Bill Pelke became enraged when his grandmother was stabbed to death in her Indiana home in 1985 by four teenage girls, including a 16-year-old girl who became the youngest death row inmate in the country. Pelke, who was originally in favor of the death penalty, said he experienced resentment but eventually chose a path of forgiveness rather than revenge and worked to overturn the young girl’s death sentence. She is now serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Pelke has devoted his retirement to Journey of Hope, an organization designed to build public awareness of the alternatives to the death penalty, and will accompany murder victims’ family members in an open discussion about the death penalty with students at 7 p.m. today in the Brown-Lupton Student Center Lounge.
As part of the Journey of Hope, storytellers from all walks of life who represent the diversity of faith, color and economic situation will share their stories, said Pelke, president and co-founder of Journey of Hope.
“They are real people who know first hand the aftermath of the insanity and horror of murder,” he said.
Established in 1993, Journey of Hope has featured death row inmates’ family members, witnesses to execution and death row survivors. Every October, participants travel all over the United States to share their stories at universities, churches, legislative hearings, talk shows and rallies.
Pelke will be accompanied by two Journey of Hope participants, Barbara Allen and Eloise Williams.
Allen’s uncle, Stan Faulder, was executed in 1999 in Huntsville and three of Williams’ family members have been murdered.
Four additional Journey of Hope participants will speak to students in criminal justice classes Wednesday in Dan Rogers Hall.
Sara Mahdavi, a criminal justice adjunct instructor, said she is pleased to have Journey of Hope storytellers visit her classes.
“They will give students great insight into the realities of the death penalty,” she said. “It just so happens that our next chapter is on the death penalty, so this is really great timing.”
One of Mahdavi’s students said he is looking forward to what the guests have to say about their experiences.
“They are here to build awareness on the death penalty so I am excited to hear what they have to say,” said Ryan Wyatt, a freshman business major. “They all have been affected by murder. I mean, how does a person get through that recovering process?