• Press Release

Bill Pelke will be remembered as a lifelong activist for death penalty abolition

November 18, 2020

Amnesty International USA is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Pelke, a longtime death penalty abolition activist, friend and ally. Bill served as the Indiana State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator from 1990 – 1996 for the organization. For decades, he dedicated his life toward the advancement of human rights by advocating against the use of the death penalty.

Upon hearing of Bill’s passing last week from a heart attack, Amnesty International USA Interim Executive Director, Bob Goodfellow said:

“Bill was truly a remarkable and gentle man of great courage and compassion. Bill’s love for humanity and his faith allowed him to forgive and inspired millions. Bill’s engagement with the death penalty began with the tragic loss of his grandmother, killed in her Indiana home by a fifteen-year-old teenager, Paula Cooper, who was later sentenced to death. Through a transformation, Bill came to oppose the death penalty and actively work to get Paula Cooper off death row.  He wrote to her, he supported her, and he started his own death penalty abolition organization called Journey of Hope. Bill’s advocacy proved successful: Paula Cooper’s death sentence was commuted to a sentence of 60 years, and in 2013 she was released from prison. Bill also was instrumental in raising the minimum age for the death penalty in the state from 10 to 16.

“Amnesty sends its deepest condolences to Bill’s family and community, and its gratitude for Bill’s work towards abolishing the death penalty. We hope his memory lives on as inspiration for others to continue onward towards abolition.”

Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution. Amnesty International believes than the death penalty should be abolished, once and for all.