Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing is an organization led by murder victim family members that conducts public education speaking tours and addresses alternatives to the death penalty. At least 8 of them will attend the 16th Annual March to Abolish the Death Penalty on October 24, 2015 at the Texas Capitol at 2 PM.

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 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.
Pelke 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 successfully involved in an international crusade on Paula’s behalf and in 1989 her sentenced was commuted to sixty years in prison. Over 2 million people from Europe, mostly Italy, signed petitions that Paula be removed from death row.  Pope John Paul II requested mercy from Indiana authorities for Paula. Paula was taken off of death row in 1989 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 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.

As a survivor of a violent crime, husband of a murder victim, suspect, accused, indigent defendant, convicted murderer, and innocent man exonerated, George understands fully how easy it would be to advocate revenge. However, as a family the Whites reject the death penalty as a solution to heal the wounds of their loss. George says, “I believe that society’s laws must offer relief for a victim’s anger and loss, and we must be afforded protection from those who would harm us; however, one cannot stop the shedding of blood by causing more blood to be shed. No amount of killing would restore Char to my family or take away the pain of losing her. What began with a horrible act of violence should not be memorialized with an act of vengeance.”
Marietta‘s 7-year-old daughter Susie was kidnapped from the family’s tent during a camping vacation. For a year, the family knew nothing of Susie’s whereabouts. On the first anniversary of Susie’s disappearance, the kidnapper telephoned Marietta and inadvertently revealed sufficient information to enable the FBI to identify and then arrest him.

Marietta asked that the mentally ill man be given the alternative allowed in capital cases: a mandatory life sentence instead of the death penalty. Only then was the kidnapper willing to confess to Susie’s  murder, as well as to the deaths of three other young persons
in the same county. He committed suicide just hours later.

Shujaa Graham was born in Lake Providence, LA, where he grew up on a plantation. His family worked as share-croppers, in the segregated South of the 50s. In 1961, he moved to join his family who had moved to South Central Los Angeles, to try to build a more stable life. As a teenager, Shujaa lived through the Watts riot 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.

Within the prison walls, Shujaa came of age, mentored by the leadership of the Black Prison movement. Shujaa taught himself to read and write, he studied history and world affairs, and became a leader of the growing movement within the California prison system, as the Black Panther Party expanded in the community.

In 1973, Shujaa was framed in the murder of a prison guard at the Deul Vocational Institute, Stockton, California. 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 and Eugene Allen, continued to fight for their innocence. A third trial ended in a hung jury, and after a fourth trial, they were found innocent. As Shujaa often says, he won his freedom and affirmed his innocence in spite of the system.

Shujaa was released in March, 1981, and continued to organize in the Bay area, building community support for the prison movement, as well as protest in the neighborhoods against police brutality.

In the following years, Shujaa moved away from the Bay area. Shujaa learned landscaping, and created his own business. He and his wife raised three children, and became part of a progressive community in Maryland.

Bill Babbitt 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.

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.

Randy Gardner is the brother of Ronnie Lee Gardner, who was executed by the state of Utah on June 18, 2010, by firing squad, a first in the USA in 14 years. Randy bought 160 acres of property in northwest Box Elder County in 2002 and started Back to Basics Farm & Ranch. Its mission is to teach youth about farming, ranching and organic gardening — something Ronnie Lee had taken great interest in prison. Randy helps young people to give back to their communities and in turn to gain dignity and self worth.
At the age of 20, Terri‘s son, Justin Wolfe, ex-high school football player and normal, average, all American, suburban kid was sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. He has been on Virginia’s death row since 2002, becoming their youngest resident, and has had several stays of execution.

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.

Edward spent over 18 years on death row, accused of killing a man who was later found to be alive. His family successfully campaigned for his release, providing evidence that the alleged victim was still alive. Sentenced to death for murder in 1982, the Attorney General proved that the man Edward was accused of murdering was still alive in 1989. However it was not until 2000 when a nine member presidential committee released Mr Mpagi, deciding he was innocent. Held for many years in the Luzira Upper Prison Edwad taught his fellow inmates to read and write. He became one of the longest serving inmates and a prison elder. Mr. Mpagi is now an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and is a committed religious leader. A graduate from a Catholic Diocese he regularly tours prisons providing inspiration and hope toprisoners.

He connected with Kathy Ozzard Chism at the all-volunteer nonprofit Dream One World, and together they are building a school compound for 150 of these orphans in Uganda, with the help of volunteer workers and donors from around the world.

delia_perez03Delia Perez Meyer

Delia Perez Meyer is from Austin, Texas and has a background in Education, Cultural Arts, International Business, and Human Rights activism focusing on the death penalty.  Delia earned an MBA in International Business, and a Bachelor’s in Spanish/International Business.

Delia has been employed at Applied Materials, St. Edward’s University, Texas Society of Professional Engineers, and is presently teaching Bilingual children in Elgin, TX.  She is one of 5 children – David, Delia, Irene, Louis, and Ernest, Jr.  One of her brothers, Louis Castro Perez is an innocent man on Texas’ Death Row.  “When Louis was wrongfully convicted 13 years ago, and sent to death row, our family embarked on the most incredible journey of our lives – trying to save an innocent man from death row in Texas.”

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