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Monday, February 17, 2020

10-02 Plain Dealer

Tour campaigns against execution
By: Damian Guevara

Death row connects the members of Journey of Hope in different ways.

For some members, death row holds someone convicted of killing their loved one. For others, a loved one sits on death row. Others found themselves on death row but later were exonerated. No matter the connection, they each share a passion to see the end of death row.

An anti-death penalty, nonprofit organization, Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing is in Ohio for a two-week speaking tour that includes stops at churches, schools and civic groups. A rally featuring the speakers will be at 1 p.m. Saturday on Public Square.

The group has done similar tours in recent years in North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The advocacy group Cleveland Coalition Against the Death Penalty is sponsoring the tour here.

Sam Reese Sheppard, son of Dr. Sam Sheppard, and Shirley Dicks, the mother of a man who died while on Tennessee's death row, will speak today at 7 p.m. at Antioch Baptist Church, 8869 Cedar Ave.

George White, an Alabama man wrongly convicted of killing his wife, will speak at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike at 7:30 p.m. today.

"These voices carry much greater power than [those of advocates] who have not experienced murder in their family," said Tom O'Brien, a coordinator for the Cleveland group.

The speaking tour comes at an urgent time, O'Brien said. The death penalty debate has grown more heated in Ohio since 1999, when the state began executing inmates after a 36-year hiatus. In four years, eight men have been put to death in Ohio.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is pushing for a moratorium on executions, said Molly Gena, program associate with the group. A similar moratorium took effect in Illinois in 2000 when 13 inmates were found to be innocent.

Proposed reforms followed the Illinois moratorium, and former Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentences of 167 inmates before leaving office in January 2003.

Death-penalty opponents argue that those condemned to die typically do not have adequate legal representation, Gena said.

Racism is also a concern.  Blacks make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but 41 percent of those on death row and 35 percent of those executed between 1977 and 2001 were black, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

“We already see that the death penalty cannot be administered fairly and that it’s racially biased,” Gena said.

In case of rain, the rally will be at St. Malachi’s Church, 2459 Washington Ave.  A schedule of all Journey of Hope events in Northeast Ohio is at