They believe they are winning.
In the state that has used the death penalty more than any other in the nation, three abolitionists walked from Dallas to Fort Worth to compel members of the faith community to be more vocal in calling for the death of the death penalty in Texas.
All the arguments against the death penalty — the exonerations, the flawed convictions — have slowly turned public opinion in their favor, according to Lynn Walters, Jeff Hood and Wes Magruder, the three making the 35-mile walk.
The marchers started their day in Dallas, where they delivered a letter to Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. They then held a news conference before beginning their walk toward Cowtown.
They arrived in Fort Worth on Friday evening.
Walters, executive director of the Dallas-based advocacy group Hope for Peace and Justice, said that like many others she once supported the death penalty. Over the course of a decade she changed her mind, Walters said.
Walters said she senses a new willingness among death-penalty supporters to listen to other options. Some people, she said, do not realize that life in prison without the possibility for parole is a sentencing alternative being rapidly deployed in the state.
“There is no justification for the death penalty,” Walters said. “As a Christian, I believe in redemption and resurrection. The death penalty does not allow for any of that. I think you have to give God a chance to do whatever work needs to be done with that person.”
The walk coincides with an anti-death-penalty conference that will be held Saturday at University Christian Church in Fort Worth. Sponsored by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, more than than 100 people are expected to attend, said Kristin Houlè, TCADP executive director.
Wes Magruder, a Methodist minister, said the majority of United Methodist church members have historically supported the abolition of the death penalty but have been remarkably unenthusiastic about voicing their opposition.
“I think if all the Methodists spoke with one voice, the death-penalty policy would change in Texas,” he said.
The other marcher, the Rev. Jeff Hood, a member of the TCADP board of directors, said faith leadership needs to be more active on this issue.
“We are trying to get the leaders of these churches to offer their opinion and push,” Hood said. “If anyone can move the needle on this issue, it will be faith leaders. On some level, I think pastors are the last, great hope for moving this issue forward.”
According to a 2013 Pew Research survey, 55 percent of Americans said they favor the death penalty for persons convicted of murder, compared to 78 percent in 1996.
Meanwhile, the percentage of those opposing the death penalty has risen from 18 percent in 1996 to 37 percent in 2013.
The trio entered downtown Fort Worth around 9:15 p.m. According to Hood, they were tired and their feet were blistered, but they were confident that they gained “a lot of traction, not just on our soles, but getting our message out.”
IF YOU GO
What: 16th annual conference of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday in Fort Worth.
Where: Fellowship Hall, University Christian Church, 2720 S. University Dr., Fort Worth.
Who: Keynote speaker is Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders and State Reps Lon Burham and Terry Canales and others will be honored for their work against the death penalty.
Registration: $60 for members and $70 for non-members; includes lunch.