FLORIDA MORATORIUM TOUR
Featuring Members of
The Journey of Hope …From Violence to Healing, Inc.
Click on the person’s name for background information and to read their story:
Bud Welch (center) with Bill Pelke and Kathy Harris in front of Abolition Movin’, the official bus of the Abolition Movement. Bill, Bud and the bus will be along for the Florida Moratorium Tour.
SueZann Bosler lost her father, Rev. Billy Bosler, to an intruder in her home and was herself stabbed and left for dead. She worked for more than ten years to fulfill the promise she had made to her father, that if he were ever murdered, the killer should not be executed. After two death sentences were overturned on appeal, SueZann hired a victim’s rights attorney to help her make her wishes known: James Bernard Campbell was sentenced to life without parole.
SueZann Bosler is a member of Murder Victim’s Families for Reconciliation and serves on the board of directors of the Journey of Hope …From Violence to Healing, Inc. In her words, she “I do hair, and I work to abolish the death penalty.” SueZann lives in Hallendale, Florida.
In December of 1986, my father and I were getting ready to go up north for the Christmas holidays. My father was a minister and so we were used to people knocking on the door at all hours of the day and night. I was in the bathroom putting on my makeup when I heard someone at the door. I opened the bathroom door and heard my dad making these weird noises. I knew something was wrong so I ran to the living room to see what was going on. Just as my dad had opened the door, this black boy had stabbed him in the chest, over and over again. He shoved my father back inside and turned and locked the door. My father made it to the kitchen and when I ran out there my dad was holding himself up in the kitchen doorway. The boy ran to where he was and began stabbing him again. I must have screamed because he turned towards me. I ran toward my father instead of running away because I wanted to help him, and this boy was stabbing and stabbing. Everything was happening so fast and as I got closer, he came towards me with the knife. He was going to stab me in the chest, but I whipped around to the left and the knife stuck in my back. He kept on stabbing me in the back and knocked me down on the kitchen floor. I could see my father was trying to get up on his knees to come and help me, but the boy saw him also. He turned around and began stabbing my father again and again in the back. Over and over I saw the knife hit it’s mark in my father’s body, and I felt fear. I wanted to scream, but nothing came out of my mouth. I finally made it up on my feet and tried to help my father again. My father had collapsed then, and as I got up the guy led me to the living room. We were in eye lock. He had the knife up by his head, and I kept looking in his eyes. I was in a state of shock and wondering if this was really happening. I could see the knife coming toward my face as if in slow motion. I was in a state of shock and wondering if this was really happening. I could see the knife coming toward my face as if in slow motion. He wanted to stab me in the face but I turned my head to the right and the knife went into the back of my head. He pulled it out and stuck it in again. I fell down on the floor because I had lost so much blood. I didn’t lose consciousness but I was real weak. I could feel him standing above me to see if I was alive, so I held my breath to pretend I was dead. It saved my life. I heard him turn and walk away, searching for money. I heard him dump my purse out on the kitchen floor, heard my keys hit the floor. Then he came back in the living room, angry because he couldn’t find any money. He threw the chair over me because he was so angry and then he walked to my fathers room and changed his shirt that was covered in blood. I heard him come back and this time he was really mad. He must have seen me breath because he came over and pulled down my pants and began to hit me. I was praying real hard. I knew I was going to heaven, but I told the Lord. “You know I’m not going to just sit here and get raped. I’m going to fight and then he’s going to keep stabbing me until I die.” I just kept praying to God. Then as suddenly as it started, he stopped. He didn’t do anything more to me. I watched as he went out the front door and I could see my father lying on the floor in a pool of blood. I saw his shoulders collapse on the floor and I prayed for him not to be dead. When he left he jammed the door against my father’s body and it hit him, I was so mad when I saw the door hit my father. I tried to get up after he left and it took a little while because I had lost so much blood and was so weak. I went right to the telephone and called 911. The first dispatcher thought I was joking and finally I hung up and called again. This time the dispatcher sent the police and an ambulance. The police didn’t think I was going to make it so they had a helicopter take me to Jacksonville hospital. A detective rode with me because they thought I was going to die before I got there and they needed the description of the man who had done this. I was taken into surgery and it wasn’t until a week later that I found out my father had died. They hadn’t told me because they were afraid I was going to die. I was in the hospital a month before they let me go home. He was caught a week after and I had to identify him. At his trial I felt sorry for this boy. I was angry in what he had done, but still I felt sorry. At that time, it was harder to deal with my anger, but as time went on it became easier. I did not hate this boy for what he had done, but I hadn’t come to love him yet, I’m still dealing with those feelings. If I hated him and wanted him dead, it would not only destroy him, but also myself.
