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Indiana woman sentenced to die at 16 is freed

By Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 09:10 a.m. HST, Jun 17, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS » A woman who was sentenced to death at age 16 after she confessed to her part in the torture and murder of a 78-year-old bible studies teacher has been released from an Indiana prison after spending a quarter century behind bars.

Paula Cooper, whose death sentence in 1986 enraged human rights activists and drew a plea for clemency from Pope John Paul II, left the state prison quietly in a state vehicle and wearing donated clothing, Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison said.

The prison, about 60 miles west of Indianapolis, gave the now-43-year-old woman $75 to help her make a fresh start.

When asked where Cooper was being taken, Garrison said, "We have something arranged but that's not something I can talk about."

Cooper was 15 years old when she used a butcher's knife to cut Ruth Pelke 33 times during a robbery in Gary that ended in Pelke's death. Her three companions received lighter sentences but Cooper confessed to the killing and in 1986, at age 16, she became the youngest person on death row in the country.

Shortly after, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of young people who were under 16 at the time they committed an offense could not be sentenced to death, saying it counted as cruel and unusual punishment and was thus unconstitutional. Indiana legislators then passed a state law raising the minimum age limit for execution from 10 years to 16, and in 1988, the state's high court set Cooper's death sentence aside and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute anyone who is younger than 18 years when they commit an offense.

Cooper's sentence was reduced due to her behavior in prison, where she earned a bachelor's degree. She will remain on parole for a few years, Garrison said.

"We're just wanting her to be successful, that's all," he said. "She needs to get back to living."

