saw that headline announce, confirming the reality?

Debbie Morris:

I just was numb. Like I said, it's hard to describe.

Dwight Nelson:

Did it bring the closure you were anticipating?

Debbie Morris:

No, no. And that would become even more evident in the days, the weeks, the months after.

Dwight Nelson:

What happens to a person to move you to that closure? Something must have happened? You've had closure.

Debbie Morris: Right, right.
Dwight Nelson:

What's happened? What happened along the way?

Debbie Morris:

It was when I just turned back to God and sort of through my arms up in the air and said, what's going to make this better? And how can you help me now? I give up. I'm willing...I'm willing to let you do it. This is just so much bigger than me.

Dwight Nelson:

Sharon, when you come to the day of execution, Robert Willie is executed. Do you learn it obviously the next day. The anger is gone now.

Sharon Ratcliff: No.
Dwight Nelson:

What goes on happening?

Sharon Ratcliff:

I thought that I would get some relief. I thought that we would all be different somehow. That this would put closure on it. It really didn't. Nothing really changed. He was dead. But the feelings were still there for me.

Dwight Nelson: Do you still feel anger?
Sharon Ratcliff:

Yes, I do still feel some anger. It's really hard for a mother to see her children hurt. And Debbie was severely hurt and damaged by this. It's very hard.

Dwight Nelson:

Experientially, what happens when a person forgives?

Debbie Morris:

The whole process of forgiveness happens in steps. It's not an event. A lot of people think that it's an event. But once they say, I want to forgive. I do forgive.

Dwight Nelson: That it's all over.
Debbie Morris:

Help me to forgive. That that's it. The pain goes away. Everything is ok. That's not what happens. At the time I was sort of thinking that maybe that's what would happen. But I didn't even understand forgiveness at the time. What I wanted at that point was for the hate to go away for this...I felt like I was the one who had been imprisoned for four and half years. Robert Lee Willie may have been behind bars, but I felt like I had been in prison. I wanted that gone. I wanted to quit being controlled by the past. And I wanted to all of a sudden experience a freedom that would help me be able to move into the future. That's what I wanted. I wanted it all at once, that night. It didn't necessarily happen like that. But it was a step. I did feel the freedom that came with that initial step in forgiveness.

Dwight Nelson:

Is your journey toward forgiveness similar or...?

Sharon Ratcliff: No, not at all
Dwight Nelson:

How did it happen for you?

Sharon Ratcliff:

Basically as time went by and I saw Debbie begin to recover, I was able to let go of the anger and begin to just be grateful that today I have my daughter sitting next to me.

Dwight Nelson:

Is forgiveness something you simply choose to do Debbie? In sharing, you say, Well, I'm just going to...I'm just going to have to do it. It's a choice.

Debbie Morris:

I think it is. I think it is a choice that you have to consciously make. You have to set your mind to do. Forgiveness for me meant that I was no longer the one who was responsible for Robert Lee Willey's fate, for vengeance against him. Forgiveness for me was very personal. It's what allowed me to be able to move on and experience God's love and grace and the peace that he would have me have.

Dwight Nelson:

How does God, believing in God, what does that contribute to being able to forgive someone who has wronged you so deeply? Let me go to you Sharon.

Sharon Ratcliff:

I really didn't give it a lot of thought until Debbie started talking more about forgiveness. And one day I thought about God on the cross, Jesus on the cross. And I said, you know, his last words were forgive them. How could I not.

Dwight Nelson:

Debbie, God and you, how did that make forgiving easier?

Debbie Morris:

One of the things that really got my attention was when it says in the Bible that we will be forgiven as we are willing to forgive others. And when I took a look at my life and over the four and half years during...after my kidnapping, and before Robert Willey's execution, and even some time after that, I had really made a mess of my life. And I needed to be forgiven by God. I needed to be forgiven by God mostly for turning my back on him for four and a half years and blaming him for what happened to me.

Dwight Nelson:

So forgiveness...essentially you are describing a two way process. It's not just me forgiving me the whole world that has wronged me. But I need to seek forgiveness myself as a surviving human being.

Debbie Morris:

Exactly...exactly. And for instance, for Robert Lee Willie, to benefit from forgiveness, it wasn't my forgiveness that he needed. It was God's forgiveness.

Dwight Nelson:

Debbie, Sharon, thank you very much for coming here and sharing the story of your journey to forgiveness. God bless you both.

Sharon Ratcliff: Thank you.
Debbie Morris: Thanks.
Dwight Nelson:

There's more to Debbie's story. You can be sure of that. In fact we have it on our website, the subject of forgiveness. The expansion of her story, you can go to our website right now. It's just one word. Theevidence.org. I'm going to be back in just a few moments with some concluding thoughts.

Dwight Nelson:

One thing that intrigues me about Debbie Morris's remarkable story is the motivation behind her act of forgiveness. Debbie tells us she did this not because the man who assaulted her somehow deserved her pardon. She did it for her own good. In her book she writes, that a refusal to forgive would have been hanging on to her pain, to her shame, to her self-pity. Debbie forgave in order to find healing. For her it came as a gift from God. Now it's true, forgiveness, whether divine or human doesn't justify the terrible things that happen to us. Nor is forgiveness a way of pretending it wasn't so bad after all. It's a way of finally being set free from the hurt. Forgiveness is a divine way to take back our lives. That's what I think. I'm Dwight Nelson. Join us next time for more of The Evidence.








SiteMap. Privacy Terms Privacy Notice Powered by SimpleUpdates.com © 2002-2017. User Login / Customize.