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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

06-02 Vidette-Messenger

Now’s Time to Forgive
By Susan A. Emery

Portage – Eight years after his grandmother was brutally murdered by four teens, Bill Pelke plans a Journey of Hope.

At 10:00 a.m. June 7, the Portage resident joins students in planting a tree at Gary’s Lew Wallace High School, just blocks from where 78-year old Ruth Pelke was stabbed to death in May 1985. The tree-planting ceremony is one of many events scheduled June 4-20 as part of the Journey of hope, a massive effort against the death penalty, conducted through the Midwest by Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. Among the co-sponsors is Prisoners and Community Together. “We just let people know all victims aren’t for the death penalty,” said Pelke, who led efforts to organize the event. He hasn’t always opposed the death penalty, however. When 15-year old Paula Cooper was sentenced to death in 1986 for stabbing his grandmother, Pelke felt justice had been served. “I had no problem with it. I think I would have felt cheated (if she hadn’t gotten it).’ Four months later, after a painful experience in a personal relationship, he recognized the suffering Cooper and her family were enduring. And he views the death penalty as man trying to do God’s job. “Vengeance isn’t the answer. If you take Paula Cooper’s life, it will never bring my grandmother back. Ruth Pelke was known for her dedication to religion and peaceful lifestyle. “I just became convinced that my grandmother would have been appalled by (Cooper’s death sentence). She was just a person who was very strong in the area of forgiveness.” Cooper was taken of death row in 1989, after the case became internationally known and the legislature raised the age of those eligible for the death penalty from 10 to16.
Cooper is now at the women’s prison in Indianapolis, serving a 60-year sentence but, with day-for-day credit, could be released in 30. Three other girls convicted in the crime are also at the prison, serving 60-, 35 and 25-year terms. Pelke has forgiven them all, and even corresponds with Cooper.

The Journey of Hope will kick off with a gathering at 6 p.m. this Friday at Portage’s Woodland Park.
Other events include a march and rally at the state prison in Michigan City on Saturday; a speech by Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., at 7 p.m. Saturday, at St. Monica and St. Luke Church Church, 645 Rhode Island St., Gary; and a speaker June 6 at First United Methodist Church, 103 N. Franklin St., Valparaiso.

Sister Helen Prejean, will autograph copies of her book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States” from 4 to 6 p.m. at The Book Bag, 2600 Roosevelt Road, Valparaiso. In the book, the Catholic nun tells the story of her meetings with convicted murderers, the families of their victims and Louisiana’s governor and parole board.
“The fact that mistakes are made will not surprise anyone with even cursory knowledge of the criminal justice system. It has been a sobering discovery for me to see just how fragile and flawed the system of justice is,” she writes.

Founded in 1978, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation is growing in membership yearly.
Journey of Hope events will be conducted throughout Indiana, and in Chicago, Dayton, Ohio, and Louisville, KY.
“It a way of making a statement of hope and life and pointing the way toward reconciliation and healing rather than a cycle of vengeance,” said coordinator Bob Gross.