Indiana woman on death row at age 16 for murdering Bible school teacher will be freed

Dec 8, 2004
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Paula Cooper was convicted in the 1985 murder of Ruth Pelke, who was found stabbed 33 times across her chest as part of a home invasion. Cooper, now 43, will be released Monday after her death penalty punishment nearly 30 years ago raised international attention.



Sarah Tompkins /AP

Paula Cooper was convicted of fatally stabbing an elderly Gary, Ind., Bible school teacher 33 times with a butcher knife. She’s seen here in a prison kitchen.

NDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana woman put on death row at age 16 for killing an elderly Bible school teacher is scheduled to be released Monday after serving a prison term that was shortened after the state Supreme Court intervened.

Paula Cooper's death sentence at such a young age sparked international protests and a plea for clemency from Pope John Paul II. Now 43 years old, Cooper is being given a second chance at her life.

Cooper, of Gary Ind., was 15 when she and three other teenage girls showed up at Ruth Pelke's house on May 14, 1985, with plans of robbing the 78-year-old Bible school teacher. Pelke let Cooper and two of the teen's companions into her Gary home after they told her they were interested in Bible lessons.

The girls were on their lunch break from high school.


WBBM

Bill Pelke, Ruth Pelke's grandson, holds a picture of her.

As the fourth teen waited outside as a lookout, Cooper stabbed Pelke 33 times with a 12-inch butcher knife across her chest. Then she and the other girls ransacked the house.

Authorities said Pelke was praying the Lord’s Prayer while she was being brutally murdered.

RELATED: SEE DEATH ROW INMATES’ LAST MEALS

The four girls fled with the woman’s car and $10.


Lake County Police Department

Paula Cooper, who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Ruth Pelke of Gary, Ind., will be released from prison June 17.

Cooper's three accomplices were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 25 to 60 years. But Cooper, who confessed to Pelke's slaying, was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. At the time — in 1986 — she was the youngest death row inmate in the U.S.

Some people believed Cooper deserved to die, but the punishment enraged human rights activists and death penalty opponents around the world, including those who viewed the teen as a victim of a racist criminal justice system.

Pope John Paul II urged that Cooper be granted clemency in 1987, and in 1988 a priest brought a petition to Indianapolis with more than 2 million signatures protesting Cooper's sentence.

The Indiana Supreme Court set Cooper's death sentence aside in 1988 and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison after state legislators passed a law raising Indiana's minimum age limit for execution from 10 to 16. The state's high court also cited a 1988 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court barring the execution of juveniles younger than 16 at the time of the crime.

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WBBM

Paula Cooper was 16 when she was sentenced to death in 1986, sparking international outrage because of her age.

Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute anyone younger than 18.

RELATED: LIFE OR DEATH FOR CONVICTED COP-KILLER?

"People still know about this case," Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford, who was the Lake County prosecutor during Cooper's murder trial, told The Indianapolis Star. "The name Paula Cooper still resonates, and she's going to attract some attention when she is released."

But, he said, Cooper has done her time and may yet contribute to society once she leaves the Rockville Correctional Facility, where she will leave with $75 and clothing from the state. Crawford said he has come to oppose the death penalty since Cooper's conviction.

Lake County Police Department

Convicted killer Paula Cooper has gotten in trouble 23 times during her prison stint, including 10 times for low-level violations.

Cooper's sister, Rhonda Labroi, said she hopes people will see Paula as more than a killer. After getting in trouble 23 times during her time in prison, Paula Cooper turned to education, earning a bachelor's degree in 2001. She also trained assistance dogs and tutored other prisoners.

"She was just a child at the time that happened, and now she is an adult and people should wait and see and give her a chance," Labroi said. "Give her an opportunity. Maybe she'll do some wonderful things for children who are growing up and aren't so fortunate, like she was.

"There are second chances," she said. "It seems like God has given her another chance. I think if people give her a second chance, she'll do fine."

Cooper told The Star in a jailhouse interview in 2004 that she was on the straight and narrow.

“Everybody has a responsibility to do right or wrong, and if you do wrong, you should be punished,” she said. “Rehabilitation comes from you. If you're not ready to be rehabilitated, you won't be.”
Link

Re-offending in 4... 3... 2...
 

gleet

What's black and white and red all over?
Jul 24, 2005
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#2
"She was just a child at the time that happened, and now she is an adult and people should wait and see and give her a chance,"
I was also a child at age 15, but I never stabbed an old crone 33 times.
 

LiddyRules

I'm Gonna Be The Bestest Pilot In The Whole Galaxy
Jun 1, 2005
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#4
Thanks Reddit Atheists
 

Norm Stansfield

私は亀が好きだ。
Mar 17, 2009
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"There are second chances," she said. "It seems like God has given her another chance. I think if people give her a second chance, she'll do fine."
Setting up the excuse on why she's not gonna do fine, huh? 'cause people just wouldn't give her a second chance, and invite her over to grandma's for Bible study all over again.
 
Dec 8, 2004
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#6
So when and what offense do you think she is going to commit... I'm thinking petty larceny (like shoplifting) within a month.
 

gleet

What's black and white and red all over?
Jul 24, 2005
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#7
Convicted killer Paula Cooper has gotten in trouble 23 times during her prison stint, including 10 times for low-level violations.
Does that mean the other 13 times were high-level violations?
 

mascan42

Registered User
Aug 26, 2002
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#10
Paula Cooper was convicted in the 1985 murder of Ruth Pelke
Paula Cooper, who was sentenced to death for the 1988 murder of Ruth Pelke
Cooper . . . was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. At the time — in 1986 — she was the youngest death row inmate in the U.S.
MAKE UP YOUR FUCKING MINDS!!!
 
Dec 8, 2004
48,644
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#11
Does that mean the other 13 times were high-level violations?
Prob never find out what those were...

Edit: Looking for them I came across this...

June 12, 1997: Saying that her constitutional rights have been violated, Cooper files a federal lawsuit against state officials for keeping her in a segregated area of the Indiana Women’s Prison. She is seeking up to $1.5 million in compensatory damages.
 

JoeyDVDZ

That's MR. MOJO, Motherfucker!
Aug 20, 2004
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#13
Why are they releasing this person? Wouldn't the justice in this story be merely commuting her sentence, letting her live her useless life in prison, instead of death? How does outrage over the death penalty result in freeing this murderous she-boon?
 

Hog's Big Ben

Getting ass-***** in The Octagon, brother.
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Jul 28, 2005
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#14
those who viewed the teen as a victim of a racist criminal justice system.

Fuck you. No, seriously, fuck you. You might be able to blame the racist criminal justice system for a dodgy traffic ticket in Alabama, not for stabbing a white bitch 33 fucking times.
 

Mags

LDAR, bitch.
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Oct 22, 2004
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#15
Why are they releasing this person? Wouldn't the justice in this story be merely commuting her sentence, letting her live her useless life in prison, instead of death? How does outrage over the death penalty result in freeing this murderous she-boon?
Money and space. That's why any of the animals are released.