We will also hold a press conference inside the Capitol at 12:30pm in the Speaker’s Committee Room (2W.6).
Speakers at the march and/or the press conference include:
Bill Pelke, Murder Victim Family Member President and Cofounder of Journey of Hope
Bill authored a book entitled Journey of Hope…From Violence to Healing, which details the May 14, 1985 murder of his grandmother Ruth Elizabeth 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. Bill originally supported 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. He became involved with an international crusade on Paula’s behalf and in 1989 her sentenced was commuted to sixty years in prison. Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the death penalty. He has shared his story of love and compassion and the healing power of forgiveness thousands of times in more than forty states and fifteen countries with the Journey.
Ami Lyn White, Murder Victim Family Member
Ami remembers being told that her mother, Cathy, was murdered when she was five. She speaks to the pain and despair that she felt then and in the years since. She recognizes that “those on death row and those who are executed have families too, those family members, those children experience the same kind of pain and devastation that I felt. To me, the most premeditated murder of all is the death penalty. It only creates more victims, more heartache, more pain.”
Reverend Dr. Jack Sullivan, Jr, Murder Victim Family Member
Dr Sullivan is the Senior Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Findlay, OH. He recently completed service as Executive Director of Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), the nation’s largest victims’ families-led antideath penalty organization. Dr. Sullivan’s life and leadership have been forever influenced by the 1997 murder of his younger sister, Jennifer. In the traumatic days, weeks and months that followed Jennifer’s untimely death, his family steadfastly rejected any notion that the killer(s) be sentenced to death if apprehended. No one was ever arrested in Jennifer’s death,
Delia Perez-Meyer – sister of TX DR prisoner Louis Castro Perez
Terri Been – Sister of TX DR prisoner Jeff Wood
Sandra Reed – Mother of TX DR prisoner Rodney Reed
Marie Brignac – Representing Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement
Yancy Escobar – wife of TX DR prisoner Juan Balderas
Ty Cassell – 10 yr old abolitionist from Houston
Alisa Hernandez – President of Amnesty International – UT
Marilyn Shankle-Grant – Mother of TX DR prisoner Paul Storey
Shujaa Graham – Exonerated Death Row Survivor, Murder Victim Family Member Social Activist, Member of Witness to Innocence
As a teenager, Shujaa lived through the Watts riots and experienced the police occupation of his community. In and out of trouble, he spent much of his adolescent life in juvenile institutions, until at age 18, he was sent to Soledad Prison. He came of age, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. He taught himself to read and write, studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the Black Panther Party and growing movement within the California prison system. In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard. As a recognized leader within and without the prison, the community became involved in his defense, and supported him through 4 trials. Shujaa and his co-defendant, Eugene Allen, were sent to San Quentin’s death row in 1976, after a second trial in San Francisco. The DA systematically excluded all African American jurors, and in 1979, the California Supreme Court overturned the death conviction. After spending three years on death row, Shujaa, continued to fight for his life. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and after a fourth trial, he was found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence despite the system.
George White – Murder Victim Family Member, Wrongfully Convicted Exoneree, Chairman of the Board, Journey Ambassador and Cofounder of JOH
On February 27, 1985 in Enterprise, Al, George and his wife, Char, experienced firsthand the insanity of murder when a masked gunman entered his office and shot the pair repeatedly during an armed robbery. A horrific, twisted nightmare began and lasted for more than seven years as George went from a survivor of a violent crime and husband of a murder victim, to a suspect, accused, indigent defendant facing the death penalty, convicted murderer sentenced to life, and innocent man exonerated. Convicted in1987, the conviction was overturned in 1989 but it took until 1992 to uncover and confront the prosecution with the proof of his innocence and a judge ordered that the charge be forevermore dismissed, exonerating him. George speaks of his own often torturous journey from violence and hatred to healing. “I believe society’s laws must offer relief for our pain, anger and loss and afford us protection from those who would harm us; however, I reject the death penalty as a failed solution not only to heal the wounds of our loss, but as bad public policy, morally, socially and economically. Together, let us find a better way.”
Bill Babbitt –Brother of an Executed Man
Bill Babbitt once supported the death penalty. He also really trusted in the police, but when he realized that his brother, Manny, could possibly be involved in the death of an elderly woman he was filled with anguish and fear that if he contacted the police, they or the state of California might kill the brother he dearly loved. Manny Babbitt, a decorated Marine, had brought the horror of war home with him after two tours in Vietnam. He was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Bill convinced himself to place his trust in the justice system and that it would recognize the reality of his brother’s mental illness. Manny would be held accountable and receive the psychological help that he needed. Bill literally led the police to his brother believing that justice would be served and Manny would get the help he needed. Bill was certain the state would not kill his little brother. He was wrong. Bill Babbitt was present at San Quentin prison when at one minute after midnight on May 4th, 1999 the state of California executed Manny.
With spoken word by Houston artist Kamil Khan!
MC: Lily Hughes
Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing, an organization led by murder victim family members that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty, will be at the 18th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 28, 2017 in Austin, Texas. Pictured above Journey members hold a banner at the march in 2011.
Journey “storytellers” come from all walks of life and represent the full spectrum and diversity of faith, color and economic situation. They are real people who know first-hand the aftermath of the insanity and horror of murder. They recount their tragedies and their struggles to heal as a way of opening dialogue on the death penalty in schools, colleges, churches and other venues.
The Journey spotlights murder victim’s family members who choose not to seek revenge, and instead select the path of love and compassion for all of humanity. Forgiveness is seen as strength and as a way of healing. The greatest resources of the Journey are the people who are a part of it.
