by Andrew Welsh-Huggins
posted in the Miami Herald
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Bruce Graham was driving to Cincinnati one day in June 1983 when he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker carrying a red gas can. The traveler, Michael Beuke, pulled out a gun, ordered Graham to drive him to a secluded area, then shot him as soon as Graham stopped the car.
Almost three decades later, as Beuke faces execution next month for a related fatal shooting, Graham has forgiven his attacker and wants him spared.
"I do not think one more life taken at this point would solve anything," Graham said in a letter to the Ohio Parole Board earlier this month.
It's rare, but not unheard of, for family members of murder victims to ask for mercy for condemned killers. Graham's is a more unusual gesture, in part because few victims of condemned inmates survive to make such requests.
Graham says he came to his conclusion after meeting Beuke face-to-face in prison last month.
"I wanted to know if he was reformed and had been rehabilitated," Graham said in his letter. "After meeting him and seeing him in person, I could tell he was sincere in his apology."
Relatives of Beuke's other victims aren't so forgiving. Susan Craig, whose husband, Robert, was shot and killed by Beuke June 1, 1983, said he took away her best friend.
"Michael Beuke should not be granted clemency," she told the parole board. "He should never be allowed to walk with people again."
Gregory Wahoff, who also survived an attack by Beuke but was seriously wounded, spent the rest of his life mostly paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He died in 2006 at age 51. His widow, JoAnn Walhoff, told the board Beuke shouldn't be spared.
The board ruled unanimously against mercy for Beuke, saying the brutality of his crimes outweighed his personal and spiritual growth behind bars.
Graham, of Rising Sun, Ind., has an unlisted phone number and did not respond to a letter seeking comment.
Several Roman Catholic ministers and other prison volunteers say Beuke is a changed man who has become a model prisoner and is extremely remorseful for his crimes.
Gov. Ted Strickland has the final say for Beuke, who is scheduled to die May 13.
In Florida, SueZann Bosler fought against the death sentence that James Campbell received for stabbing to death her father, the Rev. Billy Bosler, in 1986. Campbell also stabbed SueZann Bosler five times but she survived by playing dead. Campbell's death sentence was overturned and he's now serving life in prison.
Bosler, 47, knew her father was opposed to capital punishment and had once told her if he were murdered he wouldn't want a death sentence for his killer.
Though she fought for his release from death row, Bosler said it took several years to truly feel she forgave Campbell. She felt unexpected freedom when she did.
"I was finally letting myself live life again after that moment," said Bosler, of Hollywood, Fla.
Many family members of murder victims forgive perpetrators to let go of their anger and move on with their lives, said Beth Wood, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.
That doesn't always mean they oppose a death sentence, since people differ over how to hold perpetrators accountable, Wood said.
For people like Graham and Bosler, "What distinguishes them is they don't understand how the death penalty is going to fulfill any of their needs," Wood said.
In Indiana in the 1980s, Bill Pelke led successful efforts to spare Paula Cooper, sentenced to die for stabbing Pelke's grandmother to death in her Gary home in 1985.
In Illinois, sisters of murder victim Nancy Bishop Langert pushed to abolish the death penalty. In Texas, relatives of Andrew Lastrapes Jr. unsuccessfully opposed the 2004 execution of his killer, Dominique Green.
In Ohio in 2002, family members of Emily Murray, a Kenyon College student shot by a pizza shop co-worker, asked unsuccessfully that her killer receive a life sentence to spare the family further pain.
In 2009, Strickland spared Jeffrey Hill, who robbed and killed his mother in a cocaine-induced rage, after Hill's relatives pleaded for mercy.