Journey of Hope Comes to GMU Law School

October 26, 2006 @ 12:00 am

The Journey of Hope is a month-long tour by ordinary people touched directly by the death penalty, our criminal justice system's most severe sanction.  Sponsored by a coalition of civil liberties and human rights groups, including the Virginia ACLU, the Journey came to Virginia for a series of appearances culminating in the national conference of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) at the Fair Lakes Hyatt in Fairfax Oct. 27-30.

The Virginia ACLU's northern Virginia and George Mason Law School chapters co-sponsored a Journey of Hope event Thursday evening, October 26, at the law school, that featured three remarkable Americans: Bud Welch, who lost his daughter Julie, then in her 20s, in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; Robert Hoelscher, who lost his father to a Texas convenience store robbery and murder decades ago when he was only 7; and former ACLU national legislative counsel Rachel King, author of "Don't Kill in Our Names: Families of Murder Victims Speak Out Against the Death Penalty."  All three have devoted some portion of their own lives to advocate publicly against the death penalty.

Yet this was not a program about the death penalty as public policy.  Instead, at an open reception beforehand, and during a program that held the audience rapt for over two hours, the speakers told their own stories, and showed us all what personal devastation the state's response to terrible acts of criminal violence can wreak on everyone involved--especially on the human hearts of the crime's victims, the people most in need of closure and healing, who report in many cases that the imprisonment or even execution of the convict gives them none of the comfort they thought it would.  We heard stories of cathartic personal communication between victim family members and convicts in prison; of the poignant meeting of two fathers who had lost their children, one to a crime and the other to its punishment; of vengeance and grief, tamed and untamed, and the power of human kindness and sheer love of life to heal the wounds of ordinary, sane, decent people caught in extraordinary adversity.

For those who couldn't make it, more information is available at these websites: (the Journey); (Death Penalty Information Center); (National Coalition); (Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty); (one among many examples of apparent wrongful capital conviction and its consequences); (Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation) (founded by Virginia's own Marie Deans); and (Rachel King's two books on the experiences of murder victims' families).