Local residents join anti-execution vigil
Protesters seek clemency for Berry

The Cincinnati Enquirer

About a dozen people met in front of the Peaslee Neighborhood Center on Monday to caravan to the governor's mansion in Columbus for an anti-death-penalty vigil.

Members of the local Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center planned to meet others from across the state to ask outgoing Gov. George Voinovich to grant clemency to Wilford Berry, scheduled to be executed Feb. 19.

Mr. Berry would be the first person executed since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981. The last execution was in 1963.

Mr. Berry's mental competency to withdraw all appeals has been the central issue in whether to proceed with his execution for a 1989 robbery-murder in Cleveland.

“The argument we have is a double one,” said Tom Luken, a former congressman, as he held a soggy cardboard sign that read “Resist the Death Penalty.”

“First, we are opposed to capital punishment. But we are particularly opposed to the execution of the insane.”

The vigil, which is scheduled to continue today and Wednesday, was organized by a group called Ohioans to Stop Executions.

“This is not a rally,” said Jim Tobin, treasurer. “If we have three or four people an hour over the next three days, we'll be happy. We're just trying to have a symbolic witness.”

The vigil is for reflecting on Mr. Berry's life and praying that either he or the governor changes his mind, Mr. Tobin said.

“We aren't saying that Wilford should get out,” he said. “We're just saying he shouldn't die.”

Those who are working to help Mr. Berry get clemency say they hope the Christmas season will persuade the governor in his decision. Mr. Voinovich has said he will leave the matter for Gov.-elect Bob Taft.

Martha Stephens, 61, of Paddock Hills said she and her daughter, Shelley, could not let the season pass without “somebody saying this execution is not something to be doing at Christmas.”

“This season is supposed to be about love and peace and brotherhood,” she said.

Sister Alice Gerdeman, director of the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, said other vigils may be scheduled as the execution date draws nearer.

“There aren't many people lining up to love him,” she said. “So we have to.”

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