Monday, December 31, 2007

WATCH FOR THIS PHOTO REPEATING HERE AT THE JOURNEY OF HOPE BLOG THROUGHOUT 2008. The arena of the COLOSSEUM in the city of Rome--once a symbol of horror, death and persecution--was bathed in white light for two reasons this past December 2007

The Colosseum was lit 1) to celebrate a U.N. vote calling for a moratorium on the death penalty and 2) for the decision by the U.S. state of New Jersey to abolish capital punishment. A number of Journey of Hope folk were in Italy and other European cities recently--urging life-giving options to execution.


CLICK ON COMMENTS (lower right) FOR A PREVIEW OF TRIBUTES to BILL & KATHY from their JOH family, for a run-down of CANDIDATES from BILL P. & MORE...scroll down--DON'T FORGET COMMENTS for other blogs as well and see the archives on right when you have time!

Journey Folk Texas 2007 at Rice University

Tom Muther who wrote the LETTER below is the handsome tall man holding the JOH banner on your left. He is one of our Journey activists with strong professional experience in counseling those with traumatic pasts.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

LETTERS: How can "the miasma of brutality" cure violence?

From Tom

I’m sorry to hear that you were victimized by violence. I would never criticize an individual for supporting the DP who had experienced violence firsthand. Anyone who has suffered that kind of grievous assault/loss is certainly entitled to their feelings whatever they might be. I happen to be privileged to know several extraordinary individuals who have experinced the loss of a loved one to murder, and yet are opposed to the DP. They have come to believe that our system of “justice” actually contributes to the violence in our midst.

By replicating the violence we supposedly abhor, we legitimize it and further imbue society with the miasma of brutality.

These survivors of violence have come to embrace a restoritive brand of justice, rather than a retributive form--a brand of justice that protects society by other than violent means, that nurtures the survivors and, ideally, would strive to rehabilitate and give some meaning to the rest of the murderer’s life (for instance, involve him/her in meaningful work, the proceeds from which could be used to help the survivors of violence).

In any case, from my viewpoint the state’s mirroring the murderer’s act of brutality with another act of brutality is not healing--for society or the individuals involved.

As Marietta Jaeger-Lane (who lost her 7 year-old daughter to murder) has said: “Loved ones, wrenched from our lives by violent crime, deserve more beautiful, noble and honorable memorials than pre-meditated, state-sanctioned killings. The death penalty only creates more victims and more grieving families. By becoming that which we deplore -- people who kill people -- we insult the sacred memory of all our precious victims.

'Concerning the claim of justice for the victim's family, I say there is no amount of retaliatory deaths that would compensate to me the inestimable value of my daughter's life, nor would they restore her to my arms. To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims. We cannot put a price on their lives. That kind of 'justice' would only dehumanize and degrade us because it legitimates an animal instinct for gut-level bloodthirsty revenge.”

I also have had the privilege to have met several of the 125 individuals who have been exonerated and freed from death row, as well as some of the mothers who have had sons there. No one wants to look at it, but the DP cures no ones pain--it only increases the pain of other families on the other side of the DP. As long as society continues to rely on the tool(s) of violence to solve its problems, violence will remain--a symptom of society’s ills.

(Incidentally, as far as having “to pay to feed, clothe, house, and provide medical care” for murderers, it should be noted that the whole DP process costs much more than the whole “life-in-prison” process--one of the many reasons New Jersey abolished the DP.)


Fighting for Truth, Justice, and making it the American way!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ron Keine at The Walls A Note on Texans

Executions take place in the historic downtown prison known as The Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas. Ron Keine spoke here at The Walls to a very intergenerational crowd during the 2007 Journey of Hope in Texas. He spent 22 months on New Mexico’s death row in the 1970s until another man confessed to the murder Keine was convicted of committing.

Find a link to Ron's JOH 2007 report on this blog at

Find another important message from Ron about "hatred in our midst" here

NOTE on Texan compassion and open-minds:

Although this editorial from The New York Times below indicates Texas is a state without pity when it comes to the number of yearly executions--we of The Journey of Hope met with many Texans in this beautiful and varied state who agree with us that the death penalty serves no just nor helpful purpose in Texas, the USA, nor the world--who held and exemplified great compassion. We met many others who were open to discussing and considering this issue. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Texas 2007 as we of JOH also did during 2005 and other times. We were enthralled with the spicy food, beautiful churches, schools, universities and the wide open landscapes--often exceptionally open minds. Two high schools were far beyond any I've ever been to in the US in encouraging deep free thought on the death penalty as on other topics. Thanks, Texas, for all the hospitality which was way beyond our expectations. We have lots to learn from you and lots to give. Connie L. Nash


Comment NYTimes Editorial -State Without Pity-

Thanks to Ron for the this comment!


Where men are men and the sheep won't look them in the eyes. I don't believe that all Texans are a bunch of backwoods, Moronic, Goat Ropers but there are enough there to embarrass the whole state. They need to wake up and catch up with the rest of the civilized world. They seem to think that killing people in a prison execution chamber is okie dokie and people killing people in the streets is not okie dokie.

One of the sure truths I have learned, in this life, is this. When a government Kills, It shows its citizens that life is cheap. If the government shows that life is for the taking, Sooner or the later People will believe it. Some governments kill again and again making sure that the lesson sinks in. Is there any wonder why states that have the Death Penalty also have the highest murder rates.

Let me ask you this Cowgirl, If your kid steals a candy bar (or a plug of chewing tobacco) from a local store , do you take him back to the store and show him how you can steal one also. Does this deter your kid from stealing. Does this teach the kid that stealing is wrong? Wake up Goober and join the modern world.

I was always proud when discussing Texas with other Americans. It was an honor to have Texas in the union. More and more now I am becoming ashamed of that Great state which brought us brave men like Sam Houston and the defenders of the Alamo.

"All it takes for evil to prevail -- is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke

Thursday, December 27, 2007

State Without Pity

Two articles Dec 27 & Dec 26 from the NYTimes

It is a shameful distinction, but Texas is the undisputed capital of capital punishment.

Texas should at least take a hard look at a system that still produces so many executions and is so wildly out of step with the rest of the country.

Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas. No other state put more than three people to death during that time.

December 27, 2007
State Without Pity
It is a shameful distinction, but Texas is the undisputed capital of capital punishment. At a time when the rest of the country is having serious doubts about the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions this year took place in Texas. That gaping disparity provides further evidence that Texas’s governor, Legislature, courts and voters should reassess their addiction to executions.

As Adam Liptak reported in The Times on Wednesday, in the last three years, Texas’s share of the nation’s executions has gone from 32 percent to 62 percent. This year, Texas executed 26 people. No other state executed more than three.

It is not that Texas sentences people to death at a much higher rate than other states. Rather, Texas has proved to be much more willing than others to carry out the sentences it has imposed.

The participants in Texas’s death penalty process, including the governor and the pardon board, are more enthusiastic about moving things along than they are in many states. Texas’s system also contains some special features, like the power of district attorneys to set execution dates. Prosecutors are likely to be more eager than judges to see an execution carried out.

While Texas has been forging ahead with capital punishment, many other states have been moving away from it. New Jersey abolished the death penalty this month, and other states have been considering doing the same thing. Illinois made headlines a few years ago when its governor, troubled about the number of innocent people who had been sent to death row, put in place a moratorium on executions.

These states have had good reasons for their doubts. The traditional objections to the death penalty remain as true as ever. It is barbaric — governments should simply not be in the business of putting people to death. It is imposed in racially discriminatory ways. And it is too subject to error, which cannot be corrected after an execution has taken place.

In recent years, two other developments have undercut the public’s faith in capital punishment.

There has been a tidal wave of DNA exonerations, in which it has been scientifically proved that the wrong people had been sentenced to death. There is also increasing awareness that even methods of execution considered relatively humane impose considerable suffering on the condemned.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments next month in a case about whether the pain caused by lethal injection is so great that it violates the Eighth Amendment injunction against cruel and unusual punishment. Those who study the death penalty say that if current trends continue, eventually almost all of the nation’s executions will occur in Texas. That is not a record any state should want. Some states, such as Illinois and New Jersey, have already had wide-ranging discussions about what role they want the death penalty to play in their criminal justice system. Texas is long overdue for such a debate.

If it is unwilling to abolish the death penalty, which all states should do, Texas should at least take a hard look at a system that still produces so many executions and is so wildly out of step with the rest of the country.


60 Percent of Executions Happen in Texas
By ADAM LIPTAK,The New York Times
Posted: 2007-12-26 18:25:35

(Dec. 26) -- This year’s death penalty bombshells — a de facto national moratorium, a state abolition and the smallest number of executions in more than a decade — have masked what may be the most significant and lasting development. For the first time in the modern history of the death penalty, more than 60 percent of all American executions took place in Texas.