In the sentencing part of the trial, I went before the jurors and asked them not to give James Campbell the death sentence. I looked right into his eyes and said, “You’re life is as valuable to God as anyone’s.” I was able to plead for his life as my father had said one time. I feel stronger for doing that. I was thinking about my dad and knew what he would have wanted me to do. He had said before that if anything happened to him he didn’t want the person to get the death penalty. I feel stronger for doing that and that I made the right decision in what I did. I still have medical problems and will always have the pain. I can’t do things like I used to but it’s getting better all the time. I feel the death penalty is wrong. I hear a lot of folks who want to kill those who kill someone they love and they don’t understand where I’m coming from. I can’t imaging how this would make someone feel good. If they were to kill James Campbell, it wouldn’t being my father back in this life. People should think about that. I don’t ask that people believe as I do but I ask that they give me the respect to listen to my views. I never felt the need for revenge and I believe it’s my deep love and faith in Jesus that has carried me through this tragedy.
Bill is a retired steelworker from Bethlehem Steel, in NW Indiana. Bill became an abolitionist after a fifteen year old girl by the name of Paula Cooper was sentenced to death by the State of Indiana for the murder of his grandmother. Bill was involved in an international effort to have Paula’s death sentenced overturned.
Bill Pelke is the President and Cofounder of the Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, an organization that is led by murder victims families who oppose the death penalty.
Bill has traveled around the world for the last thirteen years speaking out for the abolition of the death penalty. He is also a member of the Board of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Vice President of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, a founding board member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and on the advisory board for Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Bill travels around the country with members of the Journey in a 1965 GMC Diesel Coach named Abolition Movin’. They spread their message of from Violence to Healing and that the answer is Love and Compassion for all of humanity. Members tell how the death penalty has nothing to do with the healing that murder victims’ family member need when a loved one has been killed. For more information visit <http://www.journeyofhope.org>.
On May 14th, 1985 four ninth grade students from Lew Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana decided to skip school during their lunch hour. They drank some wine and smoked a joint. They began to think about what they would do for the rest of the day. They wanted to play video games at the local arcade but they didn’t have any money. April Beverly came up with an idea. “There is an old lady who lives cater corner across the alley from me. She teaches Bible lessons and she lives alone. I think she has money. If you three go knock on her door and say you would like to take her Bible lessons, she will probably let you into her home. Then you can rob her. Since she would recognize me I’ll stay outside as a lookout.
The three other girls, Denise THomas, Karen Korders and Paula Cooper knock on Ruth Pelke’s door. She answered it. Bible lessons. She invited them into her home. Ruth Pelke was 78 years old and for all of her life had been faithful not only to the many services that her church offered, but she also taught neighborhood children Bible lessons. I remember her telling those stories when I was a child 35 -40 years ago. She did this through a program called Child Evangelism. She used a flannel graph board and used cut out pictures to represent Bible Characters. This helped the children visualize as she would tell the stories. I remember especially the stories of Joseph; his coat of many colors and how his jealous brothers had sold him into slavery. I remember the stories of David; the shepherd boy who slew the giant Goliath and how he later became the King of Israel. I remember the stories about Jesus and His disciples. Ruth Pelke was my grandmother, to our family she was known as Nana.
At the age of 78, Nana did not have many opportunities to tell children about Jesus anymore, so she welcomed the opportunity to witness to these young girls. As Nana turned her back to get information for them, one of the girls grabbed a vase off of an end table and hit her over the head. As Nana fell to the floor, Paula produced a 12″ butcher knife and began to stab her. April and Karen began to ransack the house looking for money. They weren’t finding much. Paula began to look for money while Karen took over with the knife. Karen held the knife in Nana. April left her lookout post and joined in the search for money. The girls ended up with about ten dollars and Nana’s ten year old car. Several of the girls drove the car back to Lew Wallace High School and took other classmates joy riding. Nana died. Two days later, the girls were arrested for their role in the crime.
July 11, 1986 was the sentencing hearing for Paula Cooper. The other three girls had already been sentenced for their roles in the robbery/murder. April Beverly, the neighbor girl who had set Nana up received a 25 year sentence. Denise Thomas was sentenced to 35 years. Denise was accused of being the one who hit Nana in the head with the vase. She was only 14 years old when the crime was committed. Karen Lorders was sentenced to sixty years. Karen was accused of turning and twisting the knife in Nana for 15 to 20 minutes.
The prosecution had sought the death penalty for Karen, but the judge deemed that Karen was under the influence of a dominating person, Paula Cooper, and elected not to sentence her to death. There was no jury, it was the judges call. Paula Cooper’s sentencing hearing lasted about 4 hours. IT is a day I will never forget. Things that happened that day will forever be etched in my mind. I had not been to the trials of the first three girls but for some reason, I felt like I needed to take off work and be there for Paula’s. If Paula was to be sentenced to death she would be the youngest female on death row in America. Because Paula was only 15, I didn’t think the judge would sentence her to death. The prosecution argued strongly for the death penalty. They insisted the judge to sentence Paula to death for her part in the heinous crime. Paula was accused of stabbing Nana 33 times. Paula’s attorney, a public defender, argued for her life to be spared. Paula had pled guilty and there had been no plea bargain for a lesser sentence.
