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Thursday, May 28, 2020

End death penalty, 2 who can relate urge

By: Dennis Thompson Jr.
The News Journal

Both lost loved ones, but say capital punishment wouldn’t provide peace
Death-penalty opponent George White speaks Wednesday at Wilmington Friends Meeting House.  “If the state of Alabama had its way, I be a dead man today,” he said
    Two men who lost family members to murder made a case for mercy Wednesday night, arguing the death penalty is barbaric and unnecessary.
    Bill Pelke’s grandmother was stabbed to death by four teen-age girls looking for arcade money.  George White’s wife died at the hands of an armed robber in a shooting for which White himself was convicted.
    Both men said Wednesday that killing the murderers of their loved ones would do nothing to ease their pain.
    “We say, ‘No, it doesn’t bring us any peace,’” Pelke said, telling his story to about 20 people at a meeting of the Delaware Citizens Opposed to the Death Penalty at the Wilmington Friends Meetings House at Fourth and West streets.
    The girl who stabbed Pelke’s 78-year-old grandmother in 1985, Paula Cooper, was 15 at the time.  A year later, an Indiana judge sentenced her to death.
    “She became the youngest female on death row in our country, and that was fine with me,” Pelke said.
    But a few months later, working in the cab of a steel mill crane, Pelke had a vision of his grandmother crying tears of compassion for Cooper and the girl’s family.
    Pelke decided that to be true to his grandmother’s memory, he needed to work to have Cooper’s sentence overturned.  Pelke’s activism paid off in 1989, when Indiana legislators raised the death penalty eligible age to 16.  Cooper’s death sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison shortly afterward.
    White’s story was very different.  He was the person sent to prison, convicted of a crime he did not commit.
    “If the state of Alabama had its way, I’d be a dead man today, and that doesn’t sit well with me,” he said.
    White and his wife Charlene were shot in 1985 during an armed robbery at his business in Enterprise, Ala.
    Sixteen months later, White was indicted in his wife’s slaying.  He was convicted and, despite prosecution’s request for the death penalty, sentenced to life in prison.
    White said he believes he was spared death because he had an all-white jury.  “I looked too much like they did,” he said.
    White was released from prison after his conviction was overturned in 1989, but he remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence surfaced.  His wife’s murderer has never been caught.
    Both men are members of Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, a nonprofit group that sends family members of murder victims around the country to speak against the death penalty.
    Sally Milbury-Steen, a member of the Delaware anti-death penalty group, said stories offered by people such as Pelke and White provide much inspiration.
    “They have a particularly powerful message to offer us about forgiveness and the human ability to transcend pain and loss,” she said.