Missouri Western hosted the Road Trip for Justice, a series of speaking tours about the Death Penalty on Feb. 15.
Sponsored by Western’s Newman Club and co-sponsored by Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the AJ Muste Memorial Institute, the Road Trip for Justice was designed for the purpose of engaging others to think about the Death Penalty and its consequences.
The speakers included Dennis Fritz, who was wrongfully convicted of first-degree murder and spent 11 years behind bars before being exonerated by DNA evidence; Linda Taylor, whose son Michael has been on death row since 1991; and Bess Klassen-Landis, whose mother was brutally raped and murdered when she was 13 years old.
At the event, Fritz discussed the terror he and his co-defendant Ron Williamson experienced during 11 years of incarceration and his life mission to bring about a greater awareness of false convictions. Taylor shared the story of her son’s arrest and trial, and the events of Feb. 1, 2006, the day her son was to be executed before receiving a stay of execution. Klassen-Landis describes the fear she lived in and reminded the audience that no matter what they did, those on death row are still human beings, not monsters.
Taylor, who works with Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, believes that the event achieved its purpose.
“I hope it will give them an opportunity…to educate themselves concerning the Death Penalty,” Taylor said.
Kayla Kelder, a psychology-spanish major at Western, is the president of the Newman Club. Kelder argues that the event is not designed to abolish the Death Penalty nor talk down to those in favor of the Death Penalty, but rather to rationalize the worth of human life.
“How can we say that killing someone who’s killed someone shows that the killing is wrong?” Kelder said. “We should lead by example and that’s not doing it.”
Rachel Hansen, secretary of the Newman Club, was in attendance. Hansen feels the event has a very deep purpose.
“If we try to understand each other first, we’ll have a much better grasp on what another person believes,” Hansen said.
Regardless of whether or not the Death Penalty is abolished as a result of this speaking tour and the ones to follow, Kelder hopes that the Road Trip for Justice will succeed in showing people how the Death Penalty affects everyone.
“We’re all interconnected in this great big thing called human life,” Kelder said. “Life is worth so much. We all effect each other in one way or another.”