Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tuesday's Focus: Juan Melendez

The latest Tuesday's Focus examines the story of Juan Melendez:

Juan Roberto Melendez Colon became the 24th person exonerated and released from Florida's death row when he was freed on January 3, 2002 after spending almost 18 years facing execution for a crime he had nothing to do with. Melendez was convicted in 1984 at the age of 33 with no physical evidence linking him to the crime and testimony from questionable witnesses.

In fact, prosecutors hid evidence and lied to the court in order to protect the real killer, a police informant. Melendez's conviction fell apart when the police informant's confession came to light in 1999 - a confession that prosecutors knew about before they took Melendez to trial. Of course, the state of Florida refuses to apologize or admit wrongdoing, and gave Melendez the same thing it gives every prisoner when they leave prison - $100. (Hardy Pickard, the lead prosecutor in Melendez' case, is still working as a State's Attorney in Polk County, Florida.)

Known to his friends as "Johnny," Melendez was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Puerto Rico, where he currently lives.

Juan has joined the Board of Directors for the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. He continually travel this country and internationally giving presentations about his experiences. He has formed the Juan Melendez Voices United for Justice Project.

To arrange for Juan to speak at your venue, please contact Ms Judi Caruso at 505-362-1784 or judi@hotspare.com, director, Juan Melendez Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation

(Reprinted with permission from "Not In Our Name: Murder Victims Families Speak Out Against the Death Penalty," a publication of Murder Victims Families For Reconciliation,
Barbara Hood & Rachel King, Editors.)
Links to Juan’s Journey:

Judge Cites Prosecutor Trickery, Orders Retrial
Florida Death Row Inmate to be Released, 99th Freed Nationwide
Juan Melendez Freed from Death Row
Another Death Row Mistake: Washington Post Editorial January 5, 2002
A dead man walking toward freedom?----The uncertain future of Florida death row inmate Juan Melendez.
Juan Melendez and Bud Welch: Choosing Forgiveness – from Opposite Places
Journey of Hope in Monterey
Faith in Action: Working to Abolish the Death Penalty Amnesty International
Human Rights Working Group
Comunita di Sant Egidio: No More Death Penalty, International Campaign

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Tuesday's focus: Aba Gayle

The latest Tuesday's Focus series looks at the story of Aba Gayle:

Aba Gayle’s 19 year old daughter Catherine Blount was murdered. She spent 8 long years in anger and rage and lusting for revenge. She was assured by the district attorney that the execution of the man responsible for Catherine’s murder would make everything alright and she would be healed.

Aba Gayle then spent the next 4 years in intensive study in the Unity Church and Church of Religious Science. She read her way through metaphysical books stores and learned about all the great spiritual teachers who have come earth to show us the way to live in love, peace and harmony. After 12 long years Aba Gayle had an epithany. She heard a voice that told her to forgive the man who murdered Catherine, and to let him know. That led to a letter to Douglas Mickey who was convicted and sent to death row in San Quentin State Prison in California. The act of mailing the letter resulted in instant healing for Aba Gayle. She has since visited San Quentin and now considers Douglas Mickey to be her friend. See her web site at www.catherineblountfdn.org to read the letter and the rest of the story.

Aba Gayle participated for all 17 days on the Georgia, Virginia, Ohio and Texas 2005 Journeys. Her passion in life is speaking and teaching about the healing power of forgiveness. She has appeared in numerous documentary films and several recent books have her story including Unstoppable Women-Achieve any Breakthrough Goal in 30 Days by Cynthia Kersey, Radical Acts of Love by Susan Skog, Sharing Visions by John E. Sumwalt and Stop Singing the Blues and Start Living a Life of Joy, Simplicity and Beauty by Dr. Cynthia Barnett.
Aba Gayle participated for all 17 days in the following Journeys:

Links to Aba Gayle’s Journey:
Aba Gayles Story
The Healing Power of Forgiveness:Healing Quest
The Healing Power of Forgiveness: To Be A Blessing
The Healing Power of Forgiveness: The Forgiveness Conference
Prison Ministries - Aba Gayle at San Quentin
Forgiving the unforgivable. State of Justice 4 (April). A periodic publication of Friends Committee on Restorative Justice. 2002
Death Penalty Foes Offer Message of Forgiveness
Learning to forgive helps her heal. by Elizabeth Perez, Marin Independent Journal reporter
Recipient of Heroes Award - 1999

Aba Gayle currently lives in Silverton, Oregon. Her life passion is teaching the healing power of forgiveness

Aba Gayle Quotes:

“I'm opposed to the death penalty because I don't agree with murder. Murder is still murder. It's violence against a human being."

“Anger is just a horrible thing to do to your body. Not to mention what it does to your soul and spirit. Forgiveness is not saying what he did was right - it's taking back your power."

“It's time to stop teaching people to hate and start teaching people to love. The whole execution as closure idea is not realistic"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Remembering Carol Byars

Carol Byars, a member of the Journey of Hope family, passed away this week. She was a leaders in the victims' movement to abolish the death penalty and a powerful voice for the healing power of forgiveness. May God rest her soul.

