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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Rachel King RIP


by Bill Pelke, 8/28/08
Rachel King wrote about me several times. It is way past time for me to write something about her.
Rachel’s family has requested contributions to the National Coalition the Abolish to Death Penalty, in lieu of flowers in her memory.
Rachel helped the abolition movement in many ways. Most people have no idea of the extent. To really know and understand Rachel, you need to read her works. It would honor her if you to took the time to read what she wrote. You would see first hand her contribution to the movement.
I got to know Rachel pretty well when she was writing her first, and I think greatest book, Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty.
Her next major work was Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories.
Another very important piece by Rachel was NOT IN OUR NAME: Murder Victims Families Speak out Against the Death Penalty. It was a project of Barb Hood and Rachel’s during her stint as the inaugural Director of Alaska Against the Death Penalty... The first printing was in 1997 and has since been updated and reprinted at least 4 times. Barb and Rachel began their project with pictures and interviews that were taken during the Virginia of Hope in 1996.
Rachel used the message of Murder Victim’s Families for Reconciliation as the introduction for their work in photos and personal stories. Her message for this book was MVFR’s message:
“In the aftermath of a murder, we often hear cries for the death penalty. For centuries, killing people to punish them for killing has been a part of our culture. But in recent decades, the justifications that have long sustained the death penalty in the public mind have been largely discredited. For example, studies now show that the death penalty does not deter violent crime, and instead may provoke it; that executions are much more costly than life imprisonment, not less costly; and that police find the death penalty among the least effective crime-fighting measures that many politicians and prosecutors would have us believe.
As reasons for supporting the death penalty grow thin under scrutiny, proponents often fall back on the old stand-by question: Well, what if someone in your family was murdered? Wouldn’t you want their murderer to die? This is meant to disarm us. “Of course,” we are expected to say. After all, our culture has long supported killing for killing. But as people who have experienced first-hand the effects of murder, we are here to say,
We are members of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, a national organization of family members who have lost relatives to murder to execution by the State. We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and work instead for alternatives to the death penalty. We promote policies that prevent violent crime and programs that help victims heal and rebuild their lives. We know too well the horrible effects of killing, and how important it is that the cycle of killing in this country be broken. We can’t stop all violence, but we can work to stop the violence carried out by a government that kills in our names.
Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation was founded in 1976 by Marie Deans of Richmond , Virginia , after the murder of her mother-in-law Penny. Since that time the organization has become a leader in the abolition movement, both nationally and internationally. Since 1993, MVFR’s “Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing” tours have helped spread the message to communities across the U.S. that executions are terrible memorials to people we love.”
Again, Rachel’s family requested that contributions be made to The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in lieu of flowers. The NCADP is the leading organization in this country solely dedicated to the abolition of the death penalty. It is an organization that is worth your investment. Rachel invested in this organization and I know she would want you to do likewise.
Rachel King and I were both elected to the NCADP board in 1996. Rachel and I have both had the privilege of serving as past chairpersons on that board. I know she believed strongly in the NCADP and in Executive Director and friend Diann Rust-Tierney. An investment to the NCADP will go far in helping abolish the death penalty.
Rachel contributed the royalties from Don’t Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty to support the Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing and Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights. As a founding & present, board member of both of those organizations I can say we owe a debt of gratitude to Rachel. She also supported and promoted these additional organizations.

We have listed many personal comments as well as blog posting of MVFHR, ACLU, NCADP and others. Read how Marshall Dayan, Jack Payden-Travers, Ron Carlson, Phyllis Pautrat, Renny Cushing, Diann Rust-Tierney and others are remembering and honoring Rachel during this time.
I will also be adding some additional posts during the next few days sharing my thoughts and feelings about Rachel. I will share some special moments like the time in 1996 when she shaved her head to join Sam Reese Sheppard in solidarity and fun. This was years before she lost her hair the second time, this time due to chemo.
There is a story about how Don’t Kill in Our Names, caused Common Courage Press to back out of their agreement to publish my book Journey of Hope … from Violence to Healing in early 2003. In spite of that Rachel and I were still able to travel together for an Alaskan book tour sponsored by Alaskans Against the Death Penalty in 2004. We promoted our books and each other.
Rachel kept a journal on her illness and her friends were updated by Journal reports sent out from time to time. I will share some of her thoughts of experiences she encountered as she courageously fought for life. She was a great battler. We can all learn from her. She is a heroine.
She was an angel sent from God.
Young people in the movement have someone to look up and to emulate. Who can fill her giant footprints? Maybe Rachel Lawler, maybe Ashley Kincaid, maybe Will McAuliffe, or maybe you.
With this small glimpse of her life I hope you got to know Rachel King a little better. Show honor by reading her words and spreading them. Show honor to her by supporting her causes.
Her stories and her causes will help bring abolition of the death penalty. It is up to us how long that will take.
Bill Pelke


Former State Strategies Coordinator and later the Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project
Staff Member U.S. House Committee of the Judiciary
Teacher at the Howard University School of Law
Legislative Counsel for the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office and Executive Director of the ACLU of Alaska
Director of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty
Chair of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Joined the following journeys

2003 Ohio


“I have worked within the criminal justice system throughout my legal career and have seen the many ways that it is unfair. The death penalty represents the worst aspects of the criminal justice system. Instead of punishing the people who commit the worst crimes, the death penalty is used against people who are the most vulnerable – the poor, mentally retarded, mentally ill, youths and people of color. Our society has tried to administer the system “fairly” and that experiment has failed. Ending the death penalty will mark an evolutionary change when we acknowledge that government sponsored killing is not the answer to violence. I want to be part of bringing about this change"

" I first learned about the power of murder victims to talk about this issue when I was working in Alaska back in 1994. The leader of the Senate had a bill to introduce the death penalty. He had the votes to pass it, and it looked like it was a foregone conclusion that Alaska, like a lot of other states, was going to have the death penalty. And then we brought some murder victims' families to Alaska. We brought Marietta Jaeger, whose 7-year-old daughter Susie had been kidnapped and murdered, and she changed people’s hearts and minds. Legislators told us later that she had changed their position on this issue. I’m proud to say that Alaska does not have the death penalty. We fought it back that year, we fought it back two years after that. We kept bringing back the murder victims' family members, and even got one of them, Bill Pelke, to move up there, and now they just don’t have a prayer of bringing the death penalty back. The momentum has totally shifted.
I’m personally interested in Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights because before I went to law school I was a human rights monitor in Guatemala, and I have a lot of feeling for that country and for the people there who suffered greatly. I got involved in going to Guatemala when I met people in the Sanctuary movement here in the U.S. who were fleeing from political persecution in Guatemala. When I was in Guatemala I worked with a woman named Annette de Garcia who had started a group for families and friends of the disappeared. One time I was in her home watching, guarding, her 4-year-old daughter, and I was looking through this closet, and there were volumes of books, literally dozens of them, and they were all photographs of family members who had been disappeared. Now this is another kind of death penalty; it’s not the kind we think about in the U.S. but it’s state-sponsored execution. Really it’s the same issue of the state sponsoring violence, and how we need to move away from that. There really isn’t any other group out there making that kind of linkage between the issues, and I think MVFHR is going to do it. So the ACLU really looks forward to working with you all and I’m really glad to be here. ”

“Most death row inmates are not fortunate enough to have this type of extra-legal help. One can only speculate on the number of innocent people who have been executed”

"Each person in this book faced a situation of unbelievable grief, and all not only survived but used it to improve their lives or the lives of people around them," she says. "Perhaps the enduring lesson is that love and forgiveness are more powerful than any amount of hate and revenge"