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News Archive

Edward and Ron

Edward Mpagi

Edward in the news

The crew on the road

Kathy Chism – Dream One World

Me, Ronald, Delia Meyer Perez (Her brother Louis is on death row in Texas) and Edward at the 5th World Congress in Madrid

“The Motley Crew” in Rwanda: Randy Gardner, Ronald Katongole, Bill Babbitt, Edward Mpagi and me.

With a big smile on Ron’s face and with the beauty of Madrid in the background Ronald confided in me that it was his first time to visit a non-third world country.

Saturday, July 27, 2013 Age: 5 Years
By: Bill

On June 14th, 2011 I received an email from Edward Mpagi,

Re: Happy Birthday
¬¬¬¬¬¬Dear Bill, Greetings to you from Uganda my brother.  Thank you for your continued effort to fight the death penalty worldwide.  I wish the Journey of Hope could come in Uganda for a speaking tour.  I can arrange free accommodations for the speakers.  Is this possible BROTHER BILL?

I responded with:

Hello Edward, with God all things are possible. It is something we can think and pray about. The Journey has very little funding so that would be the major roadblock. How many speakers are you thinking about and how many speaking events could you line up for them. Also how many days would you think we should take? I hope you are doing well. I have become friends with Kathy Chism. She is a wonderful person.

I have a great friend here in Anchorage, Alaska who has been very supportive of the Journey of Hope ever since I moved here in 1999.  Dirk Sisson runs the Great Harvest Bread Store here in town and his wife Barb Hood is an attorney friend through Amnesty International and Alaskans Against the Death Penalty.

I informed Dirk about Edwards’s request and he responded by saying that if I wanted to go to Uganda to help Edward, he would send me.  He had frequent flyer miles to give me. That started the ball rolling.  I had some frequent flyer miles of my own and asked Bill Babbitt to come to Uganda with me on my miles.  Bill immediately said he wanted to go.  Thank you, Barb and Dirk, you are the best.

I called Randy Gardner, a Journey of Hope board member to see if he wanted to go.  His daughter worked for Jet Blue at the time and he could fly anywhere their partners did for only 10% of the ticket cost. We booked the tickets and we were set to go.  Bill Babbitt help raise $1500 from his friends in the movement and we raised some money through Facebook for a birthday wish on causes.  Thanks to everyone who supported our trip in some way.

A short time before we left Charity Lee was invited to join us.  Bill and Randy have gone through the ordeal of the state executing their brothers Manny Babbitt and Ronnie Lee Gardner.  Charity’s 7 year old daughter Ella had been murdered a few years earlier.
My friend Kathy Chism is the Founder of Dream One World. This link is best way to know Edward as we do. Kathy and Dream One World have taken on Edward’s dream.  If you scroll down to Journey of Hope Visits Dream One World's Uganda School you will see a wonderful 10 minute video of our trip to his school in the village of Kesenge.

Right to left:  Bill Babbitt, Randy Gardner, Ronald Katongole, me, Edward Mpagi, Charity Lee and family members

While in Uganda the Journey also went to visit men’s death row and women’s death row. We spoke in schools and visited a murder victim family member whose husband had been murdered, and did media interviews.  We timed our tour to be in conjunction with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s annual project, World Day Against the Death Penalty which was October 10, 2011.

When Maria Donatelli’ of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty realized that we were going to be in Africa during this time period she helped arranged for all of us to go from Uganda to Rwanda for a conference being held for the leaders of 25 African Nations to discuss the death penalty.  The meeting began with the President of Rwanda greeting the conference and talking about how he abolished the death penalty upon taking office.  If any country NEEDED the death penalty it could be argued that Rwanda had cause.  He made it clear that the answer was reconciliation, not more killing.

Tom Allen, a man who I had never met before introduced himself to us during the conference and posted these remarks of that encounter.

At the conclusion of today’s session one of the speakers encouraged me to introduce myself and meet a rather motley looking crew, mostly from America, in T-shirts branded “Journey of Hope.” I did as suggested.

