Tuesday, 15 April 2014

SueZann Bosler

SueZann Bosler                    2014 Team Africa

On December 22, 1986, SueZann Bosler and her father, Rev. Billy Bosler, were attacked in the church parsonage by an intruder. Rev. Bosler was stabbed 24 times. SueZann, in an effort to help him, was herself stabbed in the back and head and left for dead. While lying on the floor pretending to be dead, she heard the intruder ransack the house as she watched her father take his last breath.
As a Brethren minister, Rev. Bosler had been an opponent of capital punishment, and had once told SueZann that if he was ever murdered he would not want his killer to receive the death penalty.

 On her father's behalf, SueZann worked for 10 1/2 years to spare the life of his murderer, James Bernard Campbell. She voiced her opposition to the death penalty throughout three trials and two sentencings. Her efforts put her at stark odds with Florida prosecutors and judges, who at one point threatened her with contempt of court if she revealed her views to the jury considering Campbell's fate.


"Being able to point to him and express my forgiveness, was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders," she recalls.

SueZann devoted many years to seeking commutation of Campbell's death sentence. On June 13, 1996, her efforts were successful and his sentence was commuted to three consecutive life terms.
I met SueZann when we were guests on the Oprah Winfrey Show.  It was a segment called “Forgiving the Unforgivable.  We were in the second set and when it opened I was between Oprah and SueZann.  Oprah introduced us to the audience and SueZann told her story.  I was amazed as she told it, it was extremely powerful.   When it was time for me to tell my story, I almost forgot that I had one.

After the program my cousin Judi and I were able to have lunch with SueZann and do a little shopping   before she flew back to Florida.
We were reunited on the 1993 Indiana Journey of Hope through the efforts of Bob Gross who organized that inaugural Journey.   That is also where she met Marietta Jaeger.  In 1994 Marietta’s, SueZann’s and my story were the focus for the Discovery Channel’s documentary "From Fury to Forgiveness" narrated by Susan Sarandon.  In 1997 SueZann, Marietta, George White and Sam Reese Sheppard joined me in the founding of Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing as a nonprofit organization.


Not only is SueZann Bosler a Cofounder of the Journey of Hope, but after a short hiatus SueZann returned to the Board of Directors several years ago.  SueZann has traveled internationally on behalf of the Journey and is often a guest speaker for the Church of the Brethren's program "On Earth Peace”.

The First United Methodist Church Foundation of Anchorage, Alaska awarded the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing $2,500 for the 2014 African Journey of Hope.  In 2013 the FUMC Foundation gave $1,000 for the Journey’s World Day Against the Death Penalty Tour in Indiana.  The Pastor of FUMC, Reverend Ronald Myers is a great personal support, for me and for the vision of the Journey’s mission.  He, along with other members of First United Methodist Church, knows the power of the Journey’s message of love and compassion for all of humanity. 
Upon hearing the news of the award I told Pastor Ron about SueZann.  He has met different people from the Journey but not her.  I told him SueZann’s story.  Ron has two young daughters not far from SueZann’s age at the time her father, a fellow minister, was murdered. I know he was touched by her story.  I told him SueZann wanted to go to Africa and that the award would go for her travel to Kenya and Uganda.

He was touched, and pleased. 
SueZann was, and remains elated.
SueZann is the first, of what we hope to be 8 more, to be able to join Curtis, Randy, Babu Bill and yours truly for the Africa Team of 13.  George White and I have always called her Little Sister.  It has stuck and she will always be our Little Sister.  Not sure if she will go along with the Papa Bill tag or not.  It might just stay at big brother. 

I asked SueZann about her thoughts on going to Africa.
She told me she has been interested in going to Africa, ever since meeting Edward Mpagi and Ronald Katongole on the Indiana Journey of Hope last year.  She told me that she had secretly wished that at some point in time she could go to Uganda and be involved in helping in any way she could.  She loves the incredible work they are doing.  She also recently reviewed some video of our visit to Edwards’s school in 2011 that is provided by Kathy Chism’s Dream One World.   http://dreamoneworld.org/  Kathy started the Uganda School Project and helped Edward build his school.

SueZann wrote this:

“The images of those beautiful smiling faces I saw on the video was the final straw.”
“At first I was excited in sharing what I have experienced; my story, a message of forgiveness and my convictions in which have been strengthened by working with other “victim survivors” in addition to what I have learned about life, humanity, compassion and forgiveness. I quickly realized that I would not be just sharing/educating the Ugandans they will be sharing/teaching me about life, humanity, compassion and forgiveness.”

