Monday, September 15, 2008

Montana Journey of Hope
October 2-11, 2008

Friends of the Journey,

Please pray for and support the Montana Journey of Hope. Dozens of people are investing hundred of hours and thousands of dollars in the hope that the Journey will help turn the tide for abolition in Montana this October.

Montana came close in their most recent legislative session. They almost beat New Jersey in becoming the first state to repeal the death penalty.

Montana Abolition Coalition (MAC) Coordinator Jennifer Kirby stated, “In 2007, Montana made history when the Montana Senate voted to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life without the possibility of parole. Though the bill failed by a single vote in the House Committee, the success in the legislature showed that we are on the verge of victory. The Montana Abolition Coalition is seizing the opportunity and the momentum to abolish the death penalty in the 2009 legislative session.

The Coalition recognizes the need to bring together murder victims’ family members, exonerees, and death row families, and have them share their stories with the public.
So that is why the Coalition has invited Journey of Hope to Montana. We hope the Journey will change minds and help expand the support for abolition. We know that the speakers have the power to win us votes in the legislature.”

Notice she said, “The speakers have the power.”

Who are the speakers and what power do they have?

The Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing is led by murder victims’ family members. Ten of the twenty speakers will be murder victim family members. Speaking in teams of two, each family member will be joined by someone who has a personal death row story.

Marietta Jaeger Lane will lead the Montana Journey of Hope. Marietta, a JOH board member, is also a co-founder of the Journey. She is also a board member of MAC. Marietta’s 7-year-old daughter, Susie, was kidnapped and murdered during a family vacation to Montana in 1973. Marietta has told her amazing story of forgiveness and God’s grace around the world.

Marietta is joined by Journey of Hope cofounder George White. George has told audiences in at least ten countries how his wife, Charlene, died in his arms after both were shot in an armed robbery. Even though George was shot three times during the robbery, he was arrested 16 months later for the murder of his wife. George was wrongly convicted and the state of Alabama sought the death penalty. George said he was “lucky”; he only got life. George says he knows for sure an innocent man can be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.
Bud Welch is another speaker of world renown. His daughter, Julie, was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Bud befriended the family of Timothy McVeigh and campaigned to stop his execution. He referred to the execution as “a staged public event.”

Art Laffin lives at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington DC. A long time peace activist, Art, and other members of his family, were able to forgive the mentally ill homeless man who killed his brother, Paul, in 1999.

Bess Klassen-Landis tells how why she, and her two sisters don’t want the death penalty for the person who murdered their mother, Helen, in 1969. Bess was 13 years old

Eddie Hicks helped lead the victims’ movement in New Jersey toward abolition. This was a critical element of NJ’s strategic plan for their successful repeal effort last year. Eddie, a retired firefighter, is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and past president of the Atlantic City Chapter of the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters. He lost his oldest daughter, Jamila, to murder in 2000.

We have Ron Carlson joining us. Karla Faye Tucker killed Ron’s sister, Deborah. He forgave her, befriended her, and worked unsuccessfully to have her death sentence commuted. He also witnessed her execution.

Reverend Walt Everett and his wife Nancy are coming from Pennsylvania. Walt forgave and befriended the killer of his son, Scott.

Each of these speakers and others will be addressing the common claim that there should be a death penalty because of the pain suffered by the victims’ families. Audiences, after hearing these powerful stories of forgiveness, will have a new answer to the questions, “How would you feel if someone killed your loved one? Wouldn’t you want the death penalty?” They will be able to respond by saying, as Susan Sarandon did after hearing Marietta’s story, “I would want to have the attitude of a Marietta Jaeger.”

Many of our speakers have been told at one point or another, “You must not have loved your family member very much if you don’t want the ultimate penalty for the killer.” That is painful to hear, but we know we are saying and doing the right thing. We know our stance honors our lost loved ones.

There is real power when people see forgiveness in action. There is real power in these voices calling for non-violence and healing. The healing power of forgiveness is God’s grace in action.

But that is only one part of the Journey. Five of our speakers were sentenced to death in states around our country for crimes they didn’t commit.

Juan Melendez spent 17 years on death row in Florida. Shujaa Graham was on death row in California. Ron Keine was on New Mexico’s death row. Greg Wilhoit and Curtis McCarty were death row in Oklahoma. All were falsely convicted and sentenced to die. It took DNA, persistence, faith, luck and other scientific evidence to prove their innocence.

These are five powerful stories. We do make mistakes. Make no mistake about it. When it comes to the death penalty there is no room for mistakes. To date 129 men and women across this country have been exonerated after being sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit. Thank God they were able to prove their innocence before they were executed.

Some people say these exonerations prove the system works. Each of the exonerees will tell you that they were not saved by the system but in spite of the system.

We have four journey speakers who have stories to tell about a family member on death row. Bill Babbitt talks about how they executed his brother, Manny, a mentally ill Vietnam veteran. Cece McWee will talk about how she watched helplessly as the state of South Carolina executed her son, Robert. Delia Perez Meyer will talk about her brother Louis. Terri Steinburg will talk about her son, Justin. Each speaker shares with their audiences what death row families go through.

These personal stories put a human face on the issue of the death penalty. People become aware of the humanity of death row inmates and realize that they are not the monsters the media portrays them to be. They realize that executions create another grieving family.

David Kaczynski, brother of Unabomber Ted, is the Director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. David led the effort in New York to keep the death penalty from being put back on the books. He turned in his brother when he realized it was Ted who wrote the infamous Manifesto. The Federal death penalty was sought after he was arrested in Montana.

Several major organizations like the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International, and Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation, and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights – have been Journey supporters for many years.

Now we need your support too. Please pray for us and, if you can, do what our friend Steve Earle calls “checkbook activism.” Write the Journey a check. Or visit the Journey of Hope web site and make a secure online donation.

Help us bring abolition to Montana and the rest of the world.

The real power is in your hands.

Bill Pelke

Sister Helen Prejean

“The Journey of Hope witnesses get on the road and tell their stories. That is what changes hearts. That’s why the Journey of Hope is so needed all across this land.

The movement to end the death penalty gained special credibility and life when murder victims families began to be the witnesses. You have people on this Journey of Hope led by Bill Pelke, Bud Welch, and others who have been there. The great thing that they give us is that they expose the illusion and deep political manipulation by those who have pressed murder victim’s families for the death penalty.

We tell the stories because people’s hearts have to change and be moved, but unless we bring them over to the other side to open up room for compassion, those feelings of outrage are so strong and so insistent that they beat down every other kind of argument or fact that you try to bring them because they keep thinking “What about the victims?” “What about the victims?” That is why we have victim’s families take you through their journey. Nothing can be stronger than that.

How do we change hearts? We have a Journey of Hope and we get people on the road. It is a very sacrificial thing to do something like this. It is hard. It takes dedication and it takes love from the victims family members to keep telling their stories over and over again.

Let us put our energies with theirs, it’s the least we can do. Everybody should become an associate of the Journey of Hope and do whatever you can to support the Journey financially. Your contribution is appreciated to help turn death states into life states.”

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