I met Edward Mpagi, a Ugandan who spent 18 ½ years on Death Row,… until it was discovered that his “murder victim” was very much alive. Unfortunately, his cousin who was also condemned to die for the same murder that never happened did not survive Death Row. Death Row was not kind to Edward, who now requires assistance to walk. Imagine: I was not just reading words such as you are now. We were face-to-face. What do you say to a brother who wasted away on Death Row for a crime that he did not commit, and whose cousin died on Death Row for the same crime that never happened? “Uh,… Sorry.” That was pretty much it, for I was dumbfounded. He was very tender-hearted and soft-spoken, and recognizing my sorrow, he seemed to graciously communicate “Hey, forget about it.” But I don’t think he really wants us to forget about it, for he traveled to this conference so that others might understand.

Edward was assisted by Bill Babbitt of California, who himself uses a cane to walk. (They were quite a beautiful sight of loving brothers caring for one another.) Bill was never a death row inmate, but wishes that he could trade places with his brother, Manny (Manuel Babbitt), who was:

Manny, an African-American, was a U.S. Marine, who fought five major battles in Vietnam, including the siege of Khe Sanh. He took shrapnel through his skull and was believed to be dead. His lifeless body was piled into a helicopter with other corpses. He ultimately received a citation from President Johnson and was decorated with numerous medals.

But Manny brought demons home with him from the battlefield. He suffered serious PTSD and schizophrenia, and spent time in psychiatric hospitals in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He attempted suicide three times.

In 1980, while under the influence of alcohol and PCP, Manny perpetrated a home invasion and killed elderly Leah Schendel. His brother, Bill (who told me the story) turned Manny into the police after being assured that Manny would be sent back to an appropriate psychiatric hospital. But instead Manny was tried for murder and sentenced to death. Bill assured their mother that “Manny will not be executed. It is not possible. They promised me.”

While sitting on death row, Manny was awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrificial and courageous service to the United States and his Band of Brothers… and then he was executed. He refused his last meal so that the $50 allotted would be given to homeless Vietnam veterans. Bill, who turned in his brother in exchange for “false promises” and was present at the execution, sighed as he explained to me that “My brother’s blood is on my hands.”

Then I turned to the Randy Gardner, whose brother Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed last year in Utah, by FIRING SQUAD! (My subsequent Google research reveals that Ronnie chose death by firing squad, but why would we allow the condemned to make barbarians of us before a watching world?) Although the daughter of the condemned had spent many, many years preparing for the day, and she believed that she was indeed prepared, it proved to be too much to bear and she attempted suicide.

And then the coup de grace:

Soft-spoken Bill Pelke told me the story of his grandmother, Ruth Pelke, and how her story ultimately became HIS story.

Ruth was a Christ follower, who loved to give Bible lessons to anyone who desired to learn about Jesus. One day four girls, aged 14 to 16, skipped school, drank alcohol and smoked pot, and knocked on Ruth’s door, ostensibly for a Bible lesson, which turned into a robbery and Ruth’s Homecoming. It was pretty brutal. Ruth was stabbed 33 times, and 15-year-old Paula Cooper was sentenced to die in the electric chair. (In telling the story, Caucasian Bill Pelke will never mention that the four girls were African-American, but African-American Bill Babbitt added that detail when Bill Pelke was not present, for he wanted me to fully understand depth of Pelke’s current kindness, fairness, and grace.)

Bill Pelke supported the death penalty. It was simply “justice” for the brutal death of his beloved grandmother. He intended to be present at Paula’s execution. “But then I experienced a spiritual transformation. I recognized that my grandmother died because she wanted to share the love of Jesus. I did not have what my grandmother had, but I wanted it, and I called out to God to give me what she had,… the love, the compassion, the ability and strength to forgive, the healing, and God indeed transformed me. I stopped focusing on how my grandmother died, and instead I focused on how she lived. And so I campaigned to have Paula’s sentence commuted. During this time, Paula earned her GED and a college degree. We were ultimately successful, and after 28 years in prison, Paula will be released from prison on July 13, 2013. I will be standing outside the prison gate to receive her with open arms. Revenge is never, NEVER the answer. The killing of another human being could never have healed me.