I watched as my father testified, for the prosecution. He spoke of the circumstances of finding Nana’s body. I watched as he reviewed pictures of the crime scene. What my father saw the say he discovered Nana’s body is something no man should ever have to bear. For him to live that same scene over and over again in his mind was continued torture. My dad was able to bear that heavy load with God’s help through five different trials and hearings. I watched and I listened to many things that happened that day. Most I will never forget. The bottom line for the sentencing hearing and the newspaper headlines the next day was what stood out most, COOPER SENTENCED TO DEATH.
November 2, 1986. Life goes on. The murder and trials were put on a back burner. My personal life was about to explode. My girlfriend Judy and I had broken up about six weeks earlier by mutual agreement. Although we had dated for quite some time we were both agreeable to move on in different direction. Shortly after the breakup, I began to realize that was not what I really wanted. I began to see that I loved her a whole lot more than I had ever realized, and I missed the relationship that we once had, and I wanted it back. Judy did not see it that way. She loved me a lot and had enjoyed the relationship, but she did not feel it was going anywhere. She was beginning to enjoy the freedom of being unattached and did not want to get involved in another steady relationship with me. That broke my heart. When I drove to work in 1986, I was broken hearted. For the three weeks leading up to this day, I had been doing something I hadn’t done very often for the past ten years. I had been doing a lot of praying. It was the only way to find any peace. I had to pray to keep my sanity. I was stumbling in deep depression. God was the only one I could talk to ,cry to and share my burdens with. I asked GOD why had my life been so hard. Why this broken heart. I began thinking about my grandmothers death. It all came off of the back burner. I asked God why had he permitted one of his most special angels to die such a horrendous death. Why did our family, a good family, have to suffer the pain that we all had endured? WHY? WHY? WHY?
I had been in tears since I had first started praying about my saturation with Judy, and as I though to Nana, the tears were flowing down my cheeks, and I could only ask God why. While wallowing in my own self piety, I suddenly pictured somebody with a whole lot more problem
s than what I had. I pictured Paula Cooper. I pictured a young girl, slunk in the corner of death row cell, with tears in her eyes and looking up to no where in particular and moaning what have I done, what have I done? My mind flashed back to the day Paula was sentenced to death. Her parents were not even there for this most important day in her life. I recalled Paula’s grandfather at the trail. As the judge was in the middle of delivering his sentence, the old man began to cry and wail, they’re going to kill my baby, they’re going to kill my baby. The judge ordered the bailiff to remove him from the court room, as it was disrupting his court. I saw the tears running down his cheeks as he was led from the courtroom. I recalled that as the trial ended, Paula was led away to death row. There were tears running down her cheeks and on to her light blue prison dress causing dark blotches all over the front of her dress.
There is a very beautiful picture that was taken a year and a half before my grandmother was killed. When ever the media did a story about the Nana’s murder, the subsequent trials and Paula’s death sentence they used that particular picture. As I sat in the crane I envisioned an image of Nana, in the likeness of that photograph but with one distinct difference. I pictured Nana with tears streaming out of her eyes and rolling down her cheeks. I had been in tears for about fifteen minutes as I had been crying and praying, but when I pictured Nana’s tears it deepened my pain ten fold. I knew those tears of Nana’s were tears of love and compassion for Paula and her family. I know that Nana would not have wanted the grandfather to go through the death row scene. Paula’s uncle and sister were at the trial and also pleaded for the judge to spare Paula’s life. I knew Nana would not want them suffering Paula execution. And I knew Nana would not have wanted Paula to be put to death even though Paula had killed her.
I began to think about Nana and her faith in Jesus. I began to think about what Jesus had to say about forgiveness. I was raised in a home and church that taught the Bible and I immediately thought of three incidence that Jesus taught about forgiveness. I thought about the Sermon on the Mount. He taught we must forgive. I also recalled about Jesus talking to his disciples about forgiveness and we should forgive seventy time seven. I knew that meant don’t quit forgiving after 490 times. I recalled Jesus when he was crucified. The nails in His hands and feet and I pictured the crown of thorns in His brow and pictured His looking up to Heaven and saying Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. I felt that Paula did not know what she was doing. Anyone in their right mind does not stab someone with a 12″ butcher knife 33 times.
I had to admit to myself at that point that forgiveness was the right thing to do and I would try and do that for Nana’s sake. Because of her tears, tears of love and compassion. I felt that she wanted someone in our family to have that same love and compassion. I felt like it fell on my shoulders. It seemed too heavy a burden to bear. My tears continued to flow. Even though I knew forgiveness was the right thing, as far as love and compassion, I had none. After all, my grandmother had been brutally murdered. The chief of police in Gary Indiana, Virgil Motely said it was the most heinous crime he had ever seen in his 35 years on the force. For two years in a row, Gary, Indiana, had been the murder capital of the USA. He had seen his share.
Nana’s tears dictated to me that I try to generate some sort of love and compassion and so, with no where else to turn, I started praying again. In tears I begged God to please give me love and compassion for Paula and her family. I begged on behalf of Nana. My next thoughts were that I could write to Paula and tell her about Nana and her faith in Jesus. I thought I could also write about God’s love for her, and His forgiveness for her. I even thought I could tell Paula that through Jesus I had love for her.
