Sunday, March 29, 2009

By Charles M. Bartholomew Post-Tribune correspondent

By Charles M. Bartholomew

Post-Tribune correspondent

VALPARAISO -- A former area man who helped to get the murderer of his grandmother taken off the state's death row will tell of the challenge to his faith Saturday at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church.

Bill Pelke, who lives in Alaska, is the president and co-founder of Journey of Hope, an organization with the mission of ending the death penalty in the United States, where surveys show a majority of people favors capital punishment.

According to the Indiana Historical Society online archives, Paula Cooper, who was 15 at the time of the murder, entered the Gary home of Ruth Pelke, 78, with three companions in May 1985, stabbed her 33 times, took her car and $10.

She pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to death in 1986 by Lake Superior Court Judge James Kimbrough, the youngest ever on death row in Indiana history.

On appeal in 1989, Indiana Supreme Court unanimously upheld the conviction, but overturned her death sentence on the grounds that it violated the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the Eighth Amendment, as well as the Indiana Constitution, and she was resentenced to 60 years in prison that same year.

Because of good behavior, the Indiana Department of Corrections projects her release date as March 2014.

As a member of Journey of Hope, Pelke travels all over the country telling of how they were transformed from hatred and seeking revenge to forgiveness.

Deacon Mark Plaiss, communications officer for the Diocese of Gary, said the Catholic parish at Valparaiso University responded quickly to an announcement to area churches by Rev. James Dixon of the Heartland Center in Hammond that Pelke would be making appearances in Indiana during March and was available to speak to local congregations on the topic "From Violence to Healing."


Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing Blog

"Led by murder victim family members speaking out... Telling their stories of love, forgiveness and understanding. Hoping for an end to the cycle of violence."


( see info about her on my other blog: )