This conversation took place in a crowded 5 star hotel, the only 5 star hotel in Rwanda. Toward the end, Bill’s voice cracked slightly with the emotion of a tender, broken heart, mended by grace. When it did, I experienced a very unfortunate combination of a tough guy trying to carefully guard and control his emotions, coupled with an unexpected surge of emotion, coupled with swallowing wrong while gasping at the same time,… the perfect storm: I choked and my trachea totally seized and clamped down. I could NOT breathe in AT ALL. I stood up. I crouched down. I made animal noises that I cannot even attempt to describe. I became the center of attention, a shocking spectacle that brought the entire hotel congregation to a standstill. I wondered if I would actually die, or if my trachea would relax once I passed out.

So, I will end as I began: A good humbling can do a heart good, and today was a very good day for my heart. I was indeed humbled and my heart was thereby greatly enriched. I too desire to be like Ruth Pelke. Although I became quite an embarrassing spectacle, God’s love, wisdom, forgiveness, and redemptive grace was a much greater spectacle.  POSTED BY TOM ALLEN AT FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14, 2011

We had a chance to take the stage at the closing of the conference to address the crowded room.  To listen please click Speech (go to 1 hour, 10 minute, 25 second mark)  and play to 1 hour, 16 minutes, 45 seconds.

I first met Edward on the Texas Journey of Hope in 2007.  Edward wanted to join us in TX for the Journey and it worked out that Piers Bannister of Amnesty International’s London Office was able to arrange for Edward to go New York City and speak at the United Nations and then arranged for Edward to join us for the Texas Journey of Hope in Texas.  It was his first trip outside of Africa.  When the Journey was over, we able to join Texas’s Annual March to End Executions in Houston and were able to say a few words at the end of their march and rally.  

And now for an exciting update.
I was in Paris, France this past February for an organizing session where we were planning the program for the 5th Annual World Congress Against the Death Penalty being held in Madrid, Spain, June 12-15. I recommended to program director Sandrine Ageorges Skinner that Edward be invited to the congress.  Not only did they send Edward, but they also sent his friend and helper Ronald Katongole.  Ronald helped save Edward’s life by helping prove the man Edward had been accused of killing was still alive at the time when Edward was sentenced to death.  As a result of Ron’s work, Edward was exonerated.

When the WCADP offered to be a co-sponsor of the Indiana Journey of Hope, they asked me what they could do to help.  I suggested they send Edward to Indiana.  They immediately agreed and will be sending Edward to the Indiana Journey of Hope Oct 4-20. 

After the Journey we are going to visit Kathy Chism of Dream One World in Austin, TX.  She was able to raise money for us to fly and visit her.  She has never met Edward before so you might imagine how excited she is at the chance to see him for the first time.
I am thrilled that Edward is coming to Indiana but I am hoping that Ronald can come too.  Edward speaks English, but with his soft voice and accent it is hard to understand him at times.  With Ron’s help, Edward can tell his story softly in the beautiful Swahili language while Ron translates in English with a clear, easily understood voice.  Edward is still partially paralyzed from the stroke he had about 20 months ago, just two weeks before the Journey arrived.  He was still in the hospital when we first saw him.  He still needs a little assistance to get around.  Ronald has been a tremendous help to Edward since his stroke and is a great caretaker.  
It is my guess that we need to raise about $1800-2000 in a separate campaign to get Ron to Indiana.
If anyone would like to help or even take on the effort to get Ronald here, it would be greatly appreciated.  It would give tremendous strength to Edward. Edward is a perfect example of why there needs to be worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Help us tell this powerful story loud and clear.    We make mistakes.  When it comes to the death penalty there is no room for mistakes.  Please let me know if you can help.

Thank you, God bless,       
Bill Pelke       
Bill Ät send an emailJourneyofHopePuenktchenorg

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