“I not only wantto be there to reunite with old friends/colleagues I am eager to meet new allies. I personally want to be there to expand my inner passion of restoring humanity to those not only on death row, but victims (families & friends) on both sides. To merge worldwide organizations working together (strength sometimes comes in numbers), share our resources, to move toward something we all have in common, Our Universal Goal, to abolish the death penalty, violence, brutality and torture. We are coming closer to renewing life and hope, to those whose souls are being damaged, belief system broken-down, and hope trampled upon, and life taken with a stroke of a pen.”

“I will be taking home a heart full of unconditional love, promise and compassion, with help of the humble spirits of Uganda, who will rejuvenate my faith in humankind.”

“I already want to thank them for giving us the chance to be involved and empowered with Be the Change and Dream One World , we are truly blessed in assisting this to come true. “
 “I am so honored that the First United Methodist Church Foundation of Anchorage has awarded this Africa grant to the Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing to help sow the seeds of love and compassion for all of humanity.”

Amani (Peace)

As I stated once before, a friend asked me to write how the African team of 13 came to be.  I think this is one that needs no further explanation although there are many more reasons I could give.


SueZann is a hairdresser.  If you live in the Fort Lauderdale area contact her through Facebook if you need a do
SueZann is the fifth member of the team to be introduced.  Terri Steinberg is next.  Then we will be half way there.
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Saturday, 5 April 2014

Randy Gardener and Curtis McCarty

Today’s blog is about Randy Gardener and Curtis McCarty.


Randy Gardner:

Randy’s brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was executed by firing squad by the good people of the State of Utah on June 18, 2010 after spending 25 years in prison.  About six months after Ronnie’s death, Randy did a google search about the death penalty and called the Journey of Hope office.   He told me he wanted to get active in the movement to abolish the death penalty.  He wanted to tell people what he seen and what he had heard.  He felt that if people really knew what was going on with executions, they would withdraw their support of this barbaric practice.    One of the things Randy saw was the bullet holes in his brother’s chest.  When he describes what he saw when he viewed the body and the way he forms his fingers picturing the bullet holes in the heart area, like the holes in a bowling ball, he puts himself right back to that moment. 

It is a sight that he will never forget. 

It is a sight that he hopes no other brother, sister or loved one has to see again.  Ronnie Lee went through a transformation while in prison.  He was guilty of the crime of murder, but he changed and did his best to pass on to Randy what he learned.   He encouraged Randy to do the right things and impressed on him the importance of forgiveness.  Randy told me he wanted to be able to help make a difference in the abolition movement and asked if the Journey could help him?  Of course I said yes.
We talked about the Abolition Action Committee’s Annual Fast and Vigil at the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC June 29-July2.  I have been going since it began in 1994.  Randy began to make plans to attend.  When Babu Bill Babbitt and I started planning to go to Africa in 2011, I asked Randy if he wanted to go with us. 

At that time, Randy’s daughter worked for an airline and Randy could fly anywhere that her airline or their partners flew.  We just had to pay 10% of the ticket, and the tax.  The trip to Africa opened a new world to Randy and he made the best of his opportunities.  He did make a difference.

In 2012 I asked Randy if he was interested in joining the Journey of Hope Board of Directors.  He was and the board unanimously elected him.  I know that Randy has been a bit disappointed lately because of the lack of speaking opportunities. To have a powerful story to and not have a platform to share it can be very frustrating.   I knew that a trip back to Africa is just what Randy needed, so I helped give him a boost.  I knew that Randy is struggling financially.  His daughter no longer works for the airline so we lost that perk too. I told Randy his expenses would be covered through the Journey or by me but that he was covered.

Another driving force that Randy also hits home with is how it affected Ronnie Lee’s daughter Brandi. Babu Bill and Randy both have nieces whose father was executed.  It affected both daughters greatly when the state killed their daddies.  Love and compassion for all of humanity applies to Desiree and Brandi too.  If you have love and compassion for all of humanity you will not want to see anybody put into the death chamber and their life taken from them.  It is impossible.  Don’t kill anymore daddies.  Don’t kill them; let the daughters visit their daddies in prison, not the death house.
 Randy is from Salt Lake City, Utah.  One of the high ranking officials in the Mormon Church there took a special interest in his brother’s case. The Bishop’s counseling was a great source of inspiration, comfort and peace for Ronnie Lee. 