Over the past three decades, the proportion of executions nationwide performed in Texas has held relatively steady, averaging 37 percent. Only once before, in 1986, has the state accounted for even a slight majority of the executions, and that was in a year with 18 executions nationwide.

But enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas has dropped sharply. Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas. The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people. Many legal experts say the trend will probably continue.

Indeed, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death-row inmates, the day is not far off when essentially all executions in the United States will take place in Texas.

“The reason that Texas will end up monopolizing executions,” he said, “is because every other state will eliminate it de jure, as New Jersey did, or de facto, as other states have.”

Charles A. Rosenthal Jr., the district attorney of Harris County, Tex., which includes Houston and has accounted for 100 executions since 1976, said the Texas capital justice system was working properly. The pace of executions in Texas, he said, “has to do with how many people are in the pipeline when certain rulings come down.”

The rate at which Texas sentences people to death is not especially high given its murder rate. But once a death sentence is imposed there, said Richard C. Dieter, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, prosecutors, state and federal courts, the pardon board and the governor are united in moving the process along. “There’s almost an aggressiveness about carrying out executions,” said Mr. Dieter, whose organization opposes capital punishment.

Outside of Texas, even supporters of the death penalty say they detect a change in public attitudes about executions in light of the time and expense of capital litigation, the possibility of wrongful convictions and the remote chance that someone sent to death row will actually be executed.

“Any sane prosecutor who is involved in capital litigation will really be ambivalent about it,” said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore., and a vice president of the National District Attorneys Association. He said the families of murder victims suffered needless anguish during what could be decades of litigation and multiple retrials.

“We’re seeing fewer executions,” Mr. Marquis added. “We’re seeing fewer people sentenced to death. People really do question capital punishment. The whole idea of exoneration has really penetrated popular culture.”

As a consequence, Mr. Dieter said, “we’re simply not regularly using the death penalty as a country.”

Over the last three years, the number of executions in Texas has been relatively constant, averaging 23 per year, but the state’s share of the number of total executions nationwide has steadily increased as the national totals have dropped, from 32 percent in 2005 to 45 percent in 2006 to 62 percent in 2007.

The death penalty developments that have dominated the news in recent months are unlikely to have anything like the enduring consequences of Texas’ vigorous commitment to capital punishment.

A Supreme Court case concerns how to assess the constitutionality of lethal injection protocols. While it is possible that states may have to revise the ways they execute people, executions will almost certainly resume soon after the court’s decision, which is expected by June.

Similarly, New Jersey’s abolition of the death penalty last week and Gov. Jon Corzine’s decision to empty death row of its eight prisoners is almost entirely symbolic. New Jersey has not executed anyone since 1963.

And while the total number of executions in 2007 was low, it would have been similar to those in recent years but for the moratorium, if extrapolated to a full year.

There do seem to be slight stirrings suggesting that other states might follow New Jersey. Two state legislative bodies — the House in New Mexico and the Senate in Montana — passed bills to abolish capital punishment, and in Nebraska, the unicameral legislature came within one vote of doing so.

Texas has followed the rest of the country in one respect: the number of death sentences there has dropped sharply.

In the 10 years ending in 2004, Texas condemned an average of 34 prisoners each year — about 15 percent of the national total. In the last three years, as the number of death sentences nationwide dropped significantly, from almost 300 in 1998 to about 110 in 2007, the number in Texas has dropped along with it, to 13 — or 12 percent.

Indeed, according to a 2004 study by three professors of law and statistics at Cornell published in The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Texas prosecutors and juries were no more apt to seek and impose death sentences than those in the rest of the country.

“Texas’ reputation as a death-prone state should rest on its many murders and on its willingness to execute death-sentenced inmates,” the authors of the study, Theodore Eisenberg, John H. Blume and Martin T. Wells, wrote. “It should not rest on the false belief that Texas has a high rate of sentencing convicted murderers to death.”

There is reason to think that the number of death sentences in the state will fall farther, given the introduction of life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option in capital cases in Texas in 2005. While a substantial majority of the public supports the death penalty, that support drops significantly when life without parole is included as an alternative.

Once an inmate is sent to death row, however, distinctive features of the Texas justice system kick in.

“Execution dates here, uniquely, are set by individual district attorneys,” Professor Dow said. “In no other state would the fact that a district attorney strongly supports the death penalty immediately translate into more executions.”

Texas courts, moreover, speed the process along, said Jordan M. Steiker, a law professor at the University of Texas who has represented death-row inmates.

“It’s not coincidental that the debate over lethal injections had traction in other jurisdictions but not in Texas,” Professor Steiker said. “The courts in Texas have generally not been very solicitous of constitutional claims.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly rebuked the state and the federal courts that hear appeals in Texas capital cases, often in exasperated language suggesting that those courts are actively evading Supreme Court rulings.

The last execution before the Supreme Court imposed a de facto moratorium happened in Texas, and in emblematic fashion. The presiding judge on the state’s highest court for criminal matters, Judge Sharon Keller, closed the courthouse at its regular time of 5 p.m. and turned back an attempt to file appeal papers a few minutes later, according to a complaint in a wrongful-death suit filed in federal court last month.

The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed that evening.

Judge Keller, in a motion to dismiss the case filed this month, acknowledged that she alone had the authority to keep the court’s clerk’s office open but said that Mr. Richard’s lawyers could have tried to file their papers directly with another judge on the court.

Copyright © 2007 The New York Times Company
2007-12-26 07:30:33

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rick Halperin from Warsaw's Stutthof Death Camp

Rick Halperin--our dear and faithful JOH friend (who teaches at Southern Methodist U in Dallas)also went to Italy for Amnesty--see his blurb below. He had this to say recently about his trip to Poland and the death camps this Christmas season, 2007--I just found my copy of his -Journey of Remembrance- from Christmas 05 and put it nearby to remind me during the holiday..These figures and the photos and your reminder staggers everything human within about extrajudicial and state executions!

Thank you, Rick, for so faithfully year after year helping us/humanity to remember~
Sending you another warm cup of tea!

--- "Halperin, Rick" wrote:

greetings from Warsaw! we spent several hours in the Stutthof death camp today...a place where 110,000 people passed through the camp during its years of operation, 1939-1945, and a place where over 85,000 of them died from the effects of the
conditions of life to which they were subjected......tomorrow we visit the sites of the old Warsaw Ghetto, the Jewish cemetery, and then to Treblinka, where 980,000 people were murdered.......more soon!

--On his trip to Italy, Rick had this to say a few weeks back: my trip was excellent----mostly in the name of Amnesty International....all for activism against the death penalty...lots of talks to (many!!) students....and some to civic groups...

Photos of Bill, Art, Rick and Italy to come...remember to look on UN & Amnesty's websites to see what's happening on Global Abolition/Moratorium! Also see what Sister Helen has been doing in Italy with the same at famous old schools! Someone please ask her to send us/our blog a personal report. Connie

Monday, December 24, 2007


Reflections From Rome During the "Cities of Life" Campaign To Abolish
the Death Penalty (Updated, December 2007)

by Art Laffin

Nov. 27-30, 2007

Heartfelt greetings of love to you from Rome. My time here so far has been simply extraordinary. I arrived on Tuesday morning and immediately went to the dedication of a park/square to Dominique Green, a 30-year-old innocent African American man who was executed in Texas in 2004. The Community of Sant'Egidio took up his case and several members of the community visited him before he was killed. Rejected in the US, Dominique's spirit lives in Italy. His ashes are kept at a shelter for the
homeless in Rome.

During the last two days I have given six talks to about 600 students and teachers. I have been received very well. Last night I attended an inspiring program organized by the Sant'Egidio community at Rome's main university highlighting the worldwide campaign to abolish the death penalty. The program, which was broadcast on live TV, featured, Antoinette, a death row survivor from Lebanon, Mr. Furukawa, an abolitionist from Japan, an Italian murder victim family member who forgave the killer of his father, two famous Italian actors, an acclaimed Italian saxophonist, video messages from Nobel laureates and other abolitionists and a representative of the Community of Sant'Egidio.

Tonight at the the Roman Coliseum, where so many people were sacrificed and executed at the hands of the Roman empire, lights will be lit throughout the stadium to call on the world to abolish the death penalty.

The community of Sant'Egidio has taken good care of me during my stay here. It has been a great blessing to get to know different members of the community and to join their community prayer each evening at the beautiful church of Santa Maria. Please know that I hold you in prayer and heart during this sacred time in the eternal city.

Nov. 30-Dec. 4.
On Nov. 30, at 5:00 p.m., I spoke at a school on the outskirts of Rome where over 200people from the school and community attended. IT WAS AMAZING! A 96 year old woman, who is still a pen pal to a death row inmate, thanked me for my talk.

