Bill Pelke (pictured, speaking to a group of students in Uganda in 2014), death penalty abolitionist and founder of the Journey of Hope, died November 12, 2020 in Anchorage, Alaska. Pelke began his work to end the death penalty after his grandmother, Ruth Pelke, was murdered in Indiana by four teenage girls. One of the perpetrators, 15-year-old Paula Cooper, became the youngest person ever sentenced to death in Indiana. Moved by his Christian faith, Pelke worked to reverse Cooper’s death sentence, gathering over 2 million signatures and the support of Pope John Paul II. In 1989, Cooper was removed from death row and resentenced to 60 years in prison. She was released in 2013.

Pelke created Journey of Hope, an organization led by murder victims’ family members that conducts speaking tours on alternatives to the death penalty, with an emphasis on compassion and forgiveness. Through the Journey of Hope, Pelke shared his story in over 40 states and 15 countries. He also served on the board of numerous anti-death penalty groups, including Death Penalty Action, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights.


Statement on the Passing of Bill Pelke, Journey of Hope, November 13, 2020. Photo by Scott Langley.