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Thursday, May 28, 2020

02-09 Green County Democrat

‘Journey of Hope’ to end the death penalty in Alabama visits Greene County
‘Last Thursday evening, the Journey of Hope to end the death penalty in Alabama, a month-long series of meetings around the state, came to the Eutaw Activity Center.

Last year, Alabama which as a state ranks 23rd in population size was second to Texas in executions. The Equal Justice Initiative reports that in Alabama, African-Americans are 27% of the population, yet comprise 63% of the prisoners. While 65% of the murders involve Black victims, 80% of the death sentences involve white victims. The EJI concludes “that the application of the death penalty in the US is unfair, arbitrary and biased”.  

The Journey of Hope main speaker was Bill Pelke of Anchorage, Alaska who related his story of hope and redemption as a family member of a murder victim – his grandmother. Pelke described his personal and spiritual journey which brought him to the understanding that revenge is not the answer and that healing came through an acceptance of compassion and forgiveness for the person who came to serve on death row for the murder.

Pelke described the crime and events of the trial which led to the conviction of one of the four Black high school girls, Paula Cooper, for the fatal stabbing of his grandmother. Cooper was a 14 year old teenager when she was convicted. These events happened in Gary, Indiana in the late 1980’s. Pelke said once he came to the spiritual understanding that the death penalty was incorrect, he began communicating with Cooper and joined an international movement for her release from death row.

Because of international pressure and petitions, as well as Pelke’s dogged efforts, Paula Cooper’s sentence was commuted to sixty years in prison. Cooper has earned a GED and a college degree while in prison and helps younger female prisoners.  Due to Indiana’s “good time provisions” she may be able to get out of prison on parole after serving thirty years. Pelke said he would be there to meet her if she is released as scheduled in July of 2014.

Pelke, who has devoted his life to ending the death penalty because it is not effective and is often administered in a racist and arbitrary manner, said in concluding his remarks “that the death penalty is not the solution to the problem of capital crimes and is more harmful than a more compassionate and humane resolution.”

The audience, which includes some other families of murder victims, discussed the issue and learned more about resources and organizations to fight the death penalty in Alabama. Sen. Hank Sanders is prefiling a bill in this session of the Alabama Legislature for abolition of the death penalty.

For more information contact: Journey of Hope from Violence to Healing, P. O. Box 210390, Anchorage, Alaska 99521; www.Journey of For Alabama information, contact: Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty at or; phone 334/499-0003