In the evening I spoke before over 1,300 people in Rome's famous concert hall--just down the street from the Vatican. (The pope wasn't able to make it due to a prior engagement). Nicola Piovani, composer of musical score for the movie, "Life is Beautiful" performed, a renowned Italian singer named Giorgia sang, several famous
Italian actors read selections by death row inmates, and Kerry Cook,(who spent 22 years on death row in Texas before being freed--his brother was also murdered during the time of his imprisonment), Mr. Furukawa, and Mario (from the Community of Sant'Egidio), were the other speakers. There was also a moving video tribute to Dominique Green. This event was part of the Nov. 30 "Cities of Life" campaign where over 722 cities and 33 capitals worldwide had events calling for the abolition of the
death penalty.

On Dec. 1, I spoke at a school to over 150 students who were very receptive.

On Dec. 2, Bill Pelke, co-founder of the Journey of Hope, Kerry Cook and I did a brief interview with Vatican TV. Bill has been in northern Italy speaking during the last week. It was great to get together tonight with Bill and SueZann Bosler, another amazing Journey friend, who has been speaking over the last week in towns south of Rome.

On Dec. 3 I spoke to another student group of over 100 at the Nautical High school in the south of Rome. In the evening I had a great reunion with Journey friend Shujaa Graham, and his wife Phyliss, who were speaking during the last week in Sicily and Naples.

On Dec. 4, I took a train to Genoa and spoke that evening in Pavia (near Milan) to about 60 students, teachers and members of the public.

On Dec. 5 I flew back to the US.

I am very grateful to the Community of Sant'Egidio for inviting me to come to Rome to participate in the Cities of Life Campaign. This was my first time in Italy speaking about the murder of my brother, and why I, as a murder victim family member, oppose the death penalty. I was deeply moved by the empathy I experienced from the people who heard me speak. I was also moved by how deeply people care about those on death row in the US and around the world.

I experienced this compassion first-hand as soon as I arrived in Rome and attended the dedication ceremony for the park named in honor of Dominique Green. The Community of Sant'Egidio truly takes to heart the words of St. Paul that when one person suffers we all suffer.

During my visit I gave eleven talks and visited eight schools. And it was a great honor for me to speak during the November 30 concert at the Auditorium - Via della Conciliazione in Rome. I am thankful to every person I met during my time in Rome and in Genoa and Pavia for their loving support and commitment to abolish the death penalty. I would also like to thank each member of the community who helped translate for me and who drove me to different events. I would also like to thank the
community for the loving hospitality I received. And I will always treasure the shared meals with community members and the sacred moments of community prayer I experienced at the Church of Santa Maria. And special thanks to Bill Pelke, who has been such a vital link between the Journey of Hope and the Community of San't Egidio. The Journey of Hope continues...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

BILL in ITALY with The Community of Sant Egidio

BILL in ITALY with The Community of Sant Egidio
Posted December 2007

The Community of Sant Egidio, headquartered in Rome, is a "Church public lay association". The different communities, spread throughout the world, share the same spirituality and principles which characterize the way of Sant’ Egidio.

The Community of Sant Egidio is a leader in the worldwide abolition movement. Each year they conduct an important event on November 30 called Cities for Life

This year over 700 cities about the world lit up various city symbols calling for a moratorium on the death penalty. Pictured above is the Coliseum in Rome in lights for November 30.

Carlo Santoro, one of Sant Egidio’s long time volunteers, once again asked me to come to Italy for this special occasion. This time Carlo asked me to help with the coordination of other Journey of Hope speakers to come to Europe. Journey cofounders Marietta Jaeger Lane and SueZann Bosler joined with Shujaa Graham, current Journey board member. Journey speakers Art Laffin, Bud Welch, Edward Mpagi also joined with us.

It was a great honor and witness to the powerful testimonies of journey speakers.

Marietta was in the northern region covering Venice, Padova and other cities in the region with her husband Bob. SueZann spoke in Bari and in Rome. Art spoke in the area of Rome, his first time to Italy in 30 years. Bud Welch has traveled to Europe several times for the Cities for Life and this time spoke in Spain.

Marietta, SueZann, Art, Bud and myself are murder victim family members who do not want the death penalty under any circumstance.

Shujaa Graham spoke in Cyprus and Rome, Edward spoke in Rome and northern Italy and were joined in Rome by Kerry Max Cook and his son KJ. All three are death row exonerees. All Journey speakers spoke about forgiveness. Rick Halperin, Journey board member was also in Reggio Emilia in earlier in November.

I started off my Journey flying in to Bologna. I was met by Sant Egidio volunteers Natalie and Paulo and driven to Rimini, a beautiful city by the Adriatic sea.

Speaking usually 3 times a day, including high schools with audiences of 300 and 400 students, colleges, public and media events.

I met with the mayor of Ravenna and presented him a copy of my book, “Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing and he gave me several gifts from the city. There was a picture in the paper the next day and with an article about Cities for Life. I also had lunch with the vice-major of Reggio Emilia.

I was the guest of Arianna Ballotta, Founder of the Italian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and she took me to several wonderful restaurants that featured the best pasta I have every eaten in all of the trips I have been to in Italy.

I also traveled to Parma and Rome.

It was a wonderful experience for me to speak to the high school students and tell them how over 2,000,000 million Italians, mostly high school students, had signed petitions to spare Paula Cooper’s life. Paula was the girl who was sentenced to die for the death of my grandmother. I was able to thank them and to let them know that they can make a difference. I told them I knew they could make a difference because it was students like them that saved Paula’s life. I also told them how Italy had taken the lead in presenting the United Nations over 5,000,000 signatures called for a moratorium and that the UN had voted in November to call for its members to declare a moratorium on the DP. It was only natural to challenge them to stand up whenever they say an injustice and make a difference.

It was a great experience for us all, and I am so grateful for the Sant Egidio Community for their great work against the death penalty. They don’t have the Death Penalty in all of Europe, yet Italy and the Sant Egidio Community in particular work so hard for worldwide abolition amazes me. They also do many other great things like the efforts with the elderly, homeless, tutoring children and in Africa with the HIV Dream Program.

Sant Egidio should win the Nobel Peace Price in my opinion.

Bill Pelke

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Step by Step"

This video is a clip from the documentary "Step by Step: A Journey of Hope" produced by Micki Dickoff. It does a wonderful and moving job of conveying what the Journey is all about! This clip features Bill Pelke.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bill Lucero

Bill Lucero and Tom Muther, both of Kansas, view a grave stone of a former Texas death row inmate.

Bill Lucero lost his father to murder.

Bill Lucero's Letter to Editor on New Jersey

Bill Lucero was on the Texas Journey of Hope

My letter to the editor:

Letters Editor
c/o Topeka Capital-Journal
616 SE Jefferson Av
Topeka KS 66607

To the Editor:

Move over California! Your place as trend leader has been replaced by the Garden State of New Jersey! Governor Corzine's signature of the law replacing the death penalty with life without parole is a historic beginning of the end of capital punishment in this country. Very soon Maryland will follow New Jersey's lead; many other states will likely do the same.

Abolishing the death penalty in Trenton came about because the public there got tired of the deceptions and falsehoods promised by the so called "law and order" political opportunists.

Knowledgeable District Attorneys pointed out how those few capital cases drained their resources from being able to provide full services to their respective constituencies. Police officers observed that the death penalty never served as an effective deterrent to murder. Many murder victims' family members spoke of their prolonged suffering and stress due to the increased press exposure related to capital cases. And Legislative researchers pointed to the increased costs of trials and appeals of capital defendants awaiting execution without much likelihood of execution.

Unfortunately all of those arguments which are equally applicable to Kansas have not moved our Legislature to take similar action yet. And Kansas' experience with capital punishment continues to be plagued with prosecutorial misconduct, judicial error, arbitrariness, covert racism, jury misconduct, withheld evidence and ineffective counsel.

Kansas Legislators need to review those issues in earnest during the next session. Any action short of replicating New Jersey's leadership will be a sad commentary of our continued "mugwumpism".

Bill Lucero
Kansas Coordinator
Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Journey of Hope: Life-Altering Community

By Robin Radford

Dear Friends,

About two months ago I had a heart-shaking and life-altering emotional experience that helped me get some perspective on my last four difficult years after going through a major operation for cancer. More on that later because it will be hard for you to grasp what happened to me unless you hear at least a little of what went on in the week I spent in Houston participating in "The Journey of Hope". I could not figure out a way to tell this story in an abbreviated format. In October this year my dear friend from Sweden, Monica Pejovic invited me as her guest to attend "The Journey of Hope" which was held in Houston, Texas.

