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NCADP honors KCADP’s Carl Wedekind at 2010 Annual Conference

KCADP board member Carl Wedekind was recognized at the NCADP's annual conference for his work to abolish the death penalty.

KCADP board member Carl Wedekind was recognized at the NCADP's annual conference for his work to abolish the death penalty. Photo: Bill Sheets Photography

Congratulations to KCADP’s Carl Wedekind!

Carl received a special recognition at NCADP’s 2010 Annual Conference for “his long career as director of Kentucky’s Abolition NOW campaign and board member of the Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.”

Here’s the speech that Pat Delahanty, KCADP’s chair, gave introducing Carl:

Thank you very much for that kind introduction. And thanks to the Board and the staff of NCADP for bringing this conference to Kentucky.

And thank you gathered here this evening for a celebration of the work of abolition in this nation. To all of you, who have traveled here, please accept another warm Kentucky welcome. And to all the Kentuckians here, welcome and thank you for the work you do to proclaim that we do not accept killing others in our name.

The work of the Kentucky Coalition began shortly after Gov. Julian Carroll signed legislation passed in a special session of our General Assembly in December 1976. There was always opposition to the use of capital punishment in this state, though limited and not organized as it is today. As time passed abolitionists began to find one another in various communities. Through the efforts of Suzy Post, the executive director of the ACLU in Kentucky, an organization began to form and incorporated in 1988. We had an early legislative success in 1990 enacting legislation that precluded the execution of mentally retarded persons, the third state to do so. Other legislative efforts were not fruitful until 1998 when, after a difficult struggle, we enacted the first Racial Justice Act in the country.

A few months earlier, on July 1, 1997 the people of Kentucky killed Harold McQueen, the first execution in this state since 1962. What had seemed impossible had now become a reality. More than 1500 persons turned out that evening to protest this execution and one of them was Carl Wedekind. Carl was a long time member of the ACLU and prior to this execution he served on their legal panel and was recruited to help with last ditch appeals to save Harold’s life. Those efforts fell only one Supreme Court justices’ vote short of finding electrocution cruel and unusual.

Writing about the event later in his book, Politics, Religion and Death, Carl said, “Harold McQueen’s journey ended, and my journey as an abolitionist began.” Suffering from the frustration that accompanied the futility of trying to abolish the death penalty in Kentucky in 1997, he went on to say, “This taste of powerlessness lit a flame that became a fire in my belly.”

KCADP has benefitted from that fire since the day it was enkindled. Carl approached the Coalition with ideas and energy and the generous offer of his time. He proposed raising a sizable amount of money, hiring a full-time person to work with him as he volunteered his time to direct the Abolition 2000 campaign. He joined the Board of KCADP and implemented this plan. We interviewed several excellent applicants for the position and Kaye Gallagher was hired to work with Carl.

He traveled the state meeting with small groups of people at Kiwanis and Rotary clubs, in church basements, and school classrooms. Wherever someone would provide an opportunity Carl was there to take advantage of it. All this effort was directed to ending the death penalty in the 2000 session of Kentucky’s General Assembly.

As with any journey, there were highs and lows, ups and downs, good days and bad days. Carl’s work enabled us to get our first serious legislative hearing on abolishing the death penalty, not in the Judiciary committee headed up by one of our strongest opponents, but in the Health and Welfare committee where the Chair, Rep. Tom Burch, said that it did not appear to him that execution was good for your health.

During this time, we could rejoice that Larry Osborne had his death sentence unanimously overturned by our Supreme Court and after he was found not guilty by a jury in a new trial his name was added to Dick Dieter’s famous list.

Carl advised me to say something funny this evening. I often wish I had that style. But somehow, I did not get that typically Irish gene. But I did pick up that gene that sustained the Irish throughout the dark periods and this is the ability to hope. And hope is sustained when there are others standing by you in the struggle.

So, KCADP is grateful the fire in Carl’s belly still burns. His story is one of hope and these words of his are so apt this evening: “I continue to be amazed at the workings of this world, but I decided it is simply better to believe that if you keep after it, good things will eventually happen. I believe this, and off we go again.”

Please welcome Carl Wedekind.

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