Campaigning through forgiving

World Congress

on 24 February 2010

Real-life stories are the best arguments.
Joaquin José Martinez is a former US death row inmate who was found innocent and freed. When he was 24 years old, he was living a true success story – the American dream. He liked big cars and glamourous parties. His divorce was underway, but he had a new girlfriend. At that time, he supported the death penalty.After a double murder, wanted posters came up all over his town. A man was shot dead and a woman slashed 30 times with a knife. The man was the son of the sheriff.“I was out partying with my new girlfriend when I saw helicopters and several police cars. When they aimed their guns at me, I knew they were serious. After they arrested me, they told me they had a tape in which I confessed to the murder.”I fact, his ex-wife turned him in. The tape is inaudible and the sheriff whose son was killed wrote the transcript.The prosecutor and the court are convinced that Martinez is guilty. They sentence him to death.An international campaign on his behalf spreads to Europe. Even Pope John Paul II called for a second trial. His defence team manages to raise 1 million dollars to appeal his sentence. Ensemble contre la peine de mort contributed support.After a lengthy process, Martinez is exonerated and released. “Nowadays, I speak to my ex-wife every evening. She is the mother of my daughters,” he says. Forgiveness is of utmost importance to him. “I can’t hold it against those who beat me up and spat on me in prison. I can’t hold it against them,” he adds. Since then he has been telling his story.
Bill Pelke has another story to tell. He has already told it more than 6,000 times, and it still triggers the same emotions in him.His grandmother was murdered at her home by four teenage girls who robbed her of 10 dollars. Paula Cooper, the gang’s leader, was 15 at the time. Her father abused her. She was sentenced to death.Yet Bill gradually began to think that taking another life would not erase what had happened. An Italian journalist helped him change his mind completely. He travelled to Italy and came back convinced that the death penalty was no solution. Bill Pelke campaigned against the execution of Paula Cooper. He received a lot of support. His organization, Journey of Hope… from Violence to Healing, finally won the argument. “In 2014, when Paula Cooper is released, we will give conferences together,” he laughed. Bill thinks forgiveness acts as a medicine.These two victims who faced the death penalty directly agree on one key point when trying to win over people to the abolitionist cause: “Revenge or violence is never the answer. The answer is love and compassion for the human kind as a whole.”

Watch the story of Terri Been, whose brother is on death row:

Worshop on wednesday february 24Elaborating arguments to convince public opinion.

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