The Journey of Hope conducts annual events in various states speaking in high schools, colleges, churches, social clubs and various other formats. Murder victim family members and those with other connections put the human face on the issue of the death penalty as they share their stories. The founder and President of The Journey, Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered, came in from Alaska with his partner Kathy. (See Bill's story below). Monica met Bill briefly when she participated for two days in the Journey in 2005.

The fiscal year for the Journey of Hope runs fromAugust 1 to July 31. It is a separate 501(c)3, incorporated in the state of Indiana in 1997. The first Journey took place in Indiana, and the next two, prior to 1997, were special projects of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

"The Journey" brings together people from a variety of experiences whose lives have collided with a homicide and/or with the legal system over the death penalty--people who passionately want to help change this system and to abolish state homicide. This collision of experiences has formed a most unlikely community. The process of forgiveness is key to all involved.

The Journey was led by:

-- Murder victim family members
-- Exonerees (individuals proved innocent and legally freed from Death Row).
-- Family members of persons on Death Row and family of the executed

Also participating were activists--people like Monica and myself who are friends and supporters of persons on Death Row. Our friend on Death Row is Roger McGowen who has been there for 20 years for a crime we believe he did not commit. (See ).

A documentary team from Seoul Broadcasting System from South Korea was with us also. They were following Mr. Ko, an individual who had lost three members of his family to murder.

I flew from my home in St. Louis, Missouri and met Monica and about 20 others from all over the United States. We were in Houston with the Journey from October 12 to 18. The main events included a benefit (fundraising) concert (Nanci Griffith sang and played. One introduction for this abolition-supportive lady is ) and a rally at Walls Unit, Huntsville, TX where all executions in Texas take place and where twenty-six inmates were executed this year.

The main activity every day--from 7AM through evening--was the many talks given by members of our group who spoke to high school, college, church groups, etc. about the hard won forgiveness and love that motivates their opposition to the Death Penalty. A smaller group, The Founders Tour, continued on from October 18 to 28 speaking at Universities in San Antonio, Austin, Waco, and Dallas - including the eighth annual "March to Stop Executions" on October 27 in Houston.

The core group of participants stayed at the Domincan Sisters Retreat center together and shared meals and other group experiences. A few people were housed at a nearby hotel. We all joined together for various group sessions-- especially in the evening-- but most of each day we all traveled to the various events where people were speaking.

Sister Helen Prejean (author of Dead Man Walking) came to be with us for 2 days and gave several talks herself. She is a very charismatic speaker but wonderfully approachable and unpretentious. She never minimizes the suffering of families that have had members murdered but she pleads very convincingly that the murderer's life is still of value and nothing is gained by another murder done in our name by the state and another family (the murderer's) devastated too.

The stories I heard were heart-rending accounts of ordinary people who had not paid much attention to the Death Penalty. They were most often in support of it until their lives abruptly collided with the issues surrounding it when they had a loved one murdered, were accused of murdering someone themselves or someone in their family was accused of murdering someone. Every story told involved an intense inner spiritual struggle of some kind as people grappled with the inequities in the legal system and how it eventually failed to provide justice, peace or closure.

An extended account of three of the stories of people who have had family members murdered and who were extremely angry at first can be found below this paragraph. These are not saints. These are real people who had all the normal reactions to horrendous crimes but revenge and anger could not heal the hole in their heart and they were propelled to go on an inner spiritual journey to seek other means to come to grips with their pain. These three important stories are at:

Mr. Ko from South Korea is representative of this journey so I will tell his story. One day he came home to find his wife, son and Mother all stabbed to death in a pool of blood. Of course he wanted to find and kill the person who did this. His disturbance and anguish made it impossible to sleep or work. Finally he decided to write out the Bible by hand. For hours every day he wrote with about two hours sleep each night. Eight months later he finished writing and felt that he must forgive the murderer. Resentment and the desire for revenge were killing him. It was a burden he could no longer carry.

When they caught the man it was learned he had killed 23 people. Mr. Ko received a small stipend from the government and he decided to share this money with the murderer and his family who were very poor. This unusual act of generosity might be enough to bring him to the attention of the public, yet Mr. Ko has become a media star in South Korea because of another decision he made which is unprecedented. In Korea there is terrible shame and stigma attached to having someone murdered in your family.

Victim's family members refuse to show their faces on TV or give interviews. Mr. Ko has done both and he has helped found the first organization for victim family members with his priest. He heard about the Journey of Hope and he wanted to understand more so he came to the US with a Korean TV crew to film his experience. He spoke to groups through his interpreter.

Terry Steinberg is a mother of four children, who’s oldest, Justin, now 26, was 20 when arrested and charged with murder. He now sits on Death Row in Virginia with one more year of appeals left. Justin was a good kid, a loving brother and son with so many things going for him that a murder charge was the last thing on earth his mother expected for him. Yet Justin, like so many young people his age, saw nothing wrong with the recreational use of marijuana or with selling it to friends. The turn of events that led him to be suspected of murder is too long to tell here but an overzealous prosecutor aided by the lying testimony of the man who was really the murderer resulted in a conviction.

Justin was never accused of committing the murder. He was convicted solely on the questionable word of the man who committed the murder, saying that Justin told him to kill the man (murder for hire being a capital offense). This murderer avoided the death penalty by testifying against Justin and received a lighter sentence. Instead, Justin got the Death Penalty. Much evidence has come to light since to prove Justin's innocence but legal technicalities and a system that seems to be indifferent at best and hostile at worst to the importance of the truth coming out has so far hampered the overturning of Justin's conviction. Many are not aware of the US Supreme Court's ruling in recent years that legal procedure is more important than innocence (this happened in a case in which a man was executed on a legal technicality even though it was certain he was innocent.)

Terry focuses her attention on speaking to young people, trying to warn them about the dangers of getting anywhere close to the drug scene where the possibility of getting linked to unforeseen criminal charges exist. Meanwhile she and her family, as well as her son, are victims of a legal system that doesn't go the extra mile when a person's life is at stake. She and her family endure ongoing torment while they hope and pray that Justin will come home one day to them and the promising life that was stretched out before him when this nightmare happened.

(For more, go to ) .

One of the biggest windows into the failure of our legal system, especially in the area of capital (murder) cases, is the wrongful conviction and imprisonment on Death Row of innocents. Three of these innocent inmates who were exonerated were with us in Houston. Somehow these situations hit me harder than all the tragic stories I heard. I just kept thinking: "What could be worse than knowing you were going to be executed for a crime you didn't commit?" They explained that inmates on Death Row have experienced their execution MENTALLY thousands of times before they actually die.

It is the mental torture that destroys you. Just think how much greater that torture might be for someone who is innocent. That is why, even in the unusual case where innocence is legally proved and they are released, these men are never the same. It is similar to having been a POW. You never get over it mentally and your physical health frequently deteriorates with the terrible food and bad health care in prison. It is still difficult to get a job even when you have been exonerated just because of the stigma of having been accused of murder and being in prison.

Marriages dissolve, children grow up, and the thread of the life you were trying to live can never be picked up again. Very few of these people have even gotten an apology from the state -- let alone monetary compensation. It is the rare person who can pick up their lives again without great bitterness and go on with the semblance of a normal life.

Now that I've given you a little taste of the enormous irreparable damage that goes on in these cases, now imagine the courage and just plain guts it takes to go out publicly and speak about your experience. You have to make yourself vulnerable all over again as you tell your story -- literally let yourself hurt again. These men frequently broke down emotionally as they spoke even though it has been years since they were imprisoned. They do it because they are convinced that the percentage of innocent people waiting to die on Death Row is very high. The reason they think this becomes very clear as you begin to see the common themes that emerge from all the stories: the underfunded Public Defender services for poor people that cannot afford to hire a lawyer (and the refusal of the courts to rule that legal incompetence can be used as an issue to challenge the guilty verdict - this decided even when the public defender was drunk or sleeping in the courtroom); many overzealous prosecutors, looking for a notch on their gun and notoriety to bolster a run for public office.

So far 124 inmates on Death Row (more since writing this ) have been exonerated and freed from prison. I think this group of exonerees might be in the strongest position to create at least a little uncertainly in the public mind about the savage inequities in our legal system, a system which provides the "best justice money can buy." I have enormous respect for these men and what they're trying to do to help us all wake up. I know I woke up big time by just getting to be around all these incredible people.

Remember -- no saints here -- only real people who have been through enormous suffering and have somehow fought their way through to a bigger love, forgiveness and peace than most of us will ever know. Of course we could get there too if we were willing to pay the price. I haven't found such an enlarged sense of humanity since I was involved with the Civil Rights Movement when I saw people express amazing grace in the face of unbelievable physical violence against them and horrible injustices of all kinds.