It was at this point that I realized my prayer for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family had been answered. Two things were immediately clear to me. First, I realized what is the most important lesson I have ever learned in my life. When God granted my request of love and compassion, the forgiveness was automatic. It wasn’t something I had to do, God did the work. The second was I no longer wanted Paula to die. When Paula was sentenced to death, I had no problem with it. I knew people were being sentenced to death and being executed around our country. I felt if they didn’t give the death sentence in Paula’s case, then they were telling me and my family that Nana was not an important enough a person to merit the death penalty and I felt my grandmother was a very important person.
I began to think about what others would think, after all I had just made a 360 degree turn. What would my family think? MY father had testified in court that it would be a travesty of justice if Paula did not receive the death penalty. What would my friends think? What would my co workers think? Many of the people I worked with would say as a means of condolence of Nana’s death ‘I hope the bitch burns.’ I knew some were not going to understand how I now felt. I knew it would be the same with friends outside the mill. But I also knew the beauty of God’s love and compassion and the forgiveness it brought. I knew I had done the right thing and I would just try to get the others to understand it. I was sure I was right. From the day of Nana’s death until this moment in the crane the thought of Nana tore my soul. When I thought of her I pictured her laying butchered on the dining room floor. For fifteen to twenty minutes Karen had twisted and turned the knife in Nana, and in fact the carpet beneath her body was shredded and the hardwood floor was splintered. The thought of Nana butchered tore me up. Suddenly, after learning the lesson of forgiveness, I began to picture Nana in a beautiful way. The way she lived and what she stood for and who she was. IT was such a relief to see her that way and I knew I would no longer picture her butchered on the dining room floor again. I saw many possibilities arising as to the reasons why God had allowed me this experience. I began praying again and I made God two promises that I have kept to this day. First, of all, I knew that I could not take any credit for forgiving Paula. I knew that it was only because God touched my heart. I began a letter writing exchange with Paula. I let her know that God cared for her and loved her and that I did too. We exchanged letters about every ten days and we established that we would like to visit and meet each other. I shared Nana’s faith with her. It was difficult to write many of the letters at first, although many tears of joy would often hit the pages. Tears of joy knowing that I could truly love someone who had caused our family such pain. I always prayed to God before I wrote Paula and asked Him to guide me and help me say the right things, the things that needed to be said.
I had the opportunity to meet Paula’s grandfather shortly before Christmas. I took a basket of fruit to his house and spent several wonderful hours talking and looking through the old family albums. There were pictures of Paula s she was growing up. She had been a very cute little girl. I had also informed my parents that I was corresponding with Paula. They did not understand why, but my dad did say “Well, do what you have to do.” I thanked him for that. Anna Guaita called me and explained that she was an Italian Journalist and that her and a colleague, Giampalo Palli, were coming to Indiana to do a story on Paula Cooper. There had been unusual reaction in Italy to Paula’s case. IT was headlines in the Italian newspaper when Paula was sentenced to death. The Italians, who do not have the death penalty could not understand why the state of Indian would want to execute a young woman who was only 15 years old. They could not understand ex
ecuting a woman at all, and why it was a black girl to get this punishment. The Italian people were fascinated with this story and Anna and her friend were coming to Indiana to do interviews. Their stories would run in the three largest Italian newspapers. Anna had called the Gary Post Tribune and asked for leads in who they should interview for their story. She was advised about Paula’s attorney, her grandfather, several others and about the grandson of the victim, who had written a letter to the VOICE OF THE PEOPLE and talked about forgiving people so she wanted to interview me.
Anna turned out to be a great person and we had a wonderful interview. We talked for hours. Their stories about Paula case, including interviews with Paula, myself and others were spread over two days in the Italian papers. It was about four months after my night in the crane that Judy and my best friend Wayne were at her house and we were talking about my involvement with Paula. Wayne and Judy had both stood by my side when Nana was murdered. I needed a strength and God gave me Wayne and Judy. Wayne and I had worked together for 20 years and have often throughout the years talked about things relating to the Bible. We talked often about my night in he crane. We both firmly agreed that there is no argument according to the Bible. Forgiveness is encouraged, taught and if you will commanded in God’s Word.
An Italian TV station wanted me to come and do a segment on Paula’s case. Of course I jumped at that. One of the reasons I wanted to go was that when Anna had finished the interview with me, she mentioned that over 40,000 people had signed petitions to have Paula taken off death row. I wanted to go and thank each one of them. When the American press found out I was going to Italy, it became a media event. When I found I was going to Italy I began to pray and fast. I fasted about 11 days before I went to Italy. The segment on Paula went very well. They had a poet who had written about Paula. There was also an elderly Catholic priest, Father Gerganti, who was spearheading a drive by the organization, (Carcere comunita) “Don’t Kill” to gather signatures on petitions to have Paula taken off of death row. When I arrived home from Italy, Wayne and Judy met me at the airport. They didn’t always agree with what I was doing but they were both personal supports and that is what was important to me. Judy and I had kind of got back together at this point and we were both very glad to see each other. Magazines I have never read were now printing my story of forgiveness.
