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Monday, July 22, 2019

04-20 Philly News

An anti-capital punishment group is wending its way through the state, which may be close to its first execution since 1963.
By Emilie Lounsberry

At first, it was the desire for vengeance, then an overwhelming feeling of sadness and emptiness that plagued Lorry Post after his daughter was stabbed to death 13 years ago.
He plunged himself into his job, battled to keep his son-in-law behind bars for her killing, and embarked on a desperate search to somehow rediscover meaning in his own life.
It was a difficult, often excruciating, journey, but Post eventually came to terms with his daughter's killing by - oddly enough - helping to keep murderers alive. Working against the death penalty gave him the renewed sense of peace and purpose that he craved.
"Taking on this cause just reinvigorated me," said Post, 70, a retired lawyer who formerly lived in Bucks County and Center City and now resides in Cape May. "It makes me think of Lisa, my daughter, more, and how proud she would be of what I'm doing."
For the last week, Post and others who have lost loved ones through violence have taken a circuitous Journey of Hope throughout New Jersey, and by Monday they will have stopped at 31 points along the way to encourage discussion and debate on both sides of the thorny issue of capital punishment in America.
They've been to Camden, Cape May, Mantua and Trenton, are heading today to Montclair and Teaneck, tomorrow to Somerset and Paterson, and will wrap up Monday with stops in Hoboken and Jersey City. The Journey moves to New York on Tuesday.
"The people we're running into are just, just beautiful," said Post during a break between stops in Trenton, where they held a vigil outside Trenton State Prison that attracted a dozen people and then journeyed over to Shiloh Baptist Church.
Caroline McMahon, a social worker from Burlington County, said as she left the church gathering that she does not favor the death penalty but understands the need to punish those who kill.
The Journey of Hope presentation was provocative, she said. "I was very touched and moved by the stories that were told," said McMahon. "It really does make you think."
Post said that, in addition to a steady stream of anti-death penalty people, they've encountered some who favor capital punishment as well as the "fence-sitters" who are not so sure.
"They're coming around," Post said.
The Journey of Hope organization, begun in 1993, has taken the multi-stop tour to states across the country through the years, with stops in Pennsylvania - which has the fourth-largest death-row population - in 2000 and in Delaware just before last week's New Jersey trek began.
This year's New Jersey tour comes as the state, with 14 convicted murderers on death row at Trenton State Prison, may be getting closer to its first execution since 1963.
Former Toms River businessman Robert O. Marshall, convicted of soliciting the Garden State Parkway murder of his wife, is nearing the end of the appellate process, and his lawyer has said that unless Marshall wins relief, he could be put to death as early as this year.
Death penalty opponents, however, are hoping to head off an execution by building support for proposed legislation that would place a moratorium on executions pending a study into the fairness of the system.
Post said he and his colleagues feared support for capital punishment would grow after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but he said he believes "the balance is beginning to tip our way" because of the series of wrongful conviction cases stemming largely from DNA tests that have cleared prisoners.
At Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, Bill Pelke, who co-founded Journey of Hope, described his own shift in thinking after his grandmother was stabbed to death 33 times in 1985 in a robbery pulled off by three teenage girls in Indiana.
Pelke, who lives in Alaska, said he supported the death sentence for the girl who did most of the stabbing, but eventually changed his mind after he envisioned his grandmother crying tears of forgiveness and compassion for her killer.
Post said he never wanted the death penalty for his son-in-law, but he said what galvanized him to work against capital punishment was a prisoner executed in Florida for another stabbing.
He said he wondered how in the world one stabbing could be viewed as worthy of the death penalty and another - the case of his daughter - be deemed worthy of a 20-year sentence that could have let his son-in-law out after a mere six or seven years.
"It made us so angry," said Post, describing the reaction he and his wife, June, had to the disparity between the cases.
The audience of about 30 people listened intently as Pelke and Post described their ordeals, and most seemed against capital punishment.
While one woman said that not even the murder of her brother and two separate slayings of friends made her support the death penalty, a man in the audience pointed out that even the Bible says "there's a time to kill."
"It's in the Book," said Henry Douglas, of Trenton, sounding almost apologetic. "God forgive me."
Post, who is director of New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium, said his work to end capital punishment has been "real therapy" for him.
Before, he said, he could barely look at a photo of his daughter without feeling sad, but now, "I do my work and her photos are all over."
Post said he knows his daughter, who was killed in Georgia, would approve of the efforts. "She'd be proud," he said.
His son-in-law, meanwhile, is due to be released from prison in 2008.