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Victims' families are taking part in crusade against the death penalty

(ran COM PT editions)

Families of murder victims will make a two-week Journey of Hope to oppose the death penalty, leading rallies and educational events in more than 20 Midwestern cities and towns.

The Journey of Hope was scheduled to start in the Chicago area Friday and conclude in Indianapolis June 20. It is organized by Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and is sponsored by church organizations, social justice groups and a police organization.

"Through our own painful experience, we have learned that vengeance is not the answer," said Marie Deans, founder of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

Two families will march together to make a powerful statement of reconciliation. Timothy Bunch was executed in December for the murder of Su Cha Yi. Members of the Bunch and the Yi families will march under one banner.

Other participants include actor Mike Farrell, best known for his part in the M+A+S+H television program; the Rev. Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Ronald Hampton, a director of the National Black Police Association, and Randall Dale Adams, a former death row prisoner whose story was told in the documentary The Thin Blue Line.

The group expects hundreds of other people to join the Journey during the 16 days. Local organizing committees in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio are planning activities ranging from major rallies to one-on-one meetings with local officials, politicians and murder victims' families. Each community will have as many as 25 public gatherings, often in churches.

"With this journey, we hope to begin a dialogue that will lead to a real solution," said Bill Pelke, of Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. "For too long, victims' families and death penalty opponents have been positioned on opposing sides." With this Journey, they said, they hoped to join together in a common cause to "reduce the violence in our communities."

Sponsoring organizations include the American Friends Service Committee, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Church of the Brethren, Reformed Judaism, the Mennonite Central Committee, the National Council of Churches, the Ohio Council of Churches and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.