Bill, a retired steelworker, has dedicated his life to working for abolition of the death penalty. He shares his story of love and compassion and the healing power of forgiveness. Pelke has traveled to over forty states and fifteen countries with the Journey of Hope and has told his story thousands of times.
Manny, the recipient of a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam, was a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He had been tried and convicted for the murder of an elderly woman who had died of a heart attack after a break-in and beating.
When Bill realized that his brother could possibly be involved in the woman’s death, he contacted the police and helped them arrest his brother. In return, the police promised Bill that Manny would receive the psychological help that he needed and that they would help see that Manny would not receive the death penalty. Bill felt certain that when confronted with the reality of Manny’s mental illness, the justice system would hand down a fair sentence but avoid death. He was wrong.
The Babbitt family was too poor to afford good counsel. Manny’s first lawyer took their money and then dropped the case. The second, a court-appointed attorney, refused to allow blacks on the jury, drank heavily during the trial and was later disbarred and sued for racism.
Today Bill speaks out regularly against the death penalty.
After the anonymous Unabomber demanded in 1995 that his manifesto, titled “Industrial Society and Its Future”, be published in a major newspaper as a condition for ceasing his mail-bomb campaign, the New York Times and the Washington Post both published the manifesto, hoping somebody would recognize the writing style of the author.
David recognized Ted’s writing style, and notified authorities. On April 3, 1996, police arrested Ted Kaczynski in his quiet rural shack in Lincoln, Montana.
David had received assurance from the FBI that his identity as the informant would be kept secret, but his name was leaked to the media. In addition, he sought a guarantee from federal prosecutors that Ted would receive appropriate psychiatric evaluation and treatment. The Justice Department’s subsequent active pursuit of the death penalty for Ted and attorney general Janet Reno’s initial refusal to accept a plea bargain in exchange for a life sentence was seen as a betrayal by David and other Kaczynski family members, and motivated David to become an anti-death penalty activist.
In 2001, David Kaczynski was named executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, a coalition of individuals and organizations who seek abolition of capital punishment. He regularly speaks against the death penalty. He is often alongside Bill Babbitt, who was present at San Quentin prison when at one minute after midnight on May 4th, 1999 the state of California executed his brother, Manny Babbitt. Kaczynski has repeatedly said that if it were not for his family’s financial ability to hire competent counsel, his brother, like Manny Babbitt, most likely would have received the death penalty. Instead, Ted Kaczynski received life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Terri heard about a group protesting the death penalty at the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. and decided to meet those fighting to abolish the death penalty. Terri began her own journey to save Justin’s life. She has spoken on many occasions with the Journey of Hope, including during our 2009 Germany tour.
Jack O’Connell and Laura Dern have been set to star in Trial by Fire, a fact-based drama that Ed Zwick will direct. Oscar-winning Precious scribe Geoffrey Fletcher wrote the script, adapted from the 2009 article in The New Yorker that won David Grann the Polk Award. Zwick will produce through his Bedford Falls banner with Flashlight Films’ Allyn Stewart & Kipp Nelson, and Alex Soros, the latter of whom is financing. Production is set to begin October 2 in Atlanta. Kathryn Dean and Marshall Herskovitz are exec producing and film sales will be represented by Cinetic Media and CAA.
O’Connell stars as Cameron Todd Willingham, a poor, uneducated heavy metal devotee with a violent streak and a criminal record. Convicted of triple homicide in the arson deaths of his three small children, Willingham spent 12 years on death row. Dern co-stars as Elizabeth Gilbert, a Texas housewife who forms an unlikely bond with Willingham and, though facing staggering odds, fights magnificently for his freedom on the basis he was wrongly convicted.Zwick said he and Stewart separately
chased Grann’s story when it was published eight years ago and decided to team. It has been an uphill battle to get this one made, but a number of elements came together all at the right time. “From the moment I read David’s brilliant reporting eight years ago, I have been possessed by this deeply moving, true story of injustice,” Zwick told Deadline. “David Grann has been one of these caught-in-the-roller-of-his-typewriter guys, quietly doing great work, and now all these wonderful things are happening with his stories being made into movies, from Killers of the Flower Moon to the Robert Redford piece Old Man and the Gun. The story was all there, with these two compelling characters. It is a remarkable story about people. Not just capital punishment but justice, which is a very important word right now. It has to have that pull to keep you pushing it up the hill this many years.”
I asked Zwick why it took so long. “You’ve heard the story at the end of the year from everyone who gets up on that podium and talks about how hard it is,” he said. “The good ones just take longer. I’ve been lucky enough to make movies I care about, and they become increasingly smaller targets that you hit at greater distances. Every year a couple manage to get through that crucible, but it’s harder and harder. We got close a couple of times, but it came down to not being able to get the right actor or financier. Ten years ago, after I completed Blood Diamond, I got involved with Global Witness, an organization that was very good to me. They asked would I go on the board, and it was there that I met Alex Soros. We sat working together for this organization for 10 years; he’s not in the film business, but he followed my travails in trying to get this movie made. Finally, he said maybe I could get involved with you to do this.”
Stewart, who with Nelson produced Sully, called Trial by Fire “more than a provocative account of prosecutorial abuse, an incredibly emotional story about how a single act of kindness can change two lives forever.”
Texas Moratorium Network (TMN) is a non-profit organization with the primary goal of mobilizing statewide support for a moratorium on executions in Texas. Significant death penalty reform in Texas, including a moratorium on executions, is a viable goal if the public is educated on the death penalty system and is encouraged to contact their elected representatives to urge passage of moratorium legislation.
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