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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

06-02 Frost Illustrated

Journey of Hope events set for June 11
By Janet Mikul Collins
Staff Writer

Gary Graham was within days of execution last week for the 1981 shooting death of a 53-year-old white man when Texas Gov. Ann Richards, under pressure from the African American community, gave him a 30-yday stay. All other legal remedies had been exhausted.
Convicted of the shooting on flimsy in what supporters call ‘a classically racist railroad-like legal proceeding,” he’s had a difficult time getting new evidence heard in the case. Graham was scheduled to be executed June 2.
Graham admits to unrelated criminal activity at the time of the murder, but denies killing anyone. At least four eyewitnesses say Graham is too short to have been the assailant, but they were never called to testify. No physical evidence ties him to the scene.
Graham’s case underscores the fact the miscarriages of justice happen in the United States with frightening frequency, particularly in cases involving a black man accused of killing a white person. This makes the death penalty a particularly appalling tool of justice.
As the death-row drama unfolds in Texas, which has executed more than 370 inmates since the Supreme Court legalized the capital punishment in 1976, local residents are getting ready to host the Journey of Hope, a two week tour through Indiana to educate residents about the legal and moral dilemmas surrounding the death penalty.
Led by Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, an organization of family members of murder victims who oppose capital punishment, the Journey of Hope will stop in the Summit City June 11.
The two-week march begins with a rally at the Indiana State Prison at Michigan City, where the state’s death row inmates are incarcerated. Marchers will move through Gary, Hammond, South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Goshen, Lafayette, Chicago, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Richmond, Anderson, Muncie, Evansville, Terre Haute and Louisville.
In each town, family members of murder victims who seek healing and reconciliation will speak before groups and to the media. The tour will end in Indianapolis June 19 with a rally before the state capital, followed by a concert and celebration.
In Fort Wayne, ralliers will gather at Lawton Park downtown at 10 a.m., and march to the Allen Country Court House rotunda for a period of prayer. Events will then move to Freimann Square at 11:30 a.m., when ralliers will speak, the mayor will present a proclamation and a concert will be held in conjunction with black Expo Days. The day will culminate with a concert at 7:pm. at St. Johns Missionary Baptist Church, 2421S. Hanna St.
Bill Pelke, a member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, was also on hand to tell his story. His grandmother, Ruth Pelke, was murdered in 1985 by four teenage girls in Gary. When one of the girls, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to death, even thought she was only 15 years old at the time of the murder, an international controversy ensued.
In Italy alone, more than three million signatures were collected and the Pope asked clemency for Cooper. The international headlines embarrassed Indiana legislators, because at that time, a ten-year old could be executed in the state.
Pelke said the Journey’s purpose is to educate people about the death penalty, so that eventually the abolitionists’ movement will gain credibility with legislators. “A lot of times when the issue of the death penalty comes up, the media says, ‘What about the victims’ families?” Now they can say they know us and this is how we felt.”
More than 110 other family members will be available to tell their stories to churches, organizations and groups throughout the afternoon of June 11. To schedule an appearance, call Associated Churches at 422-3528

Bill Pelke, a family member of a murder victim, tells why he is against the death penalty during a press conference last week announcing journey of Hope events for June 11. Looking on are Rev. Vernon Graham, executive director of Associated Churches, the event’s local sponsoring agency; Rabbi Richard Saffron, representing the Jewish community; and Rev. Sylvester Hunter, representing the African American community.
Photo by J.M. Collins