Randy has 40 acres of land in a remote part of Utah that he plans a “Back to Basic’s Ranch” for troubled youth in Ronnie’s memory.  Ronnie Lee was to say the least, a troubled youth.    I hope the Journey will someday see him fulfill his “Back to Basics Ranch” dream.

 I know the thought of going back to Africa has been very stimulating for Randy.  He knows the answer is love and compassion for all of humanity.  I love his philosophy.

One of my fondest memories of Randy in Africa at was at Edward’s school in Uganda. We spent one afternoon there and Randy was having the time of his life with all the children.  Randy would be sitting in the grass with the kids playing with the kids, grinning ear to ear.  The next minute he would be carrying one or two little kids around and showing them each love and affection. 
Randy is raring to take his message of love and compassion for all of humanity back to Africa.  He knows we can, and will make a difference.


Bill and I selected Randy as 2014 Team Africa member number three and Curtis McCarty is number four.  This is how we became the core of four.

  Curtis McCarty:

 “I am free physically, but mentally I am not. I am always there and I am always with the men I left behind and the men who died there, men whom I am certain are innocent.”

Curtis McCarty was exonerated in 2007 after serving 21 years – including 19 years on death row – for a 1982 Oklahoma City murder he didn’t commit. McCarty was convicted twice and sentenced to death three times based on prosecutorial misconduct and testimony from forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist.

When 18-year old Pamela Kaye Willis was raped, stabbed, and strangled in her Oklahoma City home on December 10, 1982, Curtis McCarty became a suspect because he was acquainted with her.  Soon after the murder in 1983, forensic analyst Joyce Gilchrist examined hairs from the crime scene and found they did not match McCarty’s.  Police interviewed McCarty several times over the next three years, but he was not arrested until 1985. During the three years of Police questioning, Gilchrist secretly altered her notes to declare that the crime scene hairs could have been McCarty’s.  Attorneys for McCarty did not discover the change in Gilchrist’s notes until 2000, when she underwent investigation for fraud in other cases.  When the defense requested retesting of the hairs, the evidence had either been lost or destroyed deliberately.  Gilchrist, implicated in two other cases that sent innocent men to death row, was later fired from her job with the Oklahoma City Police department.

I met Curtis in San Jose, CA at the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty’s Annual Conference in January, 2008. It was eight months after his exoneration and release from death row. 
I will always remember that conference.  It was my fourth and final conference as Chair of the NCADP Board of Directors. They honored me with a plaque for my service to the board as Chair.  Many of my Journey friends were present at this conference and it included a number of exonerees. It was there that I got to know about Curtis and the man he has become.  Curtis is the first to admit that he had done some terrible things in his life, for which he is very sorry.  He is very honest and transparent about his past life. 

When he came to the conference he was amazed and thrilled when he realized that there were so many people in the outside world trying to end the death penalty.  He had been unaware of that support while he was on death row.   It was a matter of life or death for Curtis.  He takes it very serious.  Curtis was also intrigued with our message of love and compassion for all of humanity.
Curtis joined us for the Montana Journey in 2008 and Texas in 2010, and we have traveled to Switzerland and Italy and several other ventures in Chicago and Texas together.

Exoneree Curtis McCarty with Angie Agapetus and Green Party candidate Art Browning on Texas Journey

Edward Mpagi and Curtis have a unified message, “No matter where you live in this world, human beings are going to make mistakes, and when it comes to the death penalty there is no room for mistakes.”

 Babu Bill Babbitt, Randy Gardner and Curtis McCarty have all been to Alaska on behalf of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and the Journey of Hope.  They have all stayed at my house at one time or another when they were here.  They are my friends, I love them all dearly.  What a great team to go to Africa with!

The four of us were the first to commit to going to Africa and we have asked the following nine people to join us: SueZann Bosler, Marietta Jaeger Lane, Therese Bartholomew, Kristi Smith, Terri Steinberg, Delia Perez Meyer, Ann Stendel, Scott Langley and Colleen Cunningham.  They all want to come.

This is the African Team of 13 members.

Over the next several weeks I will be blogging about each of the nine and why they were asked to join us.  If you can’t wait, feel free to google any of them.

The next blog will be about SueZann Bosler.

Peace, Bill


 Randy Gardner, Ronald Katongole, Babu Bill Babbitt, Edward Mpagi, Papa Bill Pelke in Rwanda 2011

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Members of the Team Journey for Africa; Bill Babbitt

I was asked by a friend if I would write about how Team Journey for Africa was selected.
When Bill Babbitt and I committed to going to Africa, things began to fall in place very quickly.