Here is Carol's story:

When I met Jimmy, little did I know how knowing him would change my life. He was the love of my life. Although I was barely more than a child, I also knew I would marry him someday. And I did, at the age of eighteen. We had our first child less than a year after. At twenty-one I was pregnant with my second child. Even at so young of an age, I knew this kind of relationship was rare.

It was the Labor Day of that year when everything so drastically changed. Since I was pregnant and not up to the usual BBQ and such, I went to my mom's to rest and Jimmy went to his mom's to watch the game. Sometime during that day there was an argument with his mother's neighbors. I have had some conflicting stories through the years so there are details that I still don't know. But this is what happened as I know it.

When the altercation started, there was the usual anger and name calling. It was said, "Wait till John Earl gets home, and he will take care of this." When he arrived home, the argument started again. He got his gun and first shot Jimmy's ten year old brother Sonny. He then shot Jimmy's sixteen year old brother Bryan. I think there was a scuffle with his other brother Pete and he was beat with the butt of the shotgun.

All of this happened very quickly. The gun had just been turned on Jimmy's mother when he ran and opened the front door and yelled to stop. That's when John Earl turned and shot Jimmy. He was shot from twenty feet with a twelve gauge pump shotgun through a screen door. So he not only had all of the scatter from the shot gun, he also had a lot of screen from the door.

They didn't think Jimmy would make it past the first night but he lived almost a year. He was awake and alert in ICU for most of that time, so he felt every pain and disappointment in his attempted recovery. But he was an amazing man. During all those months in the hospital, he came to the realization that he had to let go of all of the anger he felt towards this man. Even with the knowledge that he would never see his daughters grow up, he let go. I know he did this for my benefit as well. It also gave me permission to let go, heal, and move on with my life, though it took me a little longer than it did Jimmy.

Now I have forgiven and moved on. For me it means trying to stop that circle of violence. That includes state executions. Healing will never happen by holding onto the pain of the past. That is where an execution holds us, focused on the pain of the past. I think it's time to find a new way of dealing with our crime problem. There has been enough pain to go around.

You can read more here:


Carol was a member of the Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing, Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation, Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, Citizens United for Alternatives to the Death penalty, Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

She will be greatly missed. We love you Carol.

Carol Byars Quotes:

"It is past time for being silent about the death penalty. In Texas, we’re executing record numbers each year. Things have gotten so bad because people have all been silent and let things get bad. We are told many times that we are not supposed to forgive – that when people do horrible things to us we should do something just as bad in retribution. Those of us who know better – those of us who know the power of forgiveness – need to speak up. Every chance we get, we need to challenge the mentality that compassion is a weakness. Compassion is the toughest thing of all, but it’s the only thing that works to restore peace in our live."

"When my husband was killed a piece of me died with him, but in time I discovered the only way to heal was to let go of the pain and anger. I chose to honor his memory through compassion and forgiveness, not by creating more victims."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tuesday's Focus: George White

With apologies for being a day late, here is the latest in our Tuesday's Focus series. Today we profile George White:

On February 27, 1985, the White family experienced first-hand the insanity and horror of murder. George and his wife Charlene were shot repeatedly by an armed robber at his place of business in Enterprise, Alabama. George held Charlene in his arms as her life slipped away.

Their children, Tom and Christie, were only 12 and 5 at the time. The nightmare had just begun. Sixteen months later, George was charged with murdering his wife. Following a capital murder trial that was later described as "a mockery and a sham," George was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned in 1989 and he was released from prison, but George remained in legal limbo until 1992, when proof of his innocence was finally brought forward. Following a brief hearing the trial court ordered the charge against him forevermore dismissed.

The nightmare had lasted more than seven years. Had the State of Alabama had its way, George White would be a dead man today.

Understanding fully how easy it is to become advocates for revenge, the White family, however, rejects the death penalty as a solution and as way of healing the wounds of their loss.

George White Quote:
"Charlene White loved life...that should be her legacy. What began with a horrible act of violence should not memorialized by an act of vengeance. Hate is a continuation, not an ending. Tom, Christie and I say "Not in our names — our hearts have bled enough."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Journey featured on the web

A religious-oriented webzine called The Word Among Us has posted a feature story about The Journey of Hope...From Violence to Healing:

From Hatred to Mercy
A Ministry That Asks: What do you do when a loved one is murdered?
By Jan Petroni Brown

In a perfect world, Marietta Jaeger Lane and Bill Pelke would probably have never met, let alone felt called to found an organization that promotes radical—some would say illogical—mercy. She was a Michigan mother busily caring for her five children; he was a Vietnam veteran who worked as a crane operator in Portage, Indiana. But when unthinkable tragedy shattered their lives, each one was thrust into a painful but ultimately healing journey from revenge to forgiveness.

Today, with other family members of murder victims, they travel far and wide to share their hard-won wisdom. They organized their first such Journey of Hope in 1993, when 120 people boarded buses for a sixteen-day speaking tour to fifteen cities in the American Midwest. Since that time, the group has addressed audiences in more than forty states and ten countries.

Theirs are wrenching stories of pain and loss—but stories that are told with peace and compassion. If Journey of Hope members are credible when they urge forgiveness as a way of life, it is because they themselves have been purified of hatred and the desire for revenge.

To read the entire article go here.