Executions in 2013: min. 778 plus 'thousands' in China

2009: 'Not in our names' - Speakers Tour with Members of the Journey of Hope

What do the U.S. citizens Bill Pelke, Terri Steinberg and Ray Krone have in common? Each has a haunting story to tell: a story of love, death, hatred and forgiveness. And tell it they did - 32 times throughout Germany. From April 28th to May 16th, 2009, they spoke in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Heidelberg and numerous other places.

Some 5,000 people came to listen to their stories. And Ray Krone was interviewed by TV talk show host Kerner for an audience of approximately 1.9 million people.

Pelke, Steinberg and Krone deeply moved their audiences, telling them how they got involved with the issue of capital punishment. The anti-death penalty petitions traveling with them collected some 7,900 signatures. Bill Pelke gathered over 100 new friends via Facebook. There is no doubt about it: The spring 2009 Journey of Hope tour in Germany, organized by the German Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (GCADP), was a huge success.

The organizing GCADP deemed themselves lucky to win over three renowned speakers for the tour in Germany, co-organized by local groups of Amnesty International, European Law Students’ Association ELSA and a number of schools and colleges. And GCADP’s own Susanne Cardona, chair of the board, worked unremittingly towards the tour’s success, accompanying the speakers to many of the scheduled events.

Ray Krone represented the section of exonerated members of the Journey of Hope - he became the 100th person to be released from death row in April 2002. He spent ten years in prison, two of which were on death row in Arizona, for the murder of a female bartender. DNA testing helped to exonerate him.

Terri Steinberg’s son Justin Wolfe was sentenced to death in Virginia. Currently, available evidence suggests Justin’s innocence. However, he will have to continue fighting for his life in court. After he received the death penalty, Terri set out to fight against capital punishment.

In May 1985, Bill Pelke’s grandmother was murdered by four teenage girls. Their ringleader, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to death by electrocution. Initially, Bill supported this sentence but later changed and has since become an ardent opponent of capital punishment. In 1989 after an international campaign which was supported by Pope John Paul II, Bill’s struggle succeeded in having Paula’s judgment commuted to a prison sentence.

These three death penalty opponents traveled to many places in Germany, sharing their stories with many people. Starting out at Goettingen, their tour took them to Hamburg, Kirchheimbolanden, Neustadt/Weinstrasse, Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Freiburg, Augsburg, Munich, Magdeburg, and it ended at Potsdam.

The response of their audiences - many of them pupils or students - was considerable. In addition, the events were often an opportunity for additional in-depth reflections on the issue. For example, at the school at Adelsheim, they organized a Projekt (Project) Week on capital punishment. At the commercial college at Bad Mergentheim, the vast numbers of people interested in the event literally filled up the school building. Over 400 students listened intently - while sitting or standing in the hallways for an hour and a half.

Two documentaries were done on this journey, one of which is already being used for lessons at schools.

In the middle of the tour two pieces of news arrived: (1) the announcement of the 132nd exoneree; and (2) the information that Terri Steinberg’s son Justin was going to be awarded a new hearing.

The tour not only was a great success, it also meant a tremendous effort on the part of the speakers. They sometimes had to tell their stories more than four times a day - not to mention press appointments and many other obligations. And the tour also meant traveling throughout Germany.

So, what are we left with after the end of that long journey? Well, hope will persist: the hope of sending a message of reason and forgiveness to peoples’ hearts and minds as well as the hope of a growing international movement eventually putting an end to the madness called death penalty.

Finally, we understand the word gratitude in a deeper way. We send our gratitude toward all the good folks who, like Terri, Bill and Ray, never tire of telling their stories, patiently, courageously and regardless of the horrors they have to retell, time and time again, 5,000 times, or whatever it may take.

We would like to express our gratitude - not only to the speakers again - but once more to all the many others who made this tour possible.

Please find more information in German language about the tour and its speakers here.

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