Paula Cooper Dies: Once-Youngest Death Row Inmate In U.S. Found Dead In An Apparent Suicide

Paula Cooper dies from an apparent suicide.

Cooper, once the youngest death row inmate in the United States, was found dead in Indianapolis on Tuesday, May 26. Authorities say 45-yer-old Cooper died from a reportedly self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the New York Daily News.

Cooper, an Indian native, was sentenced to death in 1986 when she was only 16-years-old, after confessing to having a role in murdering her 78-year-old Bible studies teacher the previous year. Cooper admitted to stabbing Ruth Pelke 33 times with a 12-inch butcher knife, during a robbery that only garnered the four teens involved $10 and an old car, according to the Guardian. Paula was only 15-years-old at the time of the murder.

Cooper’s death sentence enraged human rights activists, both in the United States and in Europe. Pope John Paul II even asked for a plea for clemency for Paula. In 1988, another priest presented a petition to Indianapolis with more than 2 million signatures protesting her death.

The Indiana Supreme Court eventually set aside her death sentence, and gave her a 60-year prison term sentence. She was released from prison two years ago, after serving nearly 30 years.

Bill Pelke, the victim’s grandson, was the one who organized the protest against Cooper’s death sentence, and says he was devastated to hear that she had died.

“My grandmother would have been appalled she was on death row and that there was so much hate and anger and desire for her to die. I was convinced my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula and her family,” he said in a telephone interview.

Pelke said he had even visited Cooper in prison, and was set to meet up with her again next month after she was released from parole.

“I have no idea what was going on in her life. I thought she was doing well from everything I had heard,” he said. “I had hoped she would travel with us. She had always told me she wanted to help young people to avoid the pitfalls that she had fallen into. She said she knew she had done something terrible to society and she wanted to give back.”

[Photos via YouTube screenshots]