TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — The Supreme Court ruled Friday to uphold the halting of federal executions, including the five scheduled for December and January in Terre Haute.

Despite the ruling, groups against the death penalty went through with events this weekend, including a Death Penalty Action forum at St. Benedict’s Church in Terre Haute.

Organizers share message behind forum

The forum featured several panelists and moderators who are against the use of capital punishment, but Death Penalty Action Co-Director Abraham Bonowitz says many people disconnected from capital punishment tend to support it.

“I used to support the death penalty, and a number of the people that are speaking today are former supporters of the death penalty, they never really had to think about it,” said Bonowitz.

Bonowitz says executions at any level go against basic human rights.

“One of the human rights that people have is the right not to be subjected to these awful punishments,” said Bonowitz.

He adds that the executions formerly scheduled in Terre Haute, the first since 2003, happened to fall around International Human Rights Day.

Panelists share stories of forgiveness, redemption

“The death penalty has nothing to do with the healing that murder victims’ families need when their loved ones have been killed,” said Bill Pelke.

Pelke’s life became tied to the death penalty after his grandmother Ruth was brutally murdered in May 1985, and one of the four teenage girls charged with her murder, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to death.

“She was fifteen years old at the time of the crime,” said Pelke. “She was sentenced to die in the electric chair by the state of Indiana and became the youngest person on death row in the United States at that time.”

Pelke says he initially supported Cooper’s sentence, until he considered how his grandmother would feel.

“My grandmother would not have been happy with that,” said Pelke. “She in fact would’ve had love and compassion for this girl and her family, and I felt she wanted some (compassion) in my family.”

Bill’s altered beliefs turned into a book titled Journey of Hope… From Violence to Healing as well as an organization with the same name.

Pelke also travels around the world to promote his message of forgiveness and compassion, and this weekend, he traveled to Terre Haute all the way from Anchorage, AK, for the Death Penalty Action forum.

Also in attendance at the forum was Rodrick Reed. Rodrick’s brother, Rodney, is currently on death row in Texas, but his execution was indefinitely suspended in November after evidence possibly pointing to his innocence led the Court of Appeals to take action.

“We’ve been fighting to prove his innocence for the last 22 1/2 years, and the tide is finally turning and things are going our way,” said Rodrick.

Rodrick says the support of people throughout the country, including several celebrities and people of power, has helped his brother’s case.

But Rodrick says everyone has the right to redemption; a sentiment Pelke echoes.

“I would rather talk about forgiveness and love and compassion for all humanity then actually talk about the death penalty, because if you have love and compassion for all humanity, you’re not going to see anybody put in the death chamber and their life taken from them,” said Pelke.

Kimma Gurel, a relative of Daniel Lewis Lee’s victims, also spoke at the forum Sunday. Gurel is against the use of capital punishment for Lee, saying he instead deserves a life sentence.