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Dwight Nelson talking to Dr. Lewis Smedes

I think that any time 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.

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

Debbie Morris's boyfriend was tortured and left for dead. She was raped multiple times by the man Sean Penn played in the film "Dead Man Walking." How do you forgive that?

It was the spring of 1980, on a typical Friday night in Madisonville, Louisiana, 16 year old Debbie Morris was on a date with her boyfriend, Mark Brewster.

It was very typical that we would go and get a milk shake at the end of the date and drink it on the river front and we did that that particular night. We went to Batto's and we had gotten our milk shakes and we went and sat in his car on the river front.

The evening took an unexpected turn when two armed men hijacked Mark's car. Robert Willey got in the driver's seat. Joseph Vacaro 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 30 hour ordeal. After 15 minutes of driving, they pistol whipped Mark and forced him at gunpoint into the trunk of his car. Then Robert Willey shoved Debbie into the back seat and told her to remove her clothes.

And, you know, I couldn't believe it. I really couldn't imagine anything 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.

After Robert Willey 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.

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


When Joseph Vicaro removed Debbie from the trunk, she asked about the gun shots. 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 drug connections in Florida, they turned around and headed back to Louisiana.

I, 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.

By this time they had started saying we know where we are going to take you. We know the perfect spot. And Robert would say that. "Right, Joe, right?" And he would say, "yeah, that's right. We know where we are 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 3 days earlier, they had taken another girl, an 18 year old girl, and they raped her and stabbed her to death at this place.

They drove down the long isolated dirt road towards Friky'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 Willey feared the old man would overhear 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 Vacaro.

I was in the like 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.

After Vacaro 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 under age and being held against her will. He demanded she be taken home. Robert Willey initially agreed but insisted they first destroy the hijacked vehicle.

At this point Robert started saying, Robert Willey 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 Willey say that they should just burn me up in the trunk of the car. I was just about to take off running when Robert Willey 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.

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.

Miraculously, Mark Brewster was found alive in the woods and started his long road to recovery. Debbie began her own struggle. Unable to cope she dropped out of high school and spent years using drugs and alcohol to bury her feelings. Finally, admitted her need for help she began to face her anger and take the first steps towards forgiveness.

In Lewis Smede's book, Forgive and Forget, there is a section in that book entitled "Forgiving Monsters". And he, he just wrote so so eloquently and beautifully exactly how I was feeling.

When she began to forgive she, that's when she began to change back to the person she is, truly is. That's when she began to live within her skin.


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