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Death penalty foes, victims themselves, plead their case

Thursday, August 10, 2000

By Gary Rotstein, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

SueZann Bosler testified at the sentencing of James Bernard Campbell, a man who repeatedly stabbed her and murdered her father in the parsonage of his Miami church in 1986.

But rather than attack Campbell in court, she has used her role as a victim of his brutality to defend him and all others facing the death penalty. Bosler pleaded that his life be spared, saying that she forgave him. She helped get an initial death sentence altered to life imprisonment, and though he refuses to talk to her, Bosler spends her free time trying to convince influential policy-makers and everyday citizens that capital punishment should be outlawed.

The 37-year-old Miami hairdresser is among a group visiting Pittsburgh today on a trip across Pennsylvania called "The Journey of Hope ... From Violence to Healing." The death penalty opponents riding in a marked "Journey of Hope" bus are led by Bosler and others whose relatives died from violence but who don't want the government to kill the attackers. Bosler is a co-founder of the annual journey, which began in 1993 and visits a different state each year.

"Yes, I was mad and upset about my father getting killed and watching him die, but I changed. ... It took me awhile to get to the forgiveness stage," Bosler said by phone while driving with others from State College to Erie yesterday.

Now she takes pleasure in getting at least one person a day to alter his or her opinion about the death penalty by listening to her personal experiences. Three other individuals on the bus are like Bosler, relatives of murder victims who want the death penalty abolished, and the group of 20 includes others delivering personal messages against capital punishment, including the parents of an inmate sentenced to die.

"We try not to get up and preach to anybody that we're right and they're wrong," Bosler said. "We get up and tell our story, and then set on the table lots of facts and figures so it gives them more of a view. Depending on the person, sometimes the story sets them off to changing their mind, and sometimes the facts do."

Sister Barbara Finch, a Sisters of St. Joseph nun and president of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition Against the Death Penalty, said the caravan's visit is timely because of Pennsylvania's reinstitution of the death penalty during the Ridge administration, with three executions occurring from among some 230 inmates on death row.

Efforts to place a moratorium on use of the death penalty failed to win passage in the state Legislature this year. Earlier this week in Harrisburg, participants in "The Journey of Hope" met with legislative aides and demonstrated outside the governor's mansion. Their Pittsburgh itinerary may include a visit with at least one state legislator, Finch said.

Also on the group's agenda is a meeting with clergy this morning at the Pittsburgh Hospitality House in North Point Breeze; a gathering with lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers from among any willing to meet them at the Allegheny County Bar Association auditorium at noon; and an open public session at 7 p.m. at Monumental Baptist Church in the Hill District for anyone interested in discussing their experiences.

The group's trip concludes with a visit to Fayette County for Children's Crusade 2000, a three-day peace gathering opening tomorrow at the New Meadow Run Bruderhof community, a religious order that strongly opposes the death penalty.

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