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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Dead man walking…to Manassas?

By: Dennis Fisher
Journal Messenger
September 26, 1996

    The centuries-old debate over the humanity and morality of capital punishment comes to Manassas this weekend as the area gears up for the “Journey of Hope,” a traveling group of death-penalty opponents who are crisscrossing the state in an effort to bring attention to their cause.
    The tour, sponsored by the Richmond-based group Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, will be arriving in Manassas Tuesday and will conduct a series of activities and lectures throughout the week.  As a warm-up for next week’s activities, there will be a showing of the movie “Dead Man Walking” at the Manassas campus of Northern Virginia Community College Friday night.  The film is based on a book written by a nun detailing her experiences and conversations with a death-row inmate.
    Joan Betz, a local anti-death penalty activist who is coordinating the group’s Manassas activities, said the goal of the journey is to urge the General Assembly to repeal Virginia’s 21-day rule, which prevents death-row inmates from introducing evidence pertaining to their innocence which was gained more than 21 days after the crime.
    “It’s one of those things that is so buried, that a lot of attorneys don’t even know it’s there,” Betz said.
    The highlight of the group’s Manassas stop will be a lecture delivered by Sam Reese Sheppard Jr., the son of Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was convicted of killing his wife and then retried and acquitted 10 years later.  The television series and movie “The Fugitive” were loosely based on the Sheppard case.
    Sheppard Jr. will be speaking about his personal experiences and abhorrence for the death penalty, which almost claimed his father’s life.  He has recently finished a book, “Mockery of Justice,” which details Sheppard’s case and the legal missteps that lead to his father’s condemnation.
    Murder Victim’s Families for Reconciliation is a national group formed more than 20 years ago that lobbies for the repeal of capital punishment laws and touts alternatives to the death penalty.  As its name suggests, the group consists mainly of those whose family members have been killed.  However, there also quite a few members who have a relative on death row, Betz said.
    “It’s really a matter of educating people about the alternatives,” Betz said.
    In addition to Sheppard’s lecture, the week’s events will also include a rally at the Prince William County Judicial Center, question and answer sessions at the Manassas Church of the Brethren and All Saints Catholic Church and a booth at the Fall Jubilee.