Every several months it seemed like there would be press conference in Indianapolis for either Paula, her appeal, or for death penalty opponents. I was always invited to attend and speak. It was at one of these meetings I met Magdaleno Rose-Avila. He was the death penalty abolition coordinator for Amnesty International USA.
He asked if we would like to go to Atlanta the following weekend and lead the death penalty march that Amnesty International would be having during their annual General Meeting. He said Amnesty would pay our expenses. Father Vito and I took him up on it.
About two months after the meeting in Atlanta, I arrived home from a trip to Albany, New York. After driving all night with my cousin Judy, I got home about 6. I played the answering machine for messages. IF you will, picture a tear coming to my eyes as the machine responded, This is the Oprah Winfrey program and we would like for you to be our guest on the segment, Forgiving the Unforgivable. Yes, picture if you will a tear, or maybe even two. I called Wayne and played the message for him. Yes, hallelujah, Praise the Lord, it was a miracle.
Judy and I were not talking too much right then, with Mike being in the way and all, so I didn’t tell her I was going to be on Oprah. I was hoping she would be working at the hospital and walk in a patient’s room and hear me on the show talking about forgiveness. I hoped she would remember her statement about yes, it would be the sign of a miracle if Oprah ever called. Judy didn’t see it, but her sister called her and told her that it had been on. ON the show I had been able to talk about Nana, her life and her faith and about Jesus. It was live, nothing was cut as had been done on most other interviews. I have found out the media doesn’t want to quote people when they are talking about Jesus. It was great to be on an uncut program. It was on Oprah that I met SueZann Bosler who has become a wonderful friend. Lo and behold another miracle.
Judy and I were married on October 1, 1988 and we went to Italy for our honeymoon. Judy’s mother was happy to accept our invitation for her to join us. Judy’s mother had thought I was crazy for forgiving Paula also, so inviting her along made me look a little better as her new son in law. It was a dream vacation for her. Judy and I had a wonderful honeymoon. I met many of the friends from my first visit to Rome and we all just had a great time.
This was my third time to Italy, only the first at my expense. I had also flown to Milano for a television program there in the fall of 87. While on the honeymoon, quite a few press events too place because of the increasing interest the Italian people had for Paula Cooper. Her case was a very well known story in Italy, so there was interest in my being there. Judy was very understanding of how I had to go through the open doors. Some days required an amount of time and also distance to travel. On those days Judy would go shopping with her mother, while Father Vito would drive me somewhere for an interview or some other sort of activity. IN the evening we would usually gather for dinner and Father Vito would always treat us. Anna Rita Petrita had us to her home for dinner. Franco and Italo took us for Pizza and Phillipo took us all out to a very unique restaurant. The honeymoon was great.
Another special day, a very special day happened when I was at work. It was about nine months after we were married. No, Judy did not have a baby. I was talking to Judy on the telephone and she told me there was a beep on her end of the line. She put me on hold for a moment and then came back and said that someone from the Associated Press was on the other line and they wanted to talk to me. I had Judy give them my work number. The Associated Press had done a very nice story about my involvement with Paula. One of their reporters had met me at a local restaurant a few months after my first trip to Italy. It was a very nice and warm interview that he conducted. It was a good story complete with picture and it had run in newspapers through out the country. The phone rang at work. The reporter from the AP informed me that the Indiana Supreme Court had just overturned Paula’s death sentence. She would now serve a sixty year sentence. The AP wanted a comment from me. The first thing I said was Praise the Lord. What a period of rejoicing I went through for a number of days. I was extremely happy that Paula was now off of death row, at least technically. I learned it might be at least another two months before all the paper work would be completed to move her into general population. The pressures of being on death row could now ease up for Paula, although she had learned to handle things very well. About five or six people took Paula under their wing while she was on death row and showed love and compassion to her. They all helped Paula plant the seed of hope within herself. She was responding to that love with love.
What about me?
What about missions and messages and such. What about the opportunities to speak of love and compassion, forgiveness, Nana and Jesus. I always have had a special love for Jesus ever since I was very little. I am not sure where it came from. My family; mom dad and my older sister Dottie all loved Him, where I went to church everybody loved Him and I knew Nana loved him. Somewhere it all rubbed off on me. I went to Bible College because I loved Jesus.
To be able to speak with authority on love and
compassion and know that I had the Bible to back it up was a wonderful and powerful experience. Were those opportunities now gone since Paula was off of death row and her case would cease to be a media sensation? Was my mission over. I surely hoped not. What next? The Pilgrimage.
The pilgrimage was the inspiration of Sister Helen Prejean. I did not know who she was when I first heard about it. The Pilgrimage was a march from the death row at Starke, Florida, to the burial site of the late Dr Martin King Jr. in Atlanta, Ga. May 4-19, 1990 would be two weeks of walking and speaking out against the death penalty. The message behind the event was spiritual, and much effort was spent trying to reach the religious community with this torch of conscience action.