So first of all I would like to tell you a little bit about Bill Babbitt. 

Bill Babbitt supported the death penalty until it came knocking on his door.  Bill Babbitt turned his brother Manny over to the authorities when he realized his brother was involved in a violent crime.  Instead of Manny getting the mental health treatment he needed the State of California executed him.  Bill Babbitt watched his brother die in the San Quentin death house.  Bill feels like he has Manny’s blood on his hands.  Many have seen the picture of their mother Josephine at the execution vigil.  That photo was on the cover of Capital Consequences: Families of the Condemned Tell Their Stories, a book written by Rachel King who was a friend of ours.

Bill joined us for his first Journey in Texas in 2005 and brought his niece, Manny’s daughter Desiree.  In 2008 Bill committed to joining us on the Montana Journey of Hope.  He received a phone call from someone inviting him to Jamaica for a speaking tour taking place at the same time as the Montana Journey. Bill had always wanted to go to Jamaica, but because he wanted to keep his word to me, he declined their offer.

The main reason Bill wanted to come on the Montana Journey in the first place was that David Kaczynski was also going to be on it.  David gained international attention when he turned his brother in after realizing that his brother Ted could have been the Unabomber. Instead of getting the mental health treatment Ted needed the government decided to seek death.  Ted ended up with a life without the possibility of Parole (LWOP).   David befriended Bill and campaigned with Bill unsuccessfully to try and get Manny’s death sentenced overturned.

Bill and David became good friends and as a team of speakers they are the best. We have always referred to them as the Journey’s A Team.  They were also together on several Texas Journeys and this past year in Indiana. 

In 2011 my good friend Dirk Sisson said he would send me to Uganda with his frequent flyer miles when he found out Edward Mpagi had invited the Journey to help him in his lonely battle against the death penalty.  In turn, the first person I called was Bill Babbitt and asked him to join me in Uganda by using frequent flyer miles I had accumulated during my travels.
We met Edward’s friend Ronald Katongole in Uganda.  Edward had suffered a stroke a few weeks before we arrived but did not tell us for fear we would not come.  Edward knew that Ronald would take great care of us as host and he did. 

Ronald is a wonderful young man.  On this Journey Ronald will be our host, chief organizer and friend.  The Journey of Hope has a special relationship with Ronald.  We were able to bring him to Indiana last year to help Edward, who was sent to join us by the World Coalition to Against the Death Penalty at our request.  

The 2011 African Journey also went to Rwanda and Kenya. 

The trip to Africa changed Bill Babbitt’s life.  Bill is a Christian man with a strong faith in God.  He feels God’s hand is leading him back to Africa.  Many in Africa call him Babu, a sign of honor.
Babu feels that Uganda is very close to abolishing the death penalty.  It is on the books, but it is de facto, because they have not used it since 1999.  Bill feels like with a little nudge from the Journey that the death penalty in Uganda can be abolished.
Babu is going to Africa with the message of love and compassion for all of humanity.  The death penalty is inhumane and if anyone is an eye witness to that fact it is Bill Babbitt. 

Bill told me that since I took him to Africa the first time he would raise money and/or use his credit card to pay for the two of us to go.  How could I say no?  That is what I call an open door.   With Bill and I committed to going, I knew we would have to make it another Journey of Hope.  We both knew there would be something special about this Journey.

I told him I would raise and/or use my credit to bring Randy Gardner to Africa.  Randy went in 2011 and it was a life changing experience for him too.  Bill was 100% in agreement that it would be great to have Randy go again.

Randy and Bill have several things in common.  Randy’s brother was also executed. Both executions drew wide media attention.  Manny had been a hero in the Vietnam War and Randy’s brother, Ronnie Lee Gardner, was shot through the heart by a Firing Squad in the State of Utah.

A few days later after talking per chance with my friend Curtis McCarty, I told Babu that I would do the same for Curtis as I had pledged for Randy.  Curtis is a death row exoneree like Edward.  Curtis and Randy have powerful stories that give great witness the need for abolition.

I knew we had a great core of four to start the Journey with. In my next blog post I will share more about Randy and Curtis and how their powerful stories are an important part of the message we are taking to Africa.
I know we all have each other’s back.  That is such a blessing.

In following blogs I will be sharing who the other team members and why they were chosen.  We will all complement each other on team Africa.