During the Journey of Hope I felt my spirit, which had died so low within me (although somehow I had survived physically) come alive again! I felt the best in me start responding and planning a future for me that would be rich with meaning and purpose. I felt that somehow I had been let out of prison!

I reconnected with the possibilities of that magnanimous love so tangibly felt - very real in that group in Houston. What could this love do in action in a desperate world looking for answers? Words fail me. But I hope you get that somehow I got connected again with myself, others and my work in the world through these very special people.

• Mission: Education on the Death Penalty and how to go from violence to healing
• The Journey of Hope is the most powerful tool to change hearts and minds to bring about abolition of the Death Penalty.
•The Journey of Hope is led by murder victim family members conducting educational speaking tours addressing issues of the Death Penalty and alternative sentencing.

Accomplishments for Fiscal Year Ending May 30, 2007:
•17 day speaking tour of Virginia in October 2006
•Participated in Cities for Life in Africa, Italy, and Switzerland November 2006
•Participated in World Coalition Conference in Paris, France in February 2007

Objectives for Fiscal Year Beginning June 1, 2007
•17 day speaking tour of Texas October 12-28
•Major Fundraising events June 28 in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of the Furman
Decision that temporarily abolish the Death Penalty in 1972
•Major participant in the 14th annual fast and vigil at the US Supreme Court June 29-July 2

(Since then, of course, there have been many more events that have involved Journey of Hope participants including a number of speaking engagements for exonerees in the US and in Europe, particularly Italy and Spain . There have also been a number of power point and speaker presentations that have taken place back home put on by various participants.)

Chief Executive Profile for Bill Pelke:

Bill Pelke recently authored a book entitled -Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing- which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Pelke -- a Bible teacher -- by four teenage girls. Paula Cooper who was deemed to be the ringleader was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana. She was fifteen-years-old at the time of the murder. Pelke originally support the sentence of death for Cooper, but went through a spiritual transformation in 1986 after praying for love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family.

Pelke became involved in an international crusade on Paula's behalf and in 1989 -- after over two million people from Italy signed petitions and Pope John Paul II’s request for mercy -- Paula was taken off Death Row and her sentence commuted to sixty years.

Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the Death Penalty. He shares his story of forgiveness and healing, and how he came to realize that he did not need to see someone else die in order to heal from his grandmother’s death. He also helps organize Journey tours nationally and abroad. Pelke has traveled to over forty states and ten countries with the Journey of Hope and has told his story over 5000 times!

NOTE: This organization is a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. Contributions are deductible, as provided by law. US Federal EIN #35-2022767Mr. Bill Pelke, President (877) 924-4483 Fax (907) 333-0435 email:

More information:

Love, Robin Radford

FINAL NOTE: Robin asked her friend, Terri--also a part of the JOH--for input. Here is her recent short note on forgiveness--so in keeping with Journey of Hope...

The taking of another life does not bring the peace and healing needed to keep going after a terrible loss. Nor does it honor or bring back the life of the loved one taken. Forgiveness is the key that opens your heart to love again, to fill the hole and emptiness left with the loss of the loved one. The death penalty only creates more victims, more grieving families, and adds a continuation in the cycle of violence.

Love, Terri Steinberg

We invite others to blog in response to Robin's heartfelt experience and/or send any other personal story related to forgiveness and transformation in the shadow of the death penalty. Maybe you are only in process--that's A-OK-- forgiveness takes time.

Please send your story or comment to Connie L. Nash
or mail to PO Box 1267, Brevard, NC 28712

Friday, December 14, 2007

NEW JERSEY: Harbinger of Things to Come

NEW JERSEY Bans the Death Penalty!

"A Harbinger of Things to Come" --Maybe to come--even in TEXAS?

December 13-14, 2007

Of special interest to Journey of Hope (JOH) folk:

...Among those testifying for abolition (in New Jersey) was Vicki Schieber. Her daughter, Shannon, was murdered in 1998. She and her husband stunned prosecutors by requesting that the defendant receive life in prison instead of execution... "The death penalty is a harmful policy that exacerbates the pain for murdered victims' families," she said.
The Star-Ledger, December 11, 2007

Top Quotes on New Jersey's Big Move:

Richard Dieter, director of Death Penalty Information Center: "We'll be looking back 7 to 10 years from now and saying that New Jersey was the 1st."

"We are at a unique crossroads in the history of the state, maybe the history of the country," said former Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero, who participated on several death penalty cases while on the bench. "New Jersey is the 1st state to repeal an entire capital punishment system. There is not a precedent for this."

The 1st state since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the sanction in 1976 to repeal an existing statute through legislative act... "I have absolutely no doubt that other states will follow our lead," the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo of Newark, said during a 2-1/2-hour floor debate.

"What New Jersey does will be watched very closely by other state legislators and state officials around the country," Matthew Kennis, a field director with the international human rights group Amnesty International, said before the Assembly vote. "This is a harbinger of things to come."

Caraballo: "In the end, it's a matter of conscience."

The nation's last execution was Sept. 25 in Texas. Since then, executions have been delayed pending a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether execution through lethal injection violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Then two more exonerations just recently...

Larger background--US and international abolitionists--including four JOH folk with several exonerees and Amnesty staff--have been speaking on abolition in Italy--some of the same folk who were recent participants with The Journey of Hope in Texas. Amnesty folk have been in Rwanda during recent months as well-- where the death penalty has just been abolished.


The federal court ruled in 1972 that the death penalty violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, because its application could be arbitrary. In 1976, the court ruled the states had satisfied its concerns, clearing the way for its return. New Jersey, which had outlawed capital punishment in 1972, reinstated it in 1982.
Today 37 states, the federal government and the military have the death penalty. New Jersey, which has had a moratorium on executions since 2005 and hasn't put to death a prisoner since 1963...

(sources besides the top death penalty sites-- Bloomsberg News, AP)

New Jersey officials have been barred from executing anyone under a 2004 court ruling that determined the state had to revise procedures on how the penalty would be imposed; It never did.

Among those who have been executed in New Jersey in the past: Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was executed in 1936 for the kidnapping and murder of aviator Charles Lindbergh's son.

However, the nation has executed 1,099 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reauthorized the death penalty in 1976. In 1999, 98 people were executed, the most since 1976; last year 53 people were executed, the lowest since 1996.

New Jersey Death Penalty Repeal Advances to Corzine ...A measure to replace the death penalty with a sentence of life in prison without parole passed the 80-member Assembly Thursday on a 44-36 vote. Earlier this week, the legislation cleared the state's 40-member Senate, 21-16.

More follows --but first--an INVITATION to all JOH folk , exonerees, DR inmate loved ones and murder victim family members to submit comments with your responses to this volcanic news. These glad tidings effect and strikes us all whatever our background and angle as abolitionists. Tell us and the public who read this how New Jersey's milestone affects you.

In one fell swoop here--today--are summaries of some of our major arguments, quotes, timeline and stats. This is a perfect way and week to get this in the hands of undecided or as yet uncommitted folk. Maybe this will be the time many more will say: "If not us, who? If not now, when?"

'Historic Legislation is 'A Harbinger of Things to Come'

Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), released this statement following the New Jersey Legislature's vote to abolish the death penalty:

Amnesty International USA applauds the New Jersey Assembly for voting to abolish the death penalty. Contrary to what some have said, the New Jersey vote was not taken too quickly or lightly. It was only after careful study and deliberation that legislators concluded that the death penalty does not address violent crime or make New Jerseyans any safer. A thorough examination of the state's death penalty system has revealed it for what it truly is: a colossal public policy failure that wastes taxpayer dollars and diverts valuable resources from proven crime prevention measures.

The problems uncovered by this examination of the death penalty are not unique to New Jersey. Lawmakers across the country are realizing that capital punishment is permanently flawed, and the public is increasingly wary of a system that holds the very real possibility of executing the innocent. By holding criminals accountable and eliminating the possibility of a horrific error with a one-two punch, New Jersey stands to embolden lawmakers who were as fearful of eliminating capital punishment as they were of keeping it. This is a harbinger of things to come.
(source: Amnesty International)

More Excerpts
...Among the 13 states without capital punishment, some have statutes that courts overturned, others abolished it before the Supreme Court's 1976 ruling, and others never approved a death penalty law, supporters of the bill said.

...Derek Roseman, a spokesman for Caraballo, said the measure may spare the 8 men now on the state's death row. The legislation stipulates the inmates would have 60 days after enactment to decide whether they want to accept their death sentence or change it to life without parole, he said.

...Richard Dieter, executive director of the Washington-based anti-death-penalty group Death Penalty Information Center, said repeal legislation has stalled in five states -- Colorado, Nebraska, Maryland, New Mexico and Montana. He said the rate of executions nationwide slowed to 128 in 2005, from more than 300 annually in the 1990s.