Two weeks of action against the death penalty for spiritual reasons. I felt I had needed to be there. After all, it was spiritual reasons that had gotten me involved in he first place. Judy had to work and it was fine with her for me to go on the Pilgrimage by myself, but she preferred that I would only go for one week instead of two. We spent two days getting me ready to go and saying good bye to each other. Then I filled up my van with gas and began a journey for a destination 1000 miles away, Gainesville, Florida. I knew I would miss Judy but I was excited about the prospects of being able to once again be able to deliver a message or two about love and compassion, forgiveness, Nana and Jesus. I didn’t know what to expect but I was excited. There was an execution the day I got there. Jesse Tafero had been electrocuted. It was a botched execution. That first evening there was a service to begin the Pilgrimage. One of the people I met there was Kay Tafero, the mother of Jesse. She was there with Mike Radelet, someone I had met several times before. He introduced her to me as Kay. We hugged and it was as she hugged me I realized that this must be the mother of the boy just executed. She spoke to us all that night and urged us to go on in our Pilgrimage and that she knew that Jesse wanted her to be there that night with us for him. It was one of those moments you don’t forget.
The Pilgrimage was great. SO great that I really wished Judy could have been there to see what was going on. When I arrived for start of the Pilgrimage, I featured my role in this event as that of a servant. I would do what ever I saw that needed doing. I had a vehicle and saw a lot of things in t hat area alone where I could be of help. In fact since my van had a hitch, when ever we caravanned across Florida and Georgia I got to haul the portable pottie.
My van had a CB as well as five of the vehicles that had been rented for the Pilgrimage. With my little house in tow I always brought up the rear. No pun intended. My handle on the CB channel was Port-a Pottie Bill. The media was curious as we went from town to town. They wanted to know why a bunch of people would be doing what we were doing. Everybody had good reason. Sister Helen would always mention to the press that among the marchers were several people who had a family member murdered and yet were here marching and speaking out against the death penalty.
She would alternate between sending the press to either Sam Sheppard or myself. Sam’s mother had been murdered when Sam was seven years old. During the two weeks there were many opportunities to speak out. There was press, radio, television, rallies and church services.
My best talk was at a black Missionary Baptist Church. It was a Wednesday night prayer meeting service. A van load of Pilgrims joined the regulars for the service. Every time I mentioned whet the Bible had to say about Love and Compassion, forgiveness and some of the various teachings of Jesus, the crowd would say amen. I almost got to preaching, I really enjoyed it.
The Pilgrimage grew in numbers as we got closer to Big A. There were about 32 of us who were core marchers, with the group at all times. By the time we got to the Atlanta City limits abolitionists from around the country were joining us for the last week end events. I thing we ended up with a march in Atlanta with about 350 people.
During the Pilgrimage, I talked to Judy into flying to Atlanta and spending the last four days of the event. I was very happy that Judy was able to come and meet the wonderful people I had been meeting for the last two weeks. Judy enjoyed meeting them all and developed close friendships with many. She also marched down the streets with us singing and shouting abolition chants. Was I ever happy to see that. Overjoyed would probably be the better word.
The last night in Atlanta was a major event. There were about 20-25 speakers to speak at the grand finals, which was held at the Eboneezer Baptist Church. This was the church of the Late Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. What a great honor it was for me that night to be about the four of fifth speaker to stand behind the pulpit that Dr King had spoke from. Holding a special Bible in my hand that I will some day give to Paula, I spoke of love and compassion, forgiveness, Nana and Jesus. What a great honor. Dr King taught many of us that it was okay to dream and that dreams can come true. The Pilgrimage. I am glad I did not miss a minute of it. I am glad that Judy was able to attend and be a part of it. If she had not been there it would have been hard to have explained how and why my life had been jolted and once again given new meaning and direction. The Pilgrimage changed my life and it changed the lives of many others who were there. At the conclusion of the Pilgrimage, Rick Halprin, from Texas announced that
the following year there would be a march in Texas against the death penalty.
There was no doubt where I wanted to be for April 4-11, 1991. Texas was the place I wanted to be. Judy had to work and wasn’t going to go this time. I was going to fly. I bought my ticket and got a good price. Wayne decided to come with me, so we took the van and headed out. I was hoping the TASK march would do something for Wayne. It did. Within several days Wayne became so convinced that the death penalty was wrong. So convinced in fact that within several days of the conclusion of the TASK march Wayne looked at me and said, “We should do something like this in Indiana. BINGO INDIANA, THE PLACE TO BE IN 93, was the slogan we tried to leave on the lips of everyone as the TASK march concluded and everyone went back to their home states. Rick Halperin, the heart and soul of the TASK march was the first to commit to Indiana in 93 saying he would not miss it for anything. Two years to plan a major abolition event….
Bud Welch lost his daughter, Julie Marie Welch, in the Oklahoma City bombing. Since the bombing, Welch, a service-station owner and farmer, has been one of the few victims family members to speak out publicly against the death penalty. This was a stand defended by his grandfather who arrived in Oklahoma in 1892 during one of the last rushes westward. “He had personal memories of executions without trial tolerated by corrupt sheriffs and lynchings of innocent people by rivals who wanted their land.”
