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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

06-06 Gary Post-Tribune

Marchers Forgive, but Protesters Can’t Forget

By Ruth Ann Krause

Michigan City – Forgiveness wasn’t always foremost in the heart of Bill Pelke of Portage, whose grandmother, Gary Bible teacher Ruth E. Pelke, was stabbed 33 times and left to die in her Glen Park dining room.
Nor did Lois Williamson of Philadelphia foster thoughts of forgiveness after her husband, Lester, and nephew, Bruce Kennedy, were murdered 21 Years apart. “I’m not Superwoman. I was angry. I had four children to raise,” said Williamson, now a grandmother whose children are grown. Williamson and Pelke, two participants in Saturdays “Journey of Hope” march and rally in Michigan City to oppose the death penalty, said it took time for them to forgive those who murdered their loved ones.

Pelke, whose Portage home is the headquarters of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, one of the sponsors of a 16-day anti-death penalty tour through the Midwest, said he thinks Paula R. Cooper should be imprisoned, but not executed. Cooper, 23 was one of four Gary teenage girls who stabbed the 78-year-old Pelke, robbed her of $10 and stole her car. Cooper was 15 at the time of Pelke’s death May 14, 1985. Her death-penalty sentence was reduced to 60 years in July 1989 by the Indiana Supreme Court, which ruled that she was too young at the time of the murder to be executed- Incarcerated in the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, Cooper would be eligible for parole after serving 30 years. “I’m not really convinced 30 years is an appropriate sentence given the crime,” said Pelke, who corresponds with Cooper but isn’t allowed to visit her. After praying and reflecting on how his grandmother would have felt towards Cooper, Pelke said he realized he should forgive her.
“I just became convinced people should live a forgiving life,” said Pelke, a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel Corp. But relatives of another woman who was beaten to death feel otherwise and staged a counter-demonstration along the route of the march, which involved about 100 participants that began at the post office and concluded across from the Indiana State Prison.

Relatives of Dawn VanMeter, a 20-year-old Merrillville woman whose sexually mutilated body was found floating in the Marquette Park lagoon Aug. 24, 1982, think murderers should pay for their crimes.
“We’re just here to protest the protesters,” said Pat Widener of LaPorte, VanMeter’s aunt. “Where’s the hope at, when these murderers can go out on the street?”
To Van Meters parents, her death is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, said Rose Arras of Merrillville, VanMeter’s grandmother. Another aunt, Jeanne Grabiak of Michigan City, said the suspect in VanMeter’s killing, Johnnie Lee Shippen of Gary, was never tried for her goddaughter’s beating death. Instead, Shippen is serving time at the prison on rape and deviate sexual assault charges.
Williamson, the Philadelphia woman who is national director of Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, said the words of her 8-year-old granddaughter made her reflect on the injustice of the death penalty.

When a condemned cop killer was executed, her granddaughter asked, “Well, who’s going to kill the guy who kills him?”