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Saturday, December 14, 2019

09-27 Religion (The Blade, Toledo, Ohio)

Families of victims say no to vengeance
By Blade Religion
    For all but a few months of his life, 64-year-old Bud Welch strongly opposed the death penalty.  But he had a temporary change of heart after his 23-year-old daughter, Julie Marie, was killed in the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
    “You remember seeing McVeigh being marched out of the Perry, Okla., courthouse in that orange jumpsuit?  We all saw that 1,000 times [on television],” Mr. Welch said in an interview this week.
    “I remember seeing him being marched out of that courthouse and thinking at the time: ‘I hope there’s someone with a high-powered rifle off in the trees or on a rooftop someplace who will kill him.’  I didn’t even want trial for either of them that first month.”
    Mr. Welch, who will speak in Toledo on Thursday and Friday with other family members of murder victims traveling across the country in a “Journey of Hope,” said he decided that a trial was necessary “to learn the truth.”
    Over the next nine months, the retired gas station owner and lifelong Catholic struggled with his feelings about the death penalty, until he realized it was having a negative effect on his health and state of mind.
    “I was smoking and I escalated from one pack to three packs a day,” Mr. Welch said.  “I would make a drink at night, after I closed the station, and that kept escalating.  Finally I reached the point where I recognized that what I was doing wasn’t helping me, and I finally moved through that.”
    His feelings went “from rage to reconciliation,” he said.  “I finally realized that the death penalty is all about revenge and hate, and revenge and hate are why Julie and 167 others are dead.”
    Another Journey of Hope speaker, Sally Peck, of Livonia, Mich., said she never struggled with the issue, even after her 82-year-old mother was raped and killed by a 20-year-old man in 1979.
    “I know I go against the norm, but it was not difficult for me to forgive my mother’s killer,” Ms. Peck said this week.  “I knew from what my mother had taught me, by her example as well as words and her Christian religion, that I had to forgive and love my enemies.  I could not memorialize her while harboring hatred.”
    She said she went through a period of tremendous grief, but while praying felt “God’s assurance that something good would come out of it.”  Ms. Peck said she believes the positive result is her ability to speak out against capital punishment.
    Her mother’s killer confessed and was sentenced to a psychiatric prison in Ionia.
    Mr. Welch said that even though he opposed McVeigh’s execution, once the bomber abandoned his legal appeals it was clear that an execution was imminent.
    Mr. Welch was on the prison grounds in Terre Haute, Ind., June 11,2001, the day that McVeigh was executed, but he was not among the 10 victims’ family members who witnessed the execution.
    He said he is not bothered by reports that McVeigh received the sacrament of reconciliation from a Catholic cleric and that his daughter’s killer could have made spiritual amends for his crime.
    “I understand that a priest and a bishop went to visit him the day before he was executed and that he received the last rites.  He asked for forgiveness at that point,” Mr. Welch said.
    “Some people here in Oklahoma City were angry at the church for giving him last rites.  But we have to recognize that the body is the vehicle that the soul is within.  The body and the soul are two separate things.  His soul did nothing wrong.”
    If McVeigh is in heaven now, “that’s fine with me,” Mr. Welch said.
    “Journey of Hope” will be in Toledo Thursday at noon at the University of Toledo law school; 6 p.m. at UT Rocket Hall, and 7:30 p.m. at Corpus Christi University Parish, 2955 Dorr St.. On Friday, it will be at Epworth United Methodist Church, 3077 Valleyview Dr., at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free.