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Sunday, November 18, 2018

06-05 Elkhart Truth

A Life or Death Concern
Families of Murder Victims Voice Views on Death Penalty

Andrews: “Violence Will Beget Violence”
By Tom Price


Elkhart – When Ruth Andrews thinks back on her teen-age years, she envisions herself as a fairy-tale princess, living in a castle and preparing to inherit her crown. Then, evil enters the story.
“The princess, due to inherit the castle, was forced into the woods, and the queen has been murdered,” she said. “The princess’ mother appears to her in a dream and tells her to go on a journey.”
“How can I go on a journey?” the princess responds. “I don’t have any provisions and I don’t have any protection.”
“All provisions eventually run out, and there is no protection,” the queen responds, telling the princess to trust the woods.
Andrews found herself in just that situation when her mother, Helen Klassen, was murdered March 14, 1969, in their Dunlap-area home. But 24 years later, she will embark on a Journey of Hope today with about 100 other death penalty abolitionists.
The participants, who have come to believe that capital punishment offers no protection for society including many members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. Despite the murder of their won flesh and blood, they still oppose the execution of those responsible.
“I believe that violence begets violence,” said Andrews, who was a pacifist at a young age before her mother’s murder and found that her beliefs weathered her personal storm. “The opposite is also true: Love and forgiveness will have that same ripple effect. There will be more opportunities for love and forgiveness.
When the Journey of Hope comes to Elkhart Country on Wednesday, people such as Andrews, Roy Umble and Samuel and Lillian Yoder will speak at public events.
Umble, a retired Goshen College professor of theater, received word July 17, 1980, that his favorite aunt, 83 year-old Fern Umble, was murdered two weeks earlier in Florida by a man she treated as a son. It took Florida police that long to identify the body of the 1921 Goshen College graduate, which was wrapped in a bloodstained quilt belonging to Umble’s grandmother.
The Yoders’ eldest son, 33-year-old Michael L, was shot to death July 19, 1986, in his Kalamazoo-area photography store when he intervened on behalf of a female employee, who was shot and killed by her former boyfriend in the same incident.
Each of the murders had different resolutions. Klassen’s murder remains unsolved. Umble’s killer sits on Florida’s death row. Yoder’s slayer is imprisoned for life in Jackson, Mich., one of 13 states without a death penalty.
“One killing doesn’t justify another,” said Samuel L. Yoder, a retired Goshen College professor of education, who frequently lectures about the local Old Order Amish community in which he was raised. “At the time, we expressed (to the prosecutor) that we looked unfavorably on the death penalty…. We didn’t think that would really solve anything.”
Umble had made the same plea to officials in the Florida case, but was told, “It is out of your hands. The state is taking over now. That does not concern you.”
After spending World War II as a conscientious objector in a Civilian Public Service camp, Umble was used to advocating an unpopular belief. In fact, not all of his family members reached the same conclusion. But with the killer isolated from society, Umble could not agree with taking the life of another human being.
Last year, the United States executed 31 people – more than any nation but China, Iraq and the former Soviet Union. “We say we are a free, peace loving country. I don’t think our policies are getting us where we want,” said Andrews, who works as a mediator and sentencing consultant with state and local courts.
The Journey of Hope fits in closely with Andrews’ role as director of St. Joseph Country’s Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program, a job she concludes this month. Previously, she directed Elkhart’s Center for Community Justice, home of the world’s first VORP program.
“Part of the philosophy of VORP is that the people who are most directly involved are the people who are most qualified on how to respond to a crime,” she said.
Death penalty abolitionists cite several statistics. According to the FBI, murder rates are lower in states that have abolished the death penalty (5.1 murders per 100,000 people) than in states that use it (9.1). A Stanford Law Review study found 139 people mistakenly sentenced to death and 23 people executed between 1900 and 1985 for crimes they didn’t commit. Only 1 percent of all convicted murderers receive the death penalty; they usually represent not the most brutal murderers, but those who are poor, minorities or who have white victims.
“All the evidence suggests there is no way to carry out the death penalty fairly,” Andrews said, “Who is qualified to decide: I don’t think I am. Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone.”
“We don’t go around living our lives in anger and unforgiveness,” said Yoder, who feels as if he and his wife are able to forgive their son’s killer, although he has never asked them to do so. “It’s simply an area of life we have learned to live with.
But if Michael Yoder’s murder happened in Indiana, where the death penalty is in force, Yoder wonders whether that would be the case. “If it had happened in Indiana, it would probably be an ongoing case here, still festering,” he said. “To have that sort of thing alive and going on, it just keeps the issues, the hurt, the unsolved frustration going on and on and on.
Without some sort of resolution for family members of victims, the situation can be different.
After her mother’s murder, Andrews said the evil that interrupted her fairy-tale existence impacted her own life. “I was all the things I didn’t admire. I was reckless, cruel, I became ugly. That’s what happened to me. I could see it at the time,” she said. “I easily could have gotten worse than I got and could have gotten in serious trouble because of my lifestyle.”
After nine years of anger, Andrews became pregnant and, realizing the responsibility she faced for bringing a child into the world, began to emerge from her darkness. Another milestone came at an earlier meeting here that brought together families of murder victims and murderers.
On the spur of the moment, Andrews, asked a convicted murderer, who had a spiritual rebirth while serving his sentence, to pray for her. “It was a remarkable thing,” she said. “Just as my mother’s murderer changed my life, John’s prayer for me transformed my life.”