Update from Art Laffin | Murder Victims Families for Human Rights

Montana:  Journey of Hope Reflections
Mon, 13 Oct 2008Dearest Friends,

It has truly been an inspiring experience of hope and healing to be part of the Montana Journey of Hope. There have been 22 speakers on the Journey, including murder victim family members, death row exonerees, and relatives who have family members on death row. Marietta Jaeger-Lane, whose daughter Susie was kidnapped and murdered on a camping trip in Montana 35 years ago, has been a guiding light to many on the Journey. A founding member of the Journey of Hope (JOH), she, along with Bill Pelke, another JOH founding member, were instrumental in bringing the JOH to Montana.

Also on the Journey are Charlie King and Karen Brandow who have inspired many Montanans with their amazing life-giving music. There are also some incredible abolitionists from around the US. David Kaczynski, brother of Unabomber Ted, who was captured in Montana and subject of the federal government seeking the death penalty, is also with us. There is also Bill Babbitt who witnessed his brother’s execution. Bill’s brother, Manny, who was a Vietnam vet and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and mental illness, was responsible for the death of an elderly woman.

Our primary host group, the Montana Abolition Coalition, has been exceptional in every phase of organizing–from providing hospitality and transportation to organizing speaking events.

Montana is a state of breath-taking beauty. The mountainous terrain is spectacular. Most, but not all of the people I’ve encountered, are against the death penalty. Journey members have traveled hundreds of miles around this beautiful state to do what we can to turn the tide and help Montanans to abolish the death penalty. There are currently 2 people on death row and the Montana legislature is just a few votes shy of repealing the death penalty.

During the week I’ve been here, I and other Journey members have spoken to youth groups, high school and college students, law students, church groups and other public forums. It has been a special time to share the story of my brother Paul’s murder, to ask people to pray for Dennis Soutar, the man who killed Paul, and to appeal to people to work to create a society where the mentally ill poor, like Dennis, get the treatment and help they need so that tragedies like what happened to Paul will be averted.

I and other Journey members have shared our stories at schools at three Indian reservations. At Stone Child College, located on the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation which is comprised of Cree and Chippewa tribes, I began my talk with a confession and apology. I acknowledged that as a white person, I am a beneficary of legacy of genocide and slavery committed against native peoples. I addressed the pain and suffering that whites have caused Native peoples, and that I repent for my complicity in this suffering. I also spoke about when I was arrested with Dave Dellinger and others at the Justice Department ten years ago for calling for the freedom of Leonard Peltier–the courageous Native American political prisoner who is serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit.

There have been many moving moments during the Journey. Among the most moving has been speaking with and hearing the stories of the death row exonerees who are on the Journey. Curtis McCarty spent 19 years on death row in Oklahoma. Greg Wilhoit spent 5 years on Oklahoma’s death row. Juan Melindez spent 18 years on Florida’s death row. Shujaa Graham spent 5 years on death row in San Quentin. They are among the 130 condemned to death who have now been exonerated.

As the JOH leaves Montana, we are very hopeful that Montana will soon join New Jersey to be the 15th state to abolish the death penalty. I am deeply grateful for your prayers and support in this great effort to end state-sanctioned homicide.

With love and gratitude,
Art

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Launch of National Alliance for Mental Illness and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights Project on Mental Illness and the death penalty – Saturday, 4 Oct 2008

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, I was honored to be one of the participants in a new national project to oppose the death penalty for persons with severe mental illness that was launched in San Antonio, TX. Meeting family members who have been tragically effected by mental illness and murder was a profoundly moving and healing experience for me and all gathered. During the ritual of remembrance I remembered my beloved brother, Paul, and asked prayers of healing for Paul’s killer, Dennis Soutar, who remains in a prison hospital in Middletown, CT.
I am now in Montana where I have joined members of the Journey of Hope–murder victim family members, death row survivors, those who have loved ones on death row and abolitionists–to speak out against the death penalty and help make Montana the 15th state to abolish the death stae-sanctioned homicide..
On this feast of St. Francis of Assisi today, let us pray for each other and our world, that we, like Francis, can become channels of peace, love and reconciliation in all that we do and recommit commit ourselves to end all forms of violence, killing, state-sanctioned murder and war.
Know you are in my heart and prayers.

In peace and hope,

Art

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