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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

06-17 Evansville Courier

George White, left, and Chris Byrd discuss the Journey of Hope rally
Courier photo by Kevin Swank

Death Penalty Foes Plan Rally
By Betsy Whitehead

George White knows the meaning of hate. It consumed him after his wife was killed in Southern Alabama and he spent two years in prison – wrongly convicted, he said, of her murder.
White, in Evansville to promote the anti-death penalty crusade, Journey of Hope, said hate was the wrong response.
“All that (hate) was doing was killing me and I had to let go of it. I wanted healing,” said White, 43, whose conviction was overturned in 1989 and the case reopened. “Hate is a continuation, not an ending.’
That is the message of Journey, which will stop in Evansville today of a 16-day tour of Indiana sponsored by the national group, Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation. Through rallies, programs and services, they hope to educate the public that while criminals should be punished, they should not be put to death.
Also promoting the Journey is Chris Byrd of Birmingham, Ala. He became involved with the anti-death penalty movement through the Pilgrimage for Life led by Sister Helen Prejean, who has a ministry to Death Row inmates. Byrd said he became concerned after working with the poor in New Orleans and Texas as part of the Jesuit volunteer Corps.
Byrd said Journey is unique because it is sponsored by families of murder victims.
The Journey group will include families of both murder victims, those on death row, and others. “We want to talk with folks and ask the hard questions,” White said.
One of those questions might be where they stand on the death penalty. A decade ago, “a near Yuppie in southern Alabama,” White said he didn’t know.
Then his wife, Charlene, was shot and killed by a masked robber at a building supply company where he was vice president. White said the couple had stopped there after hours because a “customer” wanted to pick up an emergency order. White was shot three times in the attack.
White said he originally faced the death penalty, but was convicted of simple murder, which in Alabama carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
White’s conviction was overturned in 1989 and all charges dropped in 1992 after the testimony of key prosecution witnesses was discredited, he said.
“The death penalty is an act of retribution, not justice,” White said.
That doesn’t mean a murderer should go free, White said. He said the man who shot him and his wife should be jailed without parole and work in prison for a salary to help pay for his upkeep and restitution.