...Dieter, Kennis and sponsors of the repeal legislation said the death penalty is more expensive than imprisonment, has little effectiveness as a deterrent and risks the execution of innocent people. Kennis said more than half of all democratic, western governments have done away with it... (source: Bloomberg News)

"...recognition should go out to all of the exonerees -- those who served time on death row and the numerous New Jersey exonerees who had not been sentenced to death but endured years in prison despite their innocence. They spoke out repeatedly and courageously, met with legislators, and made the most powerful voices in the movement heard over and over again. According to Abe Bonowitz, exonerees were "instrumental" in this victory...With two more death-row exonerations in the past week, it's clear that the role innocence plays in our movement will remain critical as the death penalty moves closer to becoming a relic of the past.
Kurt Rosenberg

Blogging Celeste Fitzgerald December 13, 2007So the bill to repeal New Jersey's death penalty, save millions and millions of tax dollars, divert resources to programs that actually fight crime and help victims and along the way spare family members of murder victims the terrible anguish that years and years of endless appeals cause has finally passed.
So maybe it is an appropriate time to post something on the woman who, more than any other person, was responsible for this happening. Her name is Celeste Fitzgerald and she is the head of what one imagines could be a group without an office or a staff -- New Jerseyans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

We offer this column, which was in New Jersey's largest newspaper Thursday morning:
Chief repeal advocate says it's time to 'close up shop' Posted by Bob Braun December 13, 2007 10:21 AM 'She took the call early in the evening. It woke her up. "Sorry," said Celeste Fitzgerald, sleep in her voice. "I'm exhausted." 'See Blog for Dec 13 07

Send short comments by clicking below or sending to

Please also check back -- as soon as this New Jersey news has a brief chance to sink in -- for a multi-dimensional mini-journal on Journey of Hope--Texas--2007 by Robin Radford

Thanks for tuning in! Connie L. Nash

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ron Keine's report on Journey of Hope 2007

As my first JOH venture I didn't know what to expect. As I got off the plane, I was hoping that I wouldn't be speaking for 10 hours a day as I had for some other groups. I had expected Bill to just point me in the right direction and let me "have at them". I was there to work.

I had always a certain anxiety about going into the belly of the beast that is Texas. I was ready for both verbal and physical confrontations from the pro Death Penalty yokels. It was all for naught, None of that happened. One guy gave me Half of a peace sign but that was all.

I was happily surprised to find that we actually had time to bond with the other volunteers. I was equally happy to see our own people turning out in support of the designated speaker or speakers. I met a lot of really nice people who really cared for each other and were devoted to the task at hand. I made some new friends and I can say that I am proud of the whole group.

You may have noticed that when an exonoree speaks, he sometimes gets emotional. Some even start to sob as they relate their experience. You really have to have something terrible happen to you for you to do that. There was study done at a major University a few years ago. It was to apply electronic stimuli to areas of the brain to see if it could wake up latent memories. The expected result was positive but another reaction also realized. They found out that when you wake up a memory, you also wake up the way you were feeling at the time, what mood you were in. Was it a sunny day or a miserable one. Even smells and sounds were remembered.

This is what happens when an exonoree speaks. It puts him right back on" The Row" He relives his terrible ordeal again and again. The humility, degradation, embarrassment of it all. The indignity of preparing oneself to die for something they are innocent of. The thought of sitting in that cell for years waiting to die.

There are 125 Death Row exonorees as of this writing. Our home organization. Witness To Innocence, has been able to reach only about 30 or 40 of them. Some just won’t be involved. There are high instances of Alcohol, Drugs and Suicides. some we can’t even find as if they have dropped off the earth. Some are back in jail for some other charge. We have gleaned about 10 speakers from this group. Some do nothing more then tell people what happened to them. Some will rant and rave all day and night if allowed to do so. ( I get often accused of this). [NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: the accusations are, indeed, true]. But all of them, everyone of them, muster up the courage to get up there and take the corrupt justice system to task and let people know how it has failed them. No wonder we need a few beers after that.

All in all the JOH in Texas was a real experience. I will never forget speaking to a crowd at the Walls unit with a guard, displaying his M-16 machine gun behind me in a tower. This is the same guard who yelled at one of our guys for pausing to take a picture while crossing the street. I was fairly sure that guard did not own the street so it gave me great personal pleasure to stand right in the middle of that same street and give a speech. I thought he might yell at me, which I would have ignored, but was reasonably sure he wouldn't shoot me. At least not with all those people looking.

Shujaa and Greg give their best and will see many of you at the NCADP conference... in Jan Jose next month.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kristin Houle strikes again!

The amazing Kristin Houle,former AISUA PADP staff (shown to the right with Bill Pelke and Connie Nash) has been down in Texas for the past year or so, focusing on mental illness and the death penalty in her home state of Texas. Below is a link to her blog, as well as her summary of TCADP's recent report.

Today, on the 25th anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) released a report on the state of the death penalty in Texas in 2007. Texas
Death Penalty Developments: The Year in Review covers such information as executions, stays, and new death sentences; judicial and legislative activity; and other developments impacting the state's criminal justice system.

On December 7, 1982, Charlie Brooks was the first person executed by the State of Texas under its revised statute – and the first person executed by lethal injection. His execution ushered in a new era in which Texas emerged as the uncontested leader in the use of the death penalty in the United States.

The State of Texas accounted for 62% of all executions carried out in the United States this year (26 out of 42). Only nine other states carried out executions in 2007; none executed more than three people.

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2007: The Year in Review is available online at

Monday, December 10, 2007


Thank You, Texas Abolitionists! (submitted by Connie L. Nash)

Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty Report

Death Penalty Developments in 2007

Questions Regarding the Constitutionality of Lethal Injection Protocol

Year of Dramatic Developments in Nation's Most Active Death Penalty State

The State of Texas accounted for 62% of all executions that took place in the United States this year, according to a new report from theTexas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP), a statewide, grassroots organization based in Austin . Only a U.S. Supreme Court decision to hear a Kentucky case challenging the constitutionality of the current lethal injection protocol (Baze v. Rees) forced the state to put its death penalty apparatus on hold.

On December 7, 1982, Charlie Brooks was the first person executed by the State of Texas under its revised statute - and the first person executed by lethal injection. His execution ushered in a new era in which Texas emerged as the uncontested leader in the use of the death penalty in the United States .

"In a year when most other states proceeded cautiously with their administration of the death penalty, Texas continued to carry out executions at an alarming rate," said Bob Van Steenburg, Vice President ofTCADP. "The majority of our elected officials failed to recognize the many flaws that characterize the Texas death penalty system - flaws that include an unacceptable rate of error when it comes to convicting the innocent, a crime lab scandal that drew national attention, and continued questions regarding the quality and competency of defense counsel, both during the trial and appellate stage of capital cases. Twenty-five years ago, Texas carried out the firstexecution by lethal injection in the United States . Today we mark this somber occasion by acknowledgingtwenty five years of a fatally flawed process."

Fourteen DNA exonerations from Dallas County , the ongoing review of cases implicated by the Houston Police Department crime lab scandal, and investigations into potentially wrongful executions continued to raise questions about the reliability of the state's criminal justice system. Such concerns about the risk of error led the Dallas Morning News Editorial Board this past spring to reverse its more than 100-year-old position of supporting the death penalty and instead call for its complete abolition inTexas .

Here are some highlights of TCADP's report, Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2007:

· In 2007, the State of Texas accounted for 26 out of the 42 executions that took place in the United States . Only nine other states carried out executions in 2007; none executed more than three people.

· Harris County now accounts for 102 executions, more than any state in the country except Texas as a whole, which has carried out a total of 405 executions since 1982.

· Texas' last execution of the year took place on September 25, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Baze v. Rees. The appeal of Michael Richard was denied when the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Sharon Keller, failed to grant his attorneys a 20-minute extension to deliver the appropriate paper work. All scheduled executions - both in Texas and around the country -have since been stayed pending the outcome of Baze v.Rees.

· Seven inmates scheduled for execution in 2007received last-minute stays, due to concerns abouttheir possible innocence, the fairness of their trial,or issues related to lethal injection. The executionwarrant for an additional inmate was withdrawn afterthe discovery of suppressed evidence.

· According to data available from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the Office of Court Administration, 14 men were sentenced to death in Texas in 2007 (as of December 7). Over the last fiveyears, the number of new death sentences in Texas hasdeclined by approximately 50%, which mirrors national trends. The decline in new death sentences is particularly noteworthy in Harris County .

One person who was not executed as scheduled was Kenneth Foster, whose sentence was commuted to life inprison by Governor Rick Perry upon his receipt of arare recommendation for clemency from the Texas Boardof Pardons and Paroles. Foster had been convicted under the controversial law of parties for the 1996 murder of Michael LaHood, even though he was sitting in a car 80 feet away at the time of the crime. This was only the third such recommendation for clemency from the Board in 25 years, and the first such decision for Governor Perry in a case where the inmate faced imminent execution.

