Kassel/Miami. They have never met him. They never talked to him in person.
They live thousands of miles away and don’t speak the same language. Many
people might call the two Germans crazy: Peter Koch and Kai
Friedrich from Germany are the only pen-pals of convicted murderer Lancelot
Armstrong who is imprisoned in Raiford, Florida, and faces a death sentence.
Koch and Friedrich fight for his release – with limited weapons.
The 54-year-old Koch, who has grey, curly hair, holds a folder with the letters he received from „Lancelot“. That’s what Koch use to call his pen-pal.
He organized the handwritten letters in a special order.
After each English version follows the German translation. „My and Kai’s
English skills are not the best“, Koch says. When the sentences are too
complicated Koch uses a translation program. Sometimes a friend would
translate the passages for them.
Now, after two years of exchanging
letters, Koch is convinced that Lancelot, who was pleaded guilty for murder
in the first degree, is innocent. Armstrong, Koch says, told him the real
story of what happened in February 1990: A complicated muddle of
misunderstandings, faked evidence and coincidences. It would be too
complicated and tricky to explain all the details, Koch says, but as one
saw in the past, American justice often makes when they charge somebody for murder. „I wish they would release him“, says Koch.
But he knows that chances are low. To support the 50-year-old Armstrong
Koch and Friedrich send him money every three months , even though
both are unemployed and receive little money from the state.
In Germany, the death penalty is forbidden. Documentaries about prisoners on death row in the US
are popular in German television. Koch watched one of those. That was the
starting point for the man who lives in a midsized town named Kassel: 200,000 people live here, right in the middle of Germany. „I couldn’t stop
crying“, Koch says. He wanted to do something and found a webpage that
connects prisoners and people who are looking to exchange letters. That was
the beginning of the friendship between Armstrong and Koch, who traveled
Germany as a puppeteer – until he couldn’t make a living. He became
sick and unable to work. Now he is an invalid pensioner and has with his
friend Lancelot a new task in his life. „It is better than doing nothing
and just watching television“, Koch says.
His roommate, Kai, not only shares his passion to support Lancelot, Kai shares a similar situation: Unable to work for 30 years because of health problems . On the wall of the living room is a picture of Armstrong in his orange overalls.
According to criminal records, Armstrong and a friend tried to rob a
restaurant in Broward County, Florida, in 1990. The assistant manager pulled the> silent alarm. The deputy sheriff and another officer arrived at the scene.
In the ensuing shooting, the sheriff died and his colleague was injured. Later
investigations assumed that Armstrong fired the shots that killed the
sheriff. According to Koch, Armstrong denies that.
On the table are printings from Armstrong. „With the money Lancelot buys
colors and materials for drawing“, Koch says. Sometimes also food. Those
pictures – naive drawings with hearts, flying birds and fawns as such from Disney movies – Armstrong sends to Germany. „We try to sell
them“, says Koch. They are more or less successful. Koch and Friedrich also
founded an organization called „Hilfe für Lancelot“ (Help for Lancelot“). With this organization they try to raise money. To get more
attention they go from time to time to the main street in Kassel. „We print
hundreds of flyers with the picture of Lancelot Armstrong and hand them out
to the people“, he explains. Moreover, Koch, who also worked as a musician
decades ago, produced a CD with songs and pictures of Lancelot. But a lot
of people cannot understand why they invest so much time and money for a
murderer in America. People get aggressive or would ask if he
has nothing more important to do, Koch says. „I can understand that, but I
don’t get angry. I am a friend of humans.“
Despite the wonder and refusal, Koch and Friedrich are still able to collect
money. Every two or three months they send about 200 dollar to Armstrong.
Always with a letter from Koch where he is explaining in simple words how
life is going in Germany, what they are trying to do to help him or if they
were able to get attention from a local radio station or newspaper.
Armstrong answers this letter. In the last one he was explaining his fears,
because the department of corrections in Florida killed in February first
his cell neighbor Juan Carlos Chavez and two weeks later Paul Howell who
was also on death row. „Right now he is like a tiger in a cage“, Koch says.
Koch and Friedrich are planning a trip to visit Armstrong in his cell
at the beginning of 2015. „We try to save some money“, Koch and Friedrich
say. Recently they also started to exchange mails with Armstrong’s mother.