Paula Cooper has been freed after 27 years. At the age of 15, Cooper entered the home of Ruth Pelke under false pretenses. She then stabbed the elderly woman 33 times. Cooper was initially sentenced to death. However, she has now been freed from prison.
Because of the heinous details of the case, Cooper became the youngest defendant to receive the death penalty. She and three of her friends knocked on Ruth Pelke’s door on May 14, 1985. Pelke happily let the girls in, as they stated they were interested in taking Bible lessons.
As reported by CBS News, Cooper and her friends intended to rob Pelke. Cooper eventually admitted hitting Pelke over the head before she stabbed her 33 times with a butcher knife. She and her friends left Pelke to die on the floor as they fled with her vehicle and $10 they found in her home.
In 1986, at the age of 16, Cooper was sentenced to die by electrocution. In a strange twist of events, Paula Cooper was freed from prison today after 27 years.
Her removal from death row was sanctioned by Pope John Paul II, who felt the sentence was too harsh for someone under the age of 18. A local priest echoed the pope’s feelings. In 1988, a petition with over two million signatures was presented to the Indiana Supreme Court.
As a consequence, her sentence was reduced to 60 years in 1988.
Cooper’s death sentence and eventual release were also sanctioned by an unlikely source. Ruth Pelke’s grandson Bill has been outspoken about his opposition to the death penalty, specifically the penalty imposed on Cooper at the age of 16.
As reported by WTSP, Bill explains how he came to support Cooper’s release:
“For a year and a half I thought about how my grandmother died, and it was horrible… I started thinking about my grandmother’s life… I realized I no longer wanted Paula to die. I wanted to help her. I realized forgiveness had already taken place.”
Bill eventually met Cooper at the prison. They now keep in contact through e-mail. He states that he is very happy about her release and hopes to meet her for lunch or a shopping trip.
Not everyone shares Bill’s forgiving nature. Cooper’s family is concerned that she will meet some serious opposition from Indiana residents. Her sister, Rhonda Labroi, hopes people will get a chance to know her sister before they judge her.
Cooper reportedly had 23 disciplinary actions while incarcerated. However, she eventually calmed down and focused on getting an education. By 2001, she obtained her bachelor’s degree.
Paula Cooper was freed from prison today. However, she has a long road ahead. Despite the support of her family and Bill Pelke, she will face judgment from many Indiana residents. Ruth Pelke was admired and loved by many. For some, her death was too horrific to ever forgive.
[Image via Wikimedia]