Friday, January 27, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
Monday, January 23, 2012
The first-year seminar is titled “Timeless Questions, Difficult Times: Making Meaning of Uncertainty,” and you might have to search the darkest corners of the planet to find a guest speaker more qualified to hold forth on that topic than the Rev. Walter Everett C’56, T’60.
A retired Methodist minister, Everett is something of an authority on timeless questions and difficult times, and he’s spent years trying to make meaning of uncertainty. He’s come to Bucknell, where he sits at the head of a small classroom crammed with 15 students and two instructors, to weave his extraordinary tale one more time, a retelling that will leave some of those in his young audience questioning their very core. For he’s also come with some questions of his own.
“How many of you are in favor of the death penalty?” Everett begins.
“How many of you are opposed?”
“How many are not sure?”
All the rest.
The article then goes on to tell the story of the 1987 murder of Walt's son, Scott Everett.
Any death of a young person creates unspeakable trauma for the family, Everett tells the Bucknell students. A violent death, he says, “increases the trauma exponentially.”
And so it was that for the next 11 months Everett saw his life spiral downward, seemingly out of his control. He felt despair, rage, depression. His marriage, already on shaky ground, cracked under the strain. Everett prayed to God, beseeching him to show him a way out of the darkness. But Everett discerned no response. He attended a support group meeting with other family members of murder victims—the only people, he figured, who could possibly understand the anguish that consumed him. One night he heard a woman in the group say that anyone who committed murder “should be taken out and shot immediately.” Then he learned that the woman’s son had been killed 14 years earlier. He wondered if that’s what his life would be like for the next 14 years.
“I was ignoring mail. I was not paying attention to people,” Everett tells the students. “My thoughts were elsewhere.”
Eleven months and two weeks after the murder of his son, Everett sat in a courtroom in Bridgeport for Carlucci’s sentencing. Everett had never before set eyes on his son’s killer, who arrived at the courthouse three hours late, having indulged in one last cocaine binge before prison. The judge asked Everett if he wished to make a statement. Everett rose and spoke for 10 minutes, though he doesn’t remember a word of what he said. Then the judge asked Carlucci if he would like to speak. Carlucci stood. Everett tells the Bucknell students that he remembers every word Carlucci uttered.
“I’m sorry I killed Scott Everett. I wish I could bring him back. Obviously, I can’t. These must sound like empty words to the Everetts. I don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry.”
And from the end of the article:
The bell rings. A half-dozen students approach Everett, thank him for coming, shake his hand. Some, on their way out, reach for the anti-death penalty brochures that Everett brought with him. Everett leaves the building with instructor Deirdre O’Connor, who says the students will discuss the issues that he raised at a later class. Not until then could Everett know whether the timeless questions he’s posed really struck a chord with the students, whether he’d helped them to make meaning of uncertainty.
A few days later a neuroscience major from Bexley, Ohio, named Bridget O’Donnell wrote about Everett’s appearance in her course journal. O’Donnell grew up in a politically conservative home. Both her parents supported capital punishment. As a member of her high school political club, she took part in debates about the death penalty, arguing strongly in favor. Just two years earlier, as a high school junior, she’d written a research paper defending her position. “Today, however,” she wrote in the journal, “I questioned myself.”
O’Donnell says she left the class wondering whether her support for the death penalty was something she really believed in—“or something I learned to believe in.” And although she has a hard time articulating her change of heart, she is certain that a change has taken place. “I am not pro-death penalty anymore,” she says.
In Walt Everett’s long journey, another small step.
Friday, January 20, 2012
For years the picture in his head that haunted him was of his beloved “Nana,” Ruth Elizabeth Pelke, a woman who taught Bible classes to local children in her hometown of Gary, Ind. In 1985 she was stabbed 33 times by a group of local teenagers who stole 10 dollars from the 78-year-old woman and let her bleed to death on her living room floor.
It was the image in his head when he sat through the trial of Paula Cooper, the 15-year-old female who ended his grandmother’s life.
“I remember when they asked me how I felt,” Pelke said Thursday at Jacksonville State University, recalling learning that Cooper was to receive the death penalty. “I said, ‘the judge did what he felt he had to do, but it won’t bring my Nana back.’”
Pelke, 64, was the first of three speakers during an anti-death penalty forum called “A Journey of Hope,” sponsored by the campus Ethics Club. More than 30 people at Houston Cole Library listened to Pelke, Callie Grier, and a representative of the Birmingham-based Justice and Mercy group, Brandon Fountain, all present their stance against the death penalty. The event doubled as the first meeting of the semester for the club.
“We’re all about dialogue,” said Scott Beckett, the faculty adviser for the Ethics Club. “Because we’re human, everybody here already has made up their mind, but we’re about dialogue.”
But Pelke hoped his dialogue could possibly persuade death penalty proponents to change their mind — much as he changed his own stance on capital punishment after his grandmother was murdered. Pelke said his Christian upbringing taught him the death penalty was an acceptable form of justice, but began to question that notion in the years that followed Cooper’s sentencing.
Over time, the image of his grandmother, the one he carried with him through the trial of Cooper, was replaced by another image he couldn’t shake — that of Cooper’s grandfather, shouting out “they’re going to kill my baby!” after her sentencing.
Like Pelke, Callie Grier lost a loved one through violence. Her son, Mercury, was murdered in Birmingham, and just like Pelke, sought for forgiveness.
“They kill this boy, give him life sentence or whatever, does that mean Mercury is going to come back?” Grier said. “Are you telling me I should put his family through this to get closure? Now I get closure? Uh-uh, I get nightmares.”
Not all the details of the two stories were the same, though.
“Black on black crime is just treated as another case,” said Grier, explaining her story didn’t “make it to Oprah” like Pelke’s more famous story. ...
Monday, January 16, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
For almost a year after the murder, Everett’s emotional state had transitioned from rage to depression. He found it difficult to even go through the motions of his work as pastor of a United Methodist Church. Eventually, he came to recognize his need to move beyond his anger and he found healing through forgiveness.
Rev. Everett currently serves on the board of directors of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, an organization of family members of murder victims and family members of the executed who challenge the notion that executions are the way to achieve justice or closure for the family that murder leaves behind.
Everett has testified before legislative committees on numerous occasions, including the Connecticut General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee in 2005 and 2009.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The State Journal’s Dec. 9 editorial, “No room for error,” suggests that “Staunch opponents of capital punishment should imagine members of their own families victimized by barbarous criminals ...”
Many opponents of capital punishment don’t have to imagine the horror of a family member’s murder. We’ve lived it – and we don’t feel that another killing is what will help us. Rather than a “proportionally irreversible response,” we want a response that truly addresses the many different needs victims’ families have and avoids the lasting trauma that executions inflict on the criminal’s innocent family members.
After two shotgun blasts took my father’s life in the doorway of our family home, many people assumed that my family and I would become proponents of the death penalty. A friend said to us, “I hope they fry those people so your family can get some peace.” But in the aftermath of the worst thing that had ever happened to us, my family and I did not feel that an execution would give us peace, and we didn’t want the killer, having taken our father’s life, to take our values too.
I founded the organization Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights so that victims’ families who oppose the death penalty would be recognized and supported in that belief, and so that we could join with families of people who have been executed to publicize the devastating effects of both murder and the death penalty.