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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

10-09 Zanesville Times Recorder

Group shares message with the families of murder victims
By: Kathy Thompson

Kathryn Johnson worked to bring the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation group to Zanesville.

ZANESVILLE --It is especially difficult to forgive someone who has murdered a loved one.

But it is possible.

That is the message being brought to a Zanesville church this Sunday evening by the national group, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

Two speakers, Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered by a teenaged girl and who worked to get her off death row; and Donna Larson, whose son is on death row in California, but has been forgiven by the family of the victim, will be sharing their experiences that evening.

"We're hoping that not only the general public but families who have had members killed will come and hear this message of forgiveness and hope," Kathryn Johnson of Zanesville, and a local coordinator for the event, said.

"I realize that forgiveness can be long coming and is sometimes an extremely difficult thing to do," Johnson said. "But, onc~ it happens, I truly believe it is like a huge burden has been lifted. "

Johnson, while never having anyone close to her murdered, admits she herself may have a hard time dealing with a violent death and forgiving, but says, "I honestly believe that is what we should do. I've always been a spiritual person and know in my heart that if we can't forgive those around us, how can we expect God to forgive us of anything?"

Mary Ford, the mother of murder victim D.M. Ford who was killed in July 2001, has already forgiven whoever murdered him. No one has been charged in connection with his death. (See related story)

"I've already forgiven the person or persons," Mary Ford said. "At first it was hard, but the scripture tells us we have to forgive. I truly believe this was the way my son was meant to die. It was his time because God wanted it that way. It was planned. That doesn't make it easy or right, but that's just the way it is."

Ford said she came to the conclusion there was no way she could go through life with hatred in her heart or dwelling on the murder.

"If I knew who did it and could see them face to face, I would be able to talk to them," Ford explained. "Some of my other children may not be finding it so easy to forgive, though."

One of her daughters, Francheska Ford, said she knows she will have to forgive someday, "but, I'm finding it hard to do it today."

Explaining that she would be interested in going to the event on Sunday, she's "afraid it would bring up old, bad feelings, too."

"This is something very hard to do," Francheska said. "I do believe that I will be able to forgive once the person who killed my brother is brought to justice. Once punishment has been served, forgiveness will be right behind. God will help me through that."

The organization, which calls itself "The Journey of Hope," has been touring Ohio since late September and on Saturday is holding a rally at the State House in Columbus.

"Because of the recent and past murders in the Zanesville area, I honestly believe it would be helpful for those left behind to come and hear this message of hope," Johnson explained. "It's so sad to hear of all the violent crime that has happened here."

Pelke said he just wants family members to know that the death penalty has "nothing to do with healing."

"It took me months before I could find it in my heart to even begin to heal after my grandmother was killed," Pelke said. "My 78-year old grandmother, who lived in Indiana, was a Bible teacher and two teenage girls talked their way into her home by asking for Bible lessons. The one 155year old brutally and heinously murdered my grandmother. It was a horrible, horrible death. A jury convicted the girl and sentenced her to death, but when I saw her grandfather wailing in the courtroom that day, I knew that my grandmother would have had compassion for him and the girl. That's when my healing began."

Since that day in 1984, Pelke has corresponded with Paula Cooper, who became one of the youngest females on death row in the United States. Pelke went so far as to campaign to have Cooper's sentence overturned.

Cooper's sentence was remanded to 60 years and Pelke remains in contact with her.

"She's not the same person she was then," Pelke said. "She's made great advances in her life even though she is in prison. I'm now devoting my life to opposing the death penalty."

Currently there are 209 inmates, including one woman, on death row in Ohio. Thirty-eight states have the death penalty.

"The answer is to love those who hate you, to love those who persecute you," Pelke explained. "We have speakers who have family members on death row and those who have been on death row and have been released."