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SteveToo wrote:
They should have fried that evil b i t ..... c h.
on June 16,2013 | 02:18PM
HOSSANA wrote:
I agree!! They should have turned her into bacon and feed her to the pigs.......nothing more and nothing less.
on June 16,2013 | 03:59PM
BRock wrote:
Two horrible posts. It is a good thing that their opinions do not count for anything.
on June 16,2013 | 08:11PM
SteveToo wrote:
Well BRock someday when someone kills someone you love you may change you mind.
on June 16,2013 | 08:49PM
BRock wrote:
I hope I never become so miserable that I post like that.
on June 17,2013 | 10:12AM
copperwire9 wrote:
How very Christ-like of you, eh?
on June 17,2013 | 02:22PM
cojef wrote:
Find it hard to reconcile myself, when a religious person is so wantonly murdered, which appears as racial motivated, but there may be wisdom in the decision.
on June 16,2013 | 02:20PM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Stabbing 33 times is pure evil - no wonder why so many people hate the Catholic Church.
on June 16,2013 | 02:44PM
kennysmith wrote:
i never did like the Catholic to. my mom and dad sent me there when i was little and i never went back to Church ever cence. i don't like any one to tell me that GOD IS GOOD. I DON'T SEE ANY THING GOOD FROM HIM.
on June 17,2013 | 04:33AM
Fred01 wrote:
"ever cense" bawhahahah! You're a smart one!
on June 17,2013 | 10:18AM
copperwire9 wrote:
And you're crude. Are you proud of that?
on June 17,2013 | 02:23PM
typroctor wrote:
Come on living, there are not a lot of people who hate the Catholic Church. You must have a lot of hate in your heart.
on June 17,2013 | 05:45AM
mrluke wrote:
Trying to get where living reads the Catholic Church into this story.
on June 17,2013 | 02:43PM
copperwire9 wrote:
I wondered that myself. Perhaps because the Pope participated in getting her execution stopped?
on June 17,2013 | 02:49PM
entrkn wrote:
In Hawaii, our crack system of justice would have would have told her that she better not kill anyone else and sentenced her to 30 days probation.
on June 16,2013 | 03:09PM
ellemnop wrote:
At 15 this person stabbed a 78 year old bible school teacher 33 times with a butcher knife. Should she be given a second chance? As far as I'm concerned, she got her second chance when she wasn't sent to the electric chair. I wonder how the victim's family feels about her release.
on June 16,2013 | 03:23PM
copperwire9 wrote:
Actually, I know Ms. Pelke's grandson, who was really close to his grandma. It took him years to move past hatred for the people who participated in her grandmother's death, but he did, in fact, move to compassion. . . .He helped get Ms. Cooper's execution stopped; he helped her get her bachelor's degree, and he has worked very hard to help her make something good of her life. . . .It is said that when Jesus was hanging on his cross, he turned to the thief and killer on either side of him and said, "This day, you will be with me in Paradise." . . .Forgiveness and compassion aren't easy, but they saved Ms. Pelke's grandson from poisoning himself with bitterness. And it saved this woman's life. She can, and will, bring more good into the world.
on June 17,2013 | 02:30PM
mrluke wrote:
Yeah, very sweet.
on June 17,2013 | 02:46PM
BRock wrote:
It really is irrelevant how the family feels.
on June 17,2013 | 05:09PM
paradiddle wrote:
Hmmm....she murdered an elderly bible school teacher by stabbing her to death and has been in trouble 23 times since incarcerated and she deserves a 2nd chance? Who wants to bet she gets into trouble with the law within 1 year? Anyone?
on June 16,2013 | 06:05PM
DeltaDag wrote:
Even at age 43, would any of us want her living next door?
on June 16,2013 | 07:05PM
Bdpapa wrote:
I want to know if any of the others were still serving time.
on June 16,2013 | 08:14PM
SteveToo wrote:
"Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional to execute anyone younger than 18." Think something is wrong at the Supreme Court? To many LIBERAL judges.
on June 16,2013 | 08:51PM
Skyler wrote:
Hard to believe they are letting her out after murdering that old woman. They obviously don't have a clue what they're doing.
on June 16,2013 | 11:33PM
Hawaiians wrote:
And they think they are doing the community a service shame.
on June 17,2013 | 08:01PM
kennysmith wrote:
i don't like god thing to.
on June 17,2013 | 04:30AM
loquaciousone wrote:
So if you're black, female and young, it's okay to murder someone and play the race card.
on June 17,2013 | 07:39AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
"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"...all Paula Cooper is a criminal with a college degree paid for by the taxpayers...a convicted murder who brutally stabbed a 78 year old Bible teacher 33 times. She should never leave prison and should die behind bars....
on June 17,2013 | 07:43AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Old saying was the there are no atheist in fox holes.
on June 17,2013 | 08:24AM
BRock wrote:
You know, you can get in trouble in prison for a host of minor in-house infractions like swearing at a guard, or not getting up in the morning, or being in the wrong place. In so many years, if she only got in trouble 23 times, that is nothing that would disqualify her for her parole. How many times have you done something that could have gotten you in trouble if you had been caught, in the last 25 years? Things like speeding in your car and the like. Huh, I'll bet more than 23 times.
on June 17,2013 | 05:20PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Your point being??.......
on June 17,2013 | 07:40PM
localgirl2 wrote:
A second chance for her. Seems that she willingly chose to take the life of an elderly 'good' person. Where is that lady's second chance? It was extinguished when she killed her. I know as Christians we have to turn the other cheek to forgive those who trespass against us. It's so very, very hard to do when you've been wronged. Only the Lord Jesus can accomplish that through us. As mortals, we are unable to do that. We must forgive or become bitter and diseased. In the end, the transgressor wins if that is indeed what happens to us. We must make the correct choice. It is not an easy step to take, (ask me!) but with God's grace we can do it through him. I'm still a work in progress.
on June 17,2013 | 08:25AM
ryan02 wrote:
Yep, too bad the victim doesn't get a "second chance," thanks to this vicious killer. Second chance at life for a killer = second chance to kill again. Anyone who can stab an elderly woman 33 times with a butcher knife then go on to rob her without any remorse is deranged. I doubt society needs someone like that in it. In fact, with over 6 billion people on the planet, this type of person isn't even necessary - the Earth will do just fine (in fact, even better), without her in it.
on June 17,2013 | 08:38AM
lowtone123 wrote:
Yeah she may have turned her life around in prison where her environment around her is controlled and regulated. What's going to happen when she is placed back into society and has to work, pay bills, find shelter, etc. Would any of us feel totally comfortable living next to her? Me neither.
on June 17,2013 | 08:51AM
hanoz808 wrote:
bottom line is she murdered someone.... she doesnt get a second chance
on June 17,2013 | 09:34AM
ellinaskyrt wrote:
From Wikipedia: "Pelke's grandson Bill Pelke initially favored the death penalty for Cooper but joined the movement opposing it in 1987. He wrote about his forgiveness of Cooper in a 2003 book Journey of Hope"
on June 17,2013 | 09:56AM
kimpira wrote:
Maybe the grandson will take in Paula Cooper so she can have a second chance.
on June 17,2013 | 10:06AM
copperwire9 wrote:
He IS helping her.
on June 17,2013 | 02:33PM
Shh wrote:
I'm hoping she lives next door to one of the people that set her free.
on June 17,2013 | 11:16AM
konag43 wrote:
anyone that stabs a person 33 times should stay in prison for the rest of their lives. she will probably do it again and end up in prison again. some people made horrible post but unfortunatley i agree with them. if a 16 year old teenager can do what she did it will be worse at an addult level. i went to catholic school and had no problems. appears kennysmith had a miserable home life and is trying to blame it on the catholic church.
on June 17,2013 | 04:25PM
BRock wrote:
Give me a break. The fact is that people have been killing people ever since people have existed. While civilized people see the crime as very heinous, it is very possible for a 15 year old girl to change radically in prison as an adult and not be a significant threat to society anymore. Where is your compassion? Now the clowns will say that where is the compassion for the victim - well I am very sorry for the victim, who would not be? However, she is dead and nothing will bring her back. This lady is alive and I would be surprised if she offends seriously again.
on June 17,2013 | 05:16PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Its not the point whether or not Paula Cooper repented or got a college degree or is a so called "changed person"...its the fact that she should pay for brutally stabbing the 78 year old woman. Sinced the State didnt executed her, she should never have been allowed parole under any circumstances and should been given a life without parole sentence. Her being released causes citizens to lose faith in the criminal justice system.
on June 17,2013 | 07:49PM
Hawaiians wrote:
one year on parole tiff
on June 17,2013 | 08:02PM
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