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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

09-25 The Crescent-News

Nationally-renowned Pelke to speak in Defiance
By: Jack Palmer
    One of the nation’s leading proponents of abolishing the death penalty will be making a public appearance in Defiance next week.
    Bill Pelke, co-founder of the “Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing,” organization, will speak at St. John United Church of Christ on Oct. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
    His presentation is being sponsored by “Pilgrimage for Peace,” a non-denominational group of area concerned citizens and religious leaders originally formed last January to oppose the U.S. military invasion of Iraq.
    “We are very fortunate to have Bill Pelke come to Defiance,” remarked Pilgrimage of Peace member Henry Diehl, who is also St. John UCC member.  “The Journey of Hope organization has several speakers who go around the country to make presentations, but as a co-founder Bill is one of their top spokesmen.”
    Pelke himself experienced the horror of having a family member murdered.
    His 78-year-old grandmother taught Bible lessons to neighborhood children in Gary, Ind.  One day in 1985, four ninth grade girls from a local high school came to her door asking about lessons, and she invited them into her home.
    As she turned to obtain information for them, one grabbed a vase and hit her over the head.  Another grabbed a knife and stabbed her – 33 times.  The others ransacked the house, ending up with $10 and a 10-year-old car.
    One of the girls, Paula Cooper, was later sentenced to death for the crime.  She had been 15 at the time of the murder, and at 16 became the youngest female on death row in the United States.
    Originally supportive of Cooper’s death sentence, Pelke eventually forgave Cooper.  He began to write letters to her and visit her in prison, successfully working to overturn the death sentence.  Cooper is now serving a 60-year prison term.
    Pelke retired in 1997 after 30 years of service to Bethlehem Steel, and currently devotes most of his retirement days to abolishing the death penalty.
    “The answer is love and compassion for all humanity,” Pelke asserted.  “The answer is to love those who hate you, to love those who persecute you, to love those who do all manner of evil against you.”
    “I am a Christian, and Jesus said whosoever has no sin, cast the first stone,” he added.  “Under that criterion, none of us can cast the stone of death.”
    Pelke’s Journey of Hope organization is comprised of victims’ family members who travel the country speaking out against the death penalty and spreading the message of forgiveness and hope.
    “This group shares their own personal stories about how the death penalty has nothing to do with the healing that murder victim’s family members need when their loved one has been killed,” stated Diehl.  “The death penalty only continues the cycle of violence and creates more murder victims family members.”
    There is no admission charge for Pelke’s presentation.  Information about Journey of Hope is available at