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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Ron and Carolyn Callen, MI and OH

In 1991, Ron Callen's mother, Leona Callen, was brutally beaten and murdered in her home in a suburb of Akron, Ohio. With excellent police and prosecutorial work, made possible by a municipality with good tax support and a low crime rate, the murderer was quickly arrested, tried and convicted. He had apparently intended to burglarize Leona Callen's home when she surprised him.

The police department, despite its excellent efforts to resolve the murder, was fully convinced of the value of executing the 28 - year old perpetrator. The Callen family's plea not to invoke the death penalty resulted in sparing the young man's life. In addition, it led to swift justice and the family's quick release from the case. The Callens were spared the years of agonizing over whether the murderer would be executed that families calling for the death penalty often endure. They were able to focus instead on the memory of their mother and grandmother and the legacy of love and caring she exhibited throughout her life.

Reprinted with permission from "Not In Our Name: Murder Victims Families Speak Out Against the Death Penalty," a publication of Murder Victims Families ForReconciliation, Barbara Hood & Rachel King, Editors. MVFR

Forgiveness in the Face of Murder
by Ron Callen

We had a great family Thanksgiving that year.  Much of our immediate family could be with us: my wife, Carolyn's mother and sister, our son who lives in Washington and my mother from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.  Family togetherness, especially at holidays, was a hallmark of our family having been one of the many blessings handed down from our two sets of parents. The celebration occurred in Washington, where I was on loan from my position with the State of Michigan to open and direct a national office.

On Sunday, Mother and Carolyn flew off together on their return trip.   They said goodbye at the end of their first leg and returned to their homes, Carolyn to ours in Lansing, MI.  Mother called Carolyn the next morning to see if all was well.  Not knowing it, of course, that's the last time we ever spoke to her.

On Thursday, I called between flights to my answering machine back in Washington.   One, still ringing in my ears after these seven years, was from the Coroner's office of the county Mother lived in.  I tried at first to think it might not be such bad news; but Mother was 86, yet in good health.  Only after the first rush of emotion did the voices in my head clear and let me realize the obvious; coroners get involved not just in deaths but also in criminal deaths. My dear Mother had been murdered.

She had been struck and killed one night in her home, my childhood home of so many joys for me, for Carolyn and for our children.  In fact, after the first blow, which we suspect killed her, her lifeless body was repeatedly beaten.  In her second-floor hallway there was left awful evidence of the pummeling. Her body had lain for almost three days before being discovered by a neighbor.

We were consumed with terrible pain especially, of course, from the nature of her death; I was her only child, the burdens of response fell on me.  We must deal too with the police - we wanted this murderer caught before he/she attacked anyone else.

Help arrived on both counts.  Mother's life of loving and caring for so very many was reflected in the literally hundreds of friends and relatives of hers and our that supported us through those very dark days. Mother's faith also was a support in having conveyed that to us and especially me as I grew into adulthood.  And so many of the friends who supported us came from the decades of her acting out her faith.  The funeral was a haven of refuge as we tried to focus on Mother's life, not the horror of her death.

The police told us the clues were minimal, sufficient to determine guilt if a suspect were identified, insufficient to identify and capture the murderer.  After a month without progress, the City offered a reward which led to identification through an informant.   A television bulletin releasing the suspect's name brought him to capture.

Then came contact with the Prosecutor's Office and their question whether we would support, as punishment, the death penalty, an option in Ohio.  It didn't take long for us, all of us in our family, to say no.  And the Prosecutor, to our great satisfaction, did not pursue it.  Via a plea bargain, at the trial the defendant was sentenced to a almost a lifetime in prison, the equivalent of the penalty in Michigan for murder.  He would not kill again.

We found so many reasons to abhor the death of this person.  As I stated at the trial to the judge, this act of senselessness had devastated two families.  The love my mother spread throughout her life would stand in stark opposition to another killing, via an execution.  Mother would not be returned to us.  I consider it an obscene irony to somehow "trade" the life of my mother for that of another person.

We would maintain our long-standing aversion to executions, coming from  our religious belief and reflected in our own teachings in Sunday School.  The legacy of the loving person my mother was would be forever enshrined in our pursuit of mercy, rather than of further violence.  We finished the legal process in a 15-minute trial; surely, there would have been no plea bargain if the defendant's life were at stake.   In contrast, a death penalty conviction involves mandatory review by the Ohio Supreme Court.  That could take more than ten years!

But most important to us in our decision was our belief in a God of mercy who loves us all and allows for reconciliation.  That lack of hate or a sense of vengeance we experienced from the first moments of our agonizing journey became a fundamental of our life.  We came to see the healthiness and the consoling nature of our lack of hate as a gift from God.

Joined the following journeys

1999 Michigan
2003 Ohio



"When we moved to Michigan from the East Coast over 30 years ago, we felt proud to live in a state that had never had capital punishment. After Ron's mother was murdered in Ohio, a death penalty state, we felt the same firm opposition to the death penalty. When the case came to be prosecuted, three sons and daughter-in-law independently voiced their support for our position, and we petitioned the county prosecutor not to seek capital punishment.

We have always believed that no human has the right to take another's life. We could never condone such an act. Even Mother's horrible murder could not change that.

In similar situations, so many people seem to focus exclusively on the terrible action of the murderer. But we firmly believe that the fundamental question is how we as a civilized society will act. To kill out of fear, hatred and retribution is to demean us all and ultimately to commit a second act of murder."