Friday, February 18, 2011

A human face

MVFHR board member Bill Pelke is giving several public presentations in Mississippi this week. Here's an article from yesterday's Clarion-Ledger:

Murder victim's grandson on mission

Ruth Pelke, 78, was known throughout her Indiana town as a Bible teacher. And when four teenage girls came to her house in May 1985 asking for lessons, she opened her door and heart to them, an act that led to her murder.

Turning her back to gather information about Bible classes, one of the girls struck Pelke in the head with a vase, and she was stabbed 33 times before they took $10 and her car keys.

Ringleader Paula Cooper was convicted of the crime that happened 25 years ago last May. She is still in prison.

Pelke's grandson, Bill Pelke, fought to have her death sentence overturned and will present "From Death to Life: A Spiritual Transformation" at 5 p.m. today at Tougaloo College in the Berkshire Cottage Room 107.

Paula Cooper was 15 when she was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana in 1986, said Pelke. He originally supported her execution but underwent a spiritual transformation in 1996 and joined more than 2 million others, including Pope John Paul II, to ask that her life be spared. Cooper's sentence was commuted to 60 years.

"I became convinced that my grandmother would not have wanted that (execution) to happen, and would have had love and compassion for this girl and her family," he said. "It was something that I did not have. ... I asked my God in a short prayer to please give me love and compassion for Paula."

Pelke exchanged letters with Cooper every 10 days when she was on death row and every month or two when she was taken off it.

He said it took eight years before the Indiana Department of Corrections would allow him to visit Cooper, whom he met Thanksgiving Day 1994. He visited her nine times before moving to Alaska.

Pelke is now president and co-founder of "Journey of Hope: From Violence to Healing," an organization of murder victim family members who oppose the death penalty.

"We try to put a human face on the issue of the death penalty," he said. "The person might have committed a monstrous act, but they are not monstrous. They are God's creation."

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