TCADP's report also recaps the activities of the Texas Legislature, including the passage of House Bill 8, which expands the scope of the death penalty to repeat child sex offenders. "In a year when numerous states gave serious consideration to abolishing the death penalty altogether, some in the Texas Legislature pursued a bill that actually ran counter to the wishes of victims' advocates and prosecutors throughout the state," said State Representative Dora Olivo (D-FortBend).

While efforts to improve the system met with mixed success in 2007, many remain optimistic about recent developments. "There is promise for the future as increasing numbers of Texans express concerns about the reliability, fairness, and morality of our state's death penalty system," said Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of the Catholic Diocese of Austin. "The Church truly looks forward to the day when our state embraces a culture of life."

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2007, The Year in Review, is now available online at

NOTE: If you (or any contacts you have) see stories covering any or all of this report in your local news, please write letters to the editor highlighting the lower death sentences and the continued need for reform of the capital punishment system through legislation in the Texas Legislature.

For Texas Folk (send to any you know!)

Membership Drive Contest:

The TCADP Membership Committee has announced a Membership Drive Contest,
with prizes offered to the individuals bringing in the greatest number of new members between September 1 and December 31, 2007 . Go to the TCADP home page for specific information and instuctions,

GRAND PRIZE (offered to the person who recruits the greatest number of new members, minimum to qualify for prize 10 new members): TWO FREE ADMISSIONS TO THE 2008 ANNUAL TCADP CONFERENCE IN HOUSTON WITH ONE (double room) FREE NIGHT IN THE CROWNE PLAZA HOUSTON WEST HOTEL DURING THE CONFERENCE (limited to hotel room cost only) .

RUNNER-UP PRIZE (offered to the person who recruits the second greatest number of new members, minimum to qualify for prize is 6 new members): TWO FREE ADMISSIONSTO THE 2008 ANNUAL CONFERENCE IN HOUSTON.

APPRECIATION AWARD (offered to the person who recruits the third greatest number of new members, minimum to qualify for prize 4 new members): ONE FREE ADMISSION TO THE 2008 ANNUAL CONFERENCE IN HOUSTON.

TEXAS REPORT Short Version December 2007

The day of the 25th anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP) released a report on the state of the death penalty in Texas in 2007.

Texas Death Penalty Developments: The Year in Review covers such information as executions, stays, and new death sentences; judicial and legislative activity; and other developments impacting the state's criminal justice system.

On December 7, 1982, Charlie Brooks was the first person executed by the State of Texas under itsrevised statute – and the first person executed by lethal injection. His execution ushered in a new era (for) Texas which emerged as the uncontested leader in the use of the death penalty in the United States.

The State of Texas accounted for 62% of all executions carried out in the United States this year (26 out of 42). Only nine other states carried out executions in 2007; none executed more than three people.

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2007: The Year inReview is available online at

Texas Death Penalty Developments in 2007 (PDF) as shown by search engine -- anniversary of the resumption of executions in Texas –- and the nation's ... 2709 S. Lamar Blvd. Austin, TX 78704 (512) 441-1808.

( Longer plain text version to follow )

NOTE: The short Texas Report and the following were submitted kindly by our JOH family member, Kristin Houle, of Texas. She is focusing on prevention -- which is a much ignored area. We hope to have more on Kristin and her important work down the road. Here's a start:

Mental illness and the death penalty Go to:

Then click on the fact sheet and resource guide for pdf files of the main documents. I also have attached one of the case studies I developed for the packet

Kristin Houle


A Note from Capital Defense Weekly

Karl Keys Report sent this item December 10, 2007

December 7, 2007 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first lethal injection in the USA. The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty has released its year end report for Texas which cites a slight uptick in the number of executions there, a slight rise in new death sentences, and Jack Stoffregen being hired to lead the newly-created West Texas Regional Public Defender for Capital Murder Cases, representing 85 counties in West Texas.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Journey of Hope 2007 Photos

Journey of Hope participant since its inception, Charlie King - singer/songwriter extraordinare, performs for a group of Journey participants and the Amnesty International school group at Rice University.

The Journey of Hope was honored to welcome to this year's event - Mr. Ko, who traveled to Texas all the way from Seoul, South Korea.

Mr. Ko is a murder victim family member whose his mother, wife, and children were murdered by a serial killer. Through prayer and struggle, Mr. Ko came to forgive the man who killed his family and has corresponded with him.

Accompanying Mr. Ko were a film crew from SBS (Seoul Broadcasting System), and several from a Catholic prison ministry group.

On the left-hand side of this paper is the phonetic translation of the lyrics for "We Shall Overcome", into the Korean language. The song is well-known throughout South Korea. Journey participants would sing the song with a verse in English and then a verse in Korean. The use of song and music was an effective and light-hearted way to bridge the language barrier between those who spoke English and those who spoke Korean.

On the right-hand side of this paper is the lyrics to Charlie King's song "Step by Step".

Sunday, November 25, 2007



© 2007, Charlie King, Pied Asp Music (BMI)

Saddam Hussein is falling through space

With a prayer on his lips and fear in his face

Deep in the Green Zone they savor sweet release

In mortal defiance he drops through the air

While soldiers like pit bulls baiting a bear

Make him by contrast the hero of the piece

The White House can claim one more mission complete

Iraqis in Michigan dance in the street

Shiites in Baghdad are lynched - eyes for an eye

The body count surges, the war blunders on

They look for a leader who’s ruthless and strong

Like the one they just hung, which begs the question “Why?”

Why do we never grow weary of this?

Condemned by the world or betrayed by a kiss

Guilty or innocent, hit or miss

And who will be next on the gallows?

From bunk beds and ceiling fans, rafters and shelves

Copycat children are hanging themselves

As if it’s a game. Watch what they do.

They do what they watch without judgment or hope

The heart of this world at the end of its rope

Twisting in circles, learning that it’s all true

[harp break - chorus]

Bridge: Idi Amin died at home in his bed

Pinochet passed away old and well fed

When Franco was buried a hero, Nixon sent flowers.

Yeah, Saddam is guilty but please keep in mind

We paid for his sins till he stepped out of line

We’ll support any son of a bitch, but he’s got to be ours

And when will we ever grow weary of this?

The extravagant hand or the merciless fist

You play by our rules or you cease to exist

And who will be next on the gallows?


Quadaffi, Lozada, Uribe

Mugabe, Kissinger, Duvalier

Cheney, Gonzales, Negroponte

Who will be next on the gallows?


NOTE: Charlie was with us on the Texas Journey of Hope 2007 -- our faithful, funny and challenging troubadour -- not to mention a song-writing genius in my opinion. I think he said this JOH was the premiere for this song? In light of all the killing --plenty in the name of Americans -- and plenty to be batted around at various conferences, events and political/congressional gatherings and perhaps decided this coming week -- we at JOH have a few things to say -- especially Charlie with this particular abolition song.

Thanks, Charlie!

Thanks for tuning in...look for more of Charlie's lyrics and how to buy his CDs here.

Also, look soon for a report by Bill Pelke from Italy!

Connie L. Nash

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Common Thread

Sent by Lisa Rhea, President and Founder of
The Justice & Reconciliation Project (JRP) who was with us on the Texas 2007 JOH

Greetings. I wanted to share with you an experience I had in Houston, Texas some days ago. I was honored to join with a victims-led group called the Journey of Hope. The Journey is (partly) comprised of victims of violent crime opposed to the death penalty. Each victim has a story to tell---stemming from their own personal pain of living through violent crime in America. Each has had a loved one murdered. Extraordinary stories. The Journey of Hope takes its message of hope to one state each year. They bring victims, and other activists, into the state for a 2-3 week period to tell their stories.

No matter your personal opinion of the death penalty in the U.S. you are compelled to listen to these stories. There are many organizations around the U.S. that speak out against the death penalty but organizations like Journey of Hope, Murder Victims for Reconciliation and Murder Victims for Human Rights stand alone as they represent those most directly impacted by violent crime: the victims' families.

I also learned (again) something that I believe I have known for some time -- that these victims of violent crime support restorative justice as a means to bring forth systemic reform in the U.S. Some of victims of violent crime I met on the Journey included Marietta Jaeger Lane of Montana, Bud Welch of Oklahoma, Bill Pelke of Alaska, Renny Cushing of Massachusetts, and Bill Lucero of Kansas. (Each)cruelly injured by violent crime but somehow coming out the other side experiencing some kind of peace, some kind of healing. Each agreeing with the other that no one should take a life "for them" in the name of their murdered loved one.