Welch owes it also, he says, to the memory of Julie, a 23-year-old employee of the Social Security Administration. “It’s my way of honoring her memory. “
“Many members of the families of the bombing victims think like me,” he says. “They tell me so but refuse to repeat it in public: they’re afraid of not being understood. I am their voice.”
Welch wrote in Time Magazine, “There’s been enough bloodshed …We don’t need to have any more. To me the death penalty is vengeance, and vengeance doesn’t really help anyone in the healing process. Of course, our first reaction is to strike back. But if we permit ourselves to think through our feelings, we might get to a different place… I think my daughter’s position on this would be the same as m
Bud’s story has been told in publications all over the world including Time, Newsweek, USA Today, Parade Magazine and was the May 1999 feature story in Guidepost Magazine. He has made numerous radio and television appearances, including Good Morning America, Bill Moyers, The Today Show and Dateline with Tom Brokaw. He has been praised by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, as a man of incredible courage. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation; an abolitionist organization made up of victims’ family members and the families of inmates on Death Row.
Bud is a member of the Board of Directors of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation and in August of 1997, met with President Clinton at the White House to present the plans for the national memorial which will be erected to honor the victims and survivors of the bombing. Groundbreaking took place in October of 1998. In September, Bud arranged for a personal visit with Bill McVeigh, father of Tim McVeigh, at his home outside Buffalo, New York. The fathers talked for two hours, shared concern for each other’s losses and Bud told Bill he would do everything he could to see that Tim is not executed.
In 1997, Bud was awarded the Champion of Justice Award by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington, D.C. In 1998 he was honored by the ACLU Oklahoma Foundation, by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, as “Abolitionist of the Year,” and received the Felton Humanitarian Award from Death Penalty Focus of California. He received the Spirit of Compassion Award from the Prison Action Committee, Buffalo, New York in September 1998, and the Abolitionist of the Year Award by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in October 1999.
Bud has been the owner of a Texaco service station in Oklahoma City for the past 35 years. His visit to Florida is only five weeks prior to the anticipated execution of McVeigh. See a statement from Bud at <http://www.abolition.org/budwelch.html>
On April 19, 1995 at 9:02 a.m., Bud Welch’s life changed forever. His beloved daughter Julie was killed along with 167 others in the bomb blast that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Julie had graduated with honors the year before from Marquette University and had been employed as a Spanish interpreter for the Social Security Administration. She was the light of her father’s life. Every Wednesday they met for lunch at 11:30 a.m. at the Greek restaurant across from the federal building. They were to have met for lunch the day of her death. Julie was his friend, his confidante, his “buddy”, and his only daughter. The pain following Julie’s death was nearly unbearable and for the first few months, rage and a desire for revenge consumed Bud. A trial for Tim McVeigh, he thought, was simply unnecessary. Bud wanted an immediate execution, and believes he could have done it himself with his bare hands.
But in time, Bud began to realize that his rage was getting him nowhere and eventually it became clear that executing Tim McVeigh would not help him emotionally. It would not bring Julie back and could never bring “closure”, a media word that Bud found meaningless when it came to the loss of a child. Raised on an Oklahoma dairy farm, Bud and his family had always opposed the death penalty. And after Julie’s death he particularly remembered her words to him one time when they were listening to a radio report about yet another execution in Texas. Julie commented that the executions were only “teaching children to hate”.
About eight months after Julie’s death, a reporter approached Bud during one of his daily visits to the fence surrounding the footprint of the Murrah Building. After a lengthy conversation, the reporter commented to Bud that he would probably be relieved once Tim McVeigh was executed. Bud amazed her by stating that the execution was not what he desired. She asked if she could quote him and he agreed not knowing that her AP wire story would eventually be carried around the world.
Since that time Bud has been asked by groups all over the country to share the story of his journey. In 1996 he testified before Congress in opposition to the habeas corpus reforms that were being proposed, and later passed, as part of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. While others were calling for speedier executions and an end to the protections of habeas corpus in capital cases, Bud lobbied to retain these important protections. In 1999 he testified before the Illinois house judiciary committee on a death penalty moratorium bill. He testified before the California pardons board in opposition to the execution of Emanual Babbitt. He testified before a joint senate and house committee in Kentucky for abolishing the death penalty and a Massachusetts house committee opposing the reinstatement of the death penalty. During this same year he spoke out against the death penalty in Bermuda, France, England, and Belgium. The government of Bermuda has since voted to abolish the death penalty in that country. In February 2000, he testified in support of a two-year moratorium bill before the Pennsylvania judiciary committee. And much more.
“Charlene White loved life…that should be her legacy. What began with a horrible act of violence should not memorialized by an act of vengeance. Hate is a continuation, not an ending. Tom, Christie and I say “Not in our names – our hearts have bled enough.”
GEORGE W. WHITE
ARKANSAS CITY, KANSAS
On February 27, 1985, the White family experienced first-hand the insanity and horror of murder. George and his wife Charlene were shot repeatedly by an armed robber at his place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George held Charlene in his arms as her life slipped away. Their children, Tom and Christie, were only 12 and 5 at the time. The nightmare had just begun. Sixteen months later, George was charged with murdering his wife. Following a capital murder trial that was later described as “a mockery and a sham”, George was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1989 and he was released from prison, but George remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence was finally brought forward. Following a brief hearing the trial court ordered the charge against him forevermore dismissed. The nightmare had lasted more than seven years…had the State of Alabama had its way, George White would be a dead man today.
