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Forgiving the Dead Man Walking: Only One Woman Can Tell the Entire Story Paperback – August 13, 2000

4.8 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Already familiar to readers from the movie Dead Man Walking, this horrifying crime story, related here by one of the victims, becomes an inspiring morality tale of one woman's redemption. In 1980, Morris, then a 16-year-old high school junior in tiny Madisonville, La., was parked with her boyfriend, Mark Brewster, along the Tchefuncte riverfront sipping a milkshake when two men suddenly appeared. Mark and Debbie were kidnapped: he was tortured and left for dead, while she was terrorized and raped repeatedly. With extraordinary presence of mind, she managed, incredibly, to talk her captors into letting her go. The aftershock, however, lasted for years: her relationship with Mark deteriorated; she dropped out of high school; and she suffered recurring claustrophobic fears. Her abductors, Robert Lee Willie and Joe Vaccaro, were captured, and Debbie aided the prosecution in its successful bid for the death penalty for Willie for the earlier rape/ murder of Faith Hathaway. After the trial, she discovered, "Justice doesn't really heal all the wounds." Her true path toward healing was hard won: She's often angry?at Sister Helen Prejean's attentions to Willie ("Where was the help I needed when I felt so alone?"), at her family, at God ("I'd found it easier to forgive Robert Willie than it was to forgive God"). But at the end of a journey that rings true and intensely human, she looks to her husband, son and new life and ceases to see herself as a victim, but instead as a survivor. (Sept.) FYI: Morris's story first appeared on a Frontline segment titled "Angel on Death Row."
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

For years after, she was known only as the "l6-year old from Madisonville," who had been talking with her boyfriend, Mark, when Robert Willie and Joseph Vaccaro kidnapped them. Mark was tortured and shot but survived, and Morris was repeatedly raped but eventually got out alive. Willie and Vaccaro were captured and Morris tried to move on with her life, eventually marrying and having children but always living with hurt and resentment. When the movie Dead Man Walking was made, she contacted Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Man Walking, LJ 6/15/93), the nun who counseled Robert Willie in prison and who was the focus of much of Debbie's anger. After speaking with Sister Helen, however, Morris was able to use her Christian beliefs to learn to forgive. Although Morris does include details of her awful ordeal, this is more a personal reflection on human nature than a traditional true-crime book. The writing is somewhat self-conscious and stilted in spots, but that only gives the story a much more human and vulnerable feel. For larger public libraries.?Christine A. Moesch, Buffalo & Erie Cty. P.L., NY
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Zondervan (August 13, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310231876
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310231875
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #871,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As a sixteen year old victim of rape, torture, and attempted murder by Robert Willie in Louisiana, Debbie Ceuvas survived the brutality this killer used to subdue her during the kidnapping. After fifteen years of remembering the nightmarish ordeal, she was able to overcome the trauma and start speaking out.

Her appearance on the t.v. show, 'Frontline,' to tell what really happened to her as opposed to Hollywood's version of 'Dead Man Walking' proved a pivotal point in her recovery. It served as a turning point whereby she was invited to speak at conferences where other participants had endured their own form of confinement and torture.

At the Cleveland, Ohio, conference in 1997, titled "Forgiveness in a Violent Society,' she shared the platform with Beirut hostage Terry Anderson. At seminars directed by Terry Hargrave, a therapist and psychology professor from Amarillo, Texas, she learned the steps to inner healing through forgiveness: insight, understanding, remorse, compensation for past hurts, through two areas, salvage and restoration.

Though she was never mentioned in the film, her testimony led to Willie's conviction. In FORGIVE AND FORGET by Lewis Smedes, she found the section, "Forgiving Monsters" relevant to her experience. Refusing to forgive meant submerging the pain, shame, and self-pity.

Forgiveness seems so hard and you wonder, "Is it really worth it?" She learned that by forgiving that human monster, she was able to trust again -- to experience the giving and receiving of love. She married Conner Morris and is now a mother.

She writes, "People often ask how I feel about the death penalty now?" Her response: "Justice didn't do a thing to heal me. Forgiveness did.
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Format: Paperback
If you have read Dead Man Walking, you really MUST read this book also! It is the other side of the story. Please consider reading it.

This book is written by the victim Debbie Morris. She takes you through her life (before and after the crime) and how she went on after being the victim of such a horrific ordeal. She ultimately found peace by forgiving Robert Willie. The parents of another girl that had been victimized and murdered by Robert Willie were the opposite of forgiving - they were filled with rage, hate and bitterness. The contrast between Debbie's response and their response really stood out to me. Debbie found peace and they did not...

This book also gives a different perspective on Robert Willie than the one given by Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking. Debbie portrays Willie as being the one in control. He was domineering, the leader, and heavily influenced his partner in crime Joe Vaccaro. In Prejean's book, Willie is portrayed rather the opposite!! (Should we be surprised that someone on deathrow might not honestly describe themselves?)

Overall, this is a well-written book about the power of a forgiving spirit. Please consider reading it to get both sides of the story of Dead Man Walking.
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Format: Hardcover
I just recently returned from a convention of youth workers where Debbie Morris was one of our General Session speakers. To hear her story, then read it, is a powerful experience. When she spoke, there were close to 5,000 people in an exhibition hall which served as our main staging location -- as she spoke, you could have heard a feather drop in the room. Whether hearing Debbie speak, or reading her book, issues surrounding forgiveness are almost sure to surface. Please read this book for yourself, and for those in your life who need to hear this message of the power of forgivness.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a victim of sexual abuse and threatened violence, I really appreciated Debbie Morris' candid description of her experience being kidnapped, attacked, tormented, and then her experience afterward. Too often, people expect a story of "recovery" or a survivor defying all odds to immediately become healthy and have gained strength from a bad experience. Debbie's story is so honest. Her story really hit home and two months since reading it, I feel it helped me recover a little more from my own experiences. The take home lesson is that when something like what happened to Debbie, happens to someone, they don't just get over it, or hit rock bottom immediately. It is surreal experiencing being treated like a worthless object and simultaneously being complemented by your attacker or spared a horror that is dished out to someone else. The "recovery" can't be described so much as recovery as it is just life panning out afterward. Psychologically, you're altered, and you are at once a stronger and weaker person for it. The effects of this kind of violence don't all come at once, so you can't recover "all at once". Debbie really has a way of articulating so simply how she felt and what happened as a result of how she felt after surviving. I wasn't expecting such a large portion of the book to be dedicated to a discussion on the religious merits of forgiveness, but it is her story to tell and she is completely unbiased and un-dogmatic. In fact, she sounds undecided in the end, aside from knowing she forgave her attacker. She makes a good distinction between "okaying" what someone did and forgiving them.Read more ›
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