I also had the great privilege of meeting Sister Helen Prejean who perhaps is best known as the ministering nun in -Dead Man Walking- the book she wrote
as the spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, a death row inmate in Louisiana. The book later became a film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon.

Again, the encouraging news for me, apart from meeting these victims and Sister Helen, is that there is a common thread that runs through the experiences
of the victims on the Journey and the work that we do with victims at JRP. That thread is the need for reform that acknowledges that the U.S. criminal justice system is broken. I have said that often over my years of working in this field. And surprising to me, many do not like to hear that fact. But those who are victims of violent crime know better. Those who are the family members of offenders know that the system is broken as well. Often these two groups of affected "camps" do not work together. But on the Journey they often do.

Others I met during this brief period with the Journey included three men who had been on death row but had been exonerated. Greg Wilhoit of California, Ron Keine of Pennsylvania, and Shujaa Graham of Maryland had their stories to tell as well. Each convicted of murder and each innocent. Astounding stories. They had come together with the victims of violent crime to talk about justice. Their stories like those of the victims are based on what has occurred in their lives--- not their opinions, not data, and not polling numbers. But the fact is there are wrongful convictions. There are so many cases of exonerated inmates that it is easy to lose count. There have been 208 people exonerated, to date, by DNA alone, according to the Innocence Project, 15 on death row. A more stunning fact is knowing that all three of these men were on death row. Perhaps it is easy to read newspaper articles on this reality but it is another thing to meet such individuals in person.

I am more convinced than ever that something is changing in our American justice system. It is through the voices of the victims that change will occur. We must listen. To learn more about the Journey of Hope and to read the stories of the victims, go to

Best regards,

Lisa M. Rea
President and Founder

The Justice & Reconciliation Project (JRP)
telephone: 530-368-2026
mailing address: P.O. Box 2051, Loomis, CA 95650 U.S.A.

Quick note from Connie (whom Sister Helen nicknamed "scribe" for this time's Texas Journey) We suddenly have lots of photos to work with, so look for pictures to flesh out these blogs soon. Now we are looking for more stories...I just heard from Uganda--Our JOH Edward, "vindicated" from Uganda Death Row. (To use a term I learned on this JOH from the released). Edward says he's weak but recovering and thankful for our care.)

Monday, November 19, 2007

BILL and the Vatican Monday November 19, 2007

Sending this from Bill--so appropos right now with the Global work against the Death Penalty and at least one of us-- if not several of our Journey of Hope (JOH) folk-abolition-moratorium folk-- in Italy right now! Hope we all hear more on that trip soon. Soon we should have some old and new photos to post related to the Vatican and also plenty more from Texas "Journey" 2007... Please send me your items, photos, etc.

Edward - Mgagi- Edmary of Uganda will have more to say about these events/issues as well whether or not he was able to make these events in Italy.

Connie L. Nash


Bill Pelke

One cold December day in 1998 I received a call from Sergio D’Elia. Sergio was the director of Hands off Cain in Italy, an organization working for worldwide abolition of the death penalty. He had been on the Texas Journey a few months earlier when we marched to the State Capital in Austin behind our 24-foot Journey of Hope banner.

Sergio wanted some members of the Journey of Hope to come to Italy with our banner and lead a march to the Vatican on Christmas morning when the Pope would deliver his annual worldwide address. The purpose of the march was to ask the Pope to make a statement about the death penalty.

Kathy Harris and I flew to Rome with the Journey banner about a week before Christmas. Kathy and I did numerous interviews encouraging people to join the march. The Paula Cooper case was still very familiar on the minds of many Italians.

It was quite impressive to walk down the streets of Rome and see posters all over advertising the march to the Vatican.

Christmas day was quite an affair, beginning early in the morning as thousands gathered at a square called DA Campo Dei Fiori a San Pietro. Gordano Bruno, a philosopher, was burned at the stake in 1600 as a heretic at this square.

Several people spoke and a quartet of women sang. Kathy and Barbara Bacci, one of the organizers read the names of the one hundred and fifty men on the Texas death row who had written the Pope, asking to be remembered in prayers. I spoke about the death penalty and the importance of the international community in helping to bring about the worldwide abolition of it. Sam Reese Sheppard and Rev. Melodee Smith were to arrive before the march, but a flight delay made them miss the rally and march.

As the march toward Vatican began, the twenty-four-foot Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing banner led the march. Behind us were people carrying the flags of over one hundred cities. The mayor of Rome marched with us. According to the evening news there were as many as seven thousand people on our march to the Vatican.

When we arrived at the Vatican, there were already about thirty thousand gathered to hear the Pope’s annual Christmas address. We joined in with the crowd. Thousands more arrived before Pope John Paul II began to read his prepared speech. He suddenly stopped his reading and made mention of those who had marched to the Vatican protesting the death penalty. He thanked the organizers of the march and those who participated in it.

The purpose of the march was to ask the Pope to make a statement about the death penalty and John Paul II did just that. For the first time publicly, he called for worldwide abolition of the death penalty. He said that is was cruel and unnecessary. The crowd applauded his words.


PS Bill and others (Sister Helen too!)have some more old and newer notes on this experience and on the phrase that the death penalty "is/was cruel and unnecessary" which we hope to get to this blog soon.


For any who may not have seen mine, David's or others on the Global Moratorium, here's some great news & a wise comment:

And the sky did not fall November 15, 2007
This just popped up in my email box from Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights.

The United Nations General Assembly just passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions! The vote was 99 in Favor, 52 Against and 33 Abstentions. Another step toward a world without the death penalty!

Of course, we shouldn't abolish the death penalty because the U.N. says we should or France or Germany or Canada say we should. We should abolish it because it is flawed public policy.

(Posted by David Elliot on NCADP Blog...well worth reading often!

Coming--more items from or related to issues, people active in the Journey of Hope and their exeriences.

Thanks for tuning in--tell others about this blog, will you? Send them the url.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

This 'n that after the Journey

Hello, glad you tuned in. Here is the first blog we're submitting since the Journey of Hope, Texas, 2007, ended recently. David's name may come up each time for awhile because of the technical set-up. Please bear with me as I get used to doing these blogs. The first may be a bit rough. Also, I'm not yet adept at how to do some of the photos, attachments. Connie L. Nash

First, here's a wonderful collection of photos with an article. All who were with us will love this reminder & for others, it's quite a bird's eye view into this recent Journey:

Here's a brief note from Jim (of Carter and Jim--steadfast friends who were with us on the Journey).

Carter and Lilly Flores have a son, Charles, on death row in Texas. Charles under the Law of Parties, a Texas law. An elder at the Edgefield Iglesia de Cristo Church in Dallas. Carter is active with the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and the Dallas Chapter of Amnesty International USA. See the indymedia url above for a photo of Carter.

Jim and his wife Susan--the Ulrichs--have been long-time friends of several death row inmates and close friends of the Flores. Jim helped the Flores son, Charles, in the writing of his book -Warrior Within- a personal account of his story and of life on Texas death row.

This short piece is from Jim:

I attached a picture of a headstone I found on our visit to Huntsville.

Carter was with me. I knew the man through my wife who was his penpal. I read his letters and have his artwork. He didn't have an execution date when Sue went down to visit charlie and calvin. when she got there she was told calvin wasn't in the unit. come to find out he'd died of an anurism the week before. Sue contacted his sister, who was also in prison, and went to visit her. Within a year, his sister died of the same thing! Calvin was in the midst of making the illustrations for a children's story book.

Carter noticed I was reflecting on Calvin's grave, so I joined with him in prayer for calvin. He held my hand. It had to be difficult for Carter to console me in my grief for Calvin and for Sue in the very place where he wants least to be reminded of what is likely to happen to his own son. But he thanked me for telling the story of Calvin. Through my friendship with Carter and the family I've gotten just a little bit of the experience of the victims in the circle of the condemned. Pray that I don't get a lot more of that experience.

jim ulrich

See Jim's attached photo

There is more on Carter & his son's case below:

More on Charles Flores book (written with Jim):

Great news on Edward--who's full name is Mpagi Edward Edmary. Edward's now finally in full health--having suffered an unexpected and quite serious ailment as soon as arriving with us at the JOH in Texas. This continued to be problematic for him throughout the Journey. Right after the Journey ended, he had outpatient surgery and then shortly afterwards another hospital procedure. He's also now happily back home in Uganda where he works with inmates, their families and their children--especially in the areas of education and forgiveness.

For any who don't know about Edward, he spent 18 years on Uganda's death row although the man he allegedly murdered showed up alive three years before he was finally released. More on Edward and the Global Moratorium Campaign soon. Or if you are interested, email me for more information.

Look for a Bill Pelke's piece next. Bill is our founder-visionary, director and ongoing inspiration. He's not bad at stories either.

Send your items, comments or questions to Connie Nash