Understanding fully how easy it is to become advocates for revenge, the White family, however, rejects the death penalty as a solution and as way of healing the wounds of their loss. George is a co-founder of the Journey of Hope…from violence to healingT and is a member and past board member of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) A full time speaker and lecturer, he now lives in Arkansas City, Kansas.
“You’re just a bleeding heart liberal. You’d feel differently if it happened to someone you loved.” challenged the young, sandy haired, criminal justice student. I saw many students nodding their heads in agreement around the room where I had just been introduced by the instructor as a Mitigation Investigator for the Alabama Prison Project. I had begun my remarks by telling the class that I worked with court appointed defense attorneys in capital cases and that I opposed the death penalty.
I struggled to contain the righteous indignation that surged through me. I responded that supporters of the death penalty often hold up victims as the reason for the death penalty is needed; that families of victims somehow feel better if killers are executed. More forcefully than I intended, I said, “That’s a damnable lie, I do not presume to speak to you. How dare you presume to speak for me? I am not JUST a bleeding heart. It did happen to someone I loved,
my WIFE was murdered.
The class looked stunned. Regaining my composure, I asked their forbearance and for them to set aside their preconceptions for a moment as I told them my story. My personal journey began on February 27, 1985, in the small town of Enterprise, Alabama, when my wife Char was brutally murdered by a masked robber at my place of business.
I too was shot three times and left for dead. I saw my wife lying face down in a pool of blood. I held her in the last moments of her life, I saw her face. I instantly withdraw from the next image that is forevermore seared into my memory. In indescribable agony, I cursed God. For our children, Tom, 12, and Christie, 5, and for myself the nightmare had just begun. Unbelievably, 16 months later, I was charged with the capital murder of my wife. Following a trial that was later characterized as a mockery and a sham. I was convicted of murder of my wife and sentenced to life in prison. Incarcerated for a total of two years, one hundred and three days, I was freed on bond when the conviction was overturned in 1989. I remained in legal limbo for nearly three more years until April, 1992, when the charges against me were dropped after compelling proof of my innocence was uncovered. The nightmare had lasted for more than seven years.
I was broke, unemployed, and probably emotionally bankrupt. Having seen firsthand the insanity and horror of my wife’s murder, I was filled with hate for the man that had so brutally taken her life. I could not and cannot conceive of any act so despicable as murder. When people within the justice system failed me, it only served to add to my anger, outrage and bitterness. I wanted him dead. I was caught in a vindictive mindset. Slowly but surely I came to realize the hate was killing me and had no effect on him. I had to find a way to let go of the hatred and start healing. Raised a Christian and deeply troubled by the dark side of my inner struggle, I went to the Bible to find validation for my need for vengeance. After all, didn’t it call for an eye for an eye. But I say to you, do not resist anyone who is evil. You have heard it was said, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
What I found was a message of redemption and forgiveness. Vengeance and judgment belonged to the same God to whom I had cried out for justice, the same God that in my anger and despair, I had cursed. Was a killing done in the name of justice what I wanted, what I needed? Could I weigh the man who killed my wife and say what he deserved? Was there any man who weigh me and say what I deserved? If there is such a thing as justice could it not be administered only by one who knows the innermost thoughts of the person who is being judged? One who could do that would be wise and with wise and with wisdom comes mercy and forgiveness. There in lies the hope for humanity and the hope for healing.
Justice must take into account an infinite set of circumstances that I as a man cannot begin to understand. I pray to my God, whom I have offended, and beg forgiveness. I cannot be honest with my own life or with myself without realizing that I cannot tell what justice is for someone else, or for me. The more I try, the more responsibility I have to assume; and the more I know that I must cling to mercy as the one thing I am sure must control my own judgment of men; even the man who killed my wife.
I strongly believe that society’s laws moot offer relief for a victim’s anger and loss and we must be afforded protection from those who have harmed us. Life is sacred and precious, all life. The State, however, does not give life, neither should it take it away. One cannot stop the shedding of blood by causing more blood to be shed. No amount of killing would restore Char to us or take away our loss. What sustained me throughout those years of despair was not hatred; it was love; the love of my children, my family, my friends and the love of GOD.
The path to healing, the journey of hope, transverses many hills and valleys. The way is often torturous. For years I could not get past the last image I had of my wife, that of a murder victim. Today I can look into the faces of our children and smile as I see her reflection. I can choose to remember her as she was, a loving caring person. I know in my heart that her life should be celebrated rather than mourned. What began as a horrible act of violence should not be memorialized by an act of vengeance. Hate is a continuation not an ending. Char loved life. Tom, Christie, and I believe that her love of life should be her legacy. We say to you in a simple, resounding note that not in our name will you kill. Our hearts have bled enough.
For more information please contact:
Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
2603 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Hwy
Gainesville, FL 32609
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