New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium

22 Oliver Street, Chatham, NJ 07928 *

CONTACT: Lois Seeligsohn 856-854-3182 (days and evenings)



            An innocent man who was sentenced to death for murder, and exonerated nearly 18 years later, joins a murder victim's grandson to speak about their experiences at a Program entitled The Death Penalty: Victims and Survivors. The free program is set for Sunday, April 18, 7:30 P.M., at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral School Auditorium, 2907 Federal St., Camden.

            Juan Melendez of Polk County, Florida,was the 99th innocent person to be released from death row in America. The former migrant farm worker waited to die 17 years and eight months until a relentless public defender in 1999 unearthed the real killer's confession. Prosecutors had concealed the taped confession from the court for nearly two decades. Melendez, now 50, was exonerated and freed last January. Florida has executed 51 persons since the death penalty was reinstated. Nearly half that number of death row inmates in that state - 24 - were found to be innocent and freed.

            Bill Pelke's 78-year-old grandmother, Ruth, taught Bible lessons in Gary, Indiana. On May 14, 1985, four ninth-grade girls came to her door asking about lessons and she invited them in. One beat Ruth; another stabbed her to death. One of the girls, Paula Cooper, was sentenced to die for the murder and became the youngest female death row inmate ever. Devastated by his grandmother's murder, Pelke supported the girl's death sentence, but eventually he worked to overturn it. Paula is now serving 60 years in prison. Pelke travels worldwide, sharing the story of his turnaround from vengeance to reconciliation.

            Melendez and Pelke are criss-crossing the U.S.A. in a 14-weekAbolition Day 2004 tour, stopping at churches, schools, and town halls across the nation, telling their incredible true stories of murder and its consequences. New Jersey stops include Atlantic City, Camden, Newark and Plainfield.

            According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Washington, D.C., 903 Americans have been put to death since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. During the same period, at least 114 death row inmates were found to be innocent and set free - some hours before they were to be executed. A study by New Jerseyans for a Death Penalty Moratorium found 16 people who were wrongly convicted of major crimes, including murder and rape, in this state. Each eventually was exonerated, but together they served 300 years in prison. Capital Punishment was spotlighted in New Jersey last month, when Governor James E. McGreevey vetoed a bill to study New Jersey's death penalty system. The bill had passed the State Legislature 104 - 8. This state's first execution in 41 years is expected to take place in about six months.

            The April 18 program is open to the public. Ample off-street parking is on site. For information, call 856-854-3182.  For more information on Pelke and Melendez, go to or