Could You Forgive Someone for Murder? Alex Mar on the Court Case That Inspired Her Book
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Alex Mar is the guest. Her new book, Seventy Times Seven: A True Story of Murder and Mercy, is out now from Penguin Press.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: I’m curious, as a reader, how you got interested in this particular case and in the issue of capital punishment and in particular the issue of capital punishment as it pertains to teenage offenders.
Alex Mar: Yeah. I mean, I think whenever. Whenever I choose to pursue a story. It’s through a connection to characters, so to speak. You know, individual human lives, the people who draw me, not so much like a larger issue. I read about the case through some adjacent research I was doing, and I just it just stopped me in my tracks. And for two main reasons. One, the fact that this murder had been committed by a 15 year old girl. Her age just shocked me. And the fact that she was sentenced to death at that age for the crime.
But then also this other aspect, which is the choice of Bill Pelkey, Ruth’s grandson, to then, a few months after her death sentence, to publicly forgive Paula and decide that actually, no, his grandmother would have wanted him to try to save this girl’s life, not to allow someone to be executed in her name. And it is a tall order to expect someone to go and forgive the person who murdered their loved one. I really didn’t know how I felt about that.
So I looked him up. I looked Bill up and I said, do you have a second? I really want to talk about this decision you made years ago. And I realized that I really wanted to grapple with that because not only did he forgive her, he wrote a letter to the editor of this big local paper. He announced his decision to his family members and his friends and his coworkers. They all thought he was insane.
But he also wrote a letter and looked up the address of death row for Paula in Indianapolis and just sat down one day at the steel mill where he worked, grab some printer paper from his foreman’s office, got a pen, sat down on his break and just thought, okay, what am I going to say to this girl on death row who murdered my grandmother?
Alex Mar is the author of Witches of America, which was a New York Times Notable Book and Editors’ Pick. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Wired, The New York Times Book Review, and The Guardian, among many other outlets, as well as The Best American Magazine Writing. She has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Feature Writing, and she is the director of the feature-length documentary American Mystic. She lives in the Hudson Valley and New York City.