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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

09-27 Dayton Daily News

Death Row foes to take strides in area

By: Susanne Cervenka

Tour has many local events scheduled

   The Ohio Journey of Hope               Helen Prejean, author of Dead
has more than 30 events sched-     Man Walking; and others; sug-
uled at churches and elsewhere    gested donation is $15.
in the Dayton are through                     On Tuesday, from 11:30
Tuesday.  For information, go           a.m. to 1 p,m., there will be a
to, or        a march and vigil starting at
call Dayton coordinator Bob           Wright-Dunbar Park and going
Stoughton, 229-5599.                         to the Montgomery County
    A kickoff benefit event is 3           Courts Building.
to 5 p.m. Sunday at St. John’s             Anyone unable to march
Catholic Church  9080                        may join the vigil at approxi-
Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West          mately 12:15 p.m.
Chester.  It features Sister                                      Dayton Daily News

    Bill Pelke’s grandmother was murdered nearly 20 years ago in Gary, Ind.; her killer was initially sentenced to die.  Since then, Pelke said he has felt obligated to end capital punishment.
    He and nearly 30 others will tell their stories on the Ohio Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, a 17-day speaking tour supporting the abolition of the death penalty.
    The Journey of Hope is a nationwide alliance of family members of murder victims who oppose capital punishment, of former Death Row prisoners and of family member of people on Death Row.  The members hold events “to get the message out that not all murder victims are in favor of the death penalty,” said Jana Schroeder of the American Friends Service Committee in Dayton and coordinator of the Ohio journey.
    “For most of the people, executions does not help them heal through the trauma of murder,” Schroeder said.  “They don’t need or want someone else to die in order for them to gain healing or closure.”
    The tour, which began Friday in Toledo, will be in Dayton and southwest Ohio until Tuesday.  Various speakers, such as Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, are scheduled to speak at local churches, schools and elsewhere, sometimes at individual classes and services and sometimes for public events.
    Pelke and other relatives of murder victims who oppose capital punishment started the Journey of Hope as a one-time event in 1993 in Gary, Ind., but continued after receiving requests from across the country.
    “It puts a human face on the death penalty,” Pelke said.
    Pelke’s experience began on May 14, 1985, when four teenage girls came to his grandmother’s home for Bible lessons.
    As she turned for lesson materials, one of the girls hit her on the head with a case and another, Paula Cooper, stabbed her 33 times with a butcher knife.  Cooper was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.  Her grandfather had to be removed from the courtroom because of his emotional outburst after hearing the sentencing.
    Pelke said he originally supported the death penalty decision, but after seeing the man’s reaction, “I knew my grandmother wouldn’t want a grandfather to go through that.”
    Pelke has stayed in contact with Cooper, whose death sentence was overturned in 1989.  “She’s not the same person today as she was when she was 15,” he said.  “She knows she caused a lot of pain.  They would be killing a different person.”
    Overall, the reaction to past tours has been positive, Schroeder said.
    Past tours also have encountered capital punishment supporters, airing both sides of the debate, she said.
    “It makes a lot of people think about their position on the death penalty,” she said.
    The tour not only has an effect on the audience, but also helps the tour members, said Maria Hines, who will speak at several Dayton area events.  Hines’ brother was killed while on duty as a Virginia highway patrolman.  His killer was executed in 1998.
    Sharing experiences is a way for the victims to cope with their loss, she said.
    “Healing is possible without seeing other people suffer,” Hines said.  “our stories give witness to this.”