An Indiana woman was found de*ad in Indianapolis. She was once the youngest person in the country to be on de*ath row, but her sentence was changed to a prison term.
Paula Cooper, 45, was found de*ad outside of a home on the north-west side of Indianapolis with a gunshot wound that seemed to have been done by herself. Cooper had been out of prison for about two years, since the Indiana Supreme Court had overturned her de*ath sentence and given her a 60-year prison sentence instead.
Cooper was 16 when she admitted to k*illing a 78-year-old Bible studies teacher the year before and was sentenced to de*ath in 1986. Cooper said that he robbed four young people of $10 and an old car by stabbing Ruth Pelke 33 times with a 12-inch butcher knife. Cooper was only 15 years old when the crime was done.
Her de*ath sentence upset people who work for human rights in the US and Europe, and Pope John Paul II asked for her to be spared. In 1988, a priest took a petition with more than 2 million signatures to Indianapolis. The petition was against Cooper’s sentence.
After his grandmother was ki*lled, Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, worked to stop the de*ath penalty. He said he was heartbroken to hear about Cooper’s de*ath. He said he helped Cooper because he thought that is what his grandmother would have wanted.
“My grandmother would have been shocked to find out she was on de*ath row and that so many people hated her and wanted her to die. “I was sure that my grandmother would have loved and cared about Paula and her family,” he said in a phone interview from Anchorage, Alaska, where he runs the Forgiveness Project, a charity that works to promote understanding and forgiveness.
Pelke said that he went to see Cooper in prison and that he had last talked to her in August of last year. He thought he would hear from Cooper next month, when she was supposed to get out of prison. He said that she had told him that she was interested in speaking for his group.
“I don’t know what was happening in her life. “From what I had heard, I thought she was doing well,” he said. “I was hoping she’d come with us. She always told me that she wanted to help young people avoid making the same mistakes she did. She said that she knew she had hurt people and that she wanted to make things right.
Cooper was sentenced to de*ath, but two years later, in a case that had nothing to do with Cooper, the US Supreme Court said that people who were under 16 at the time of a crime couldn’t get the de*ath penalty. The court said that these sentences were cruel and unusual, so they were against the Constitution.
Later, Indiana lawmakers passed a law that raised the minimum age for execution from 10 to 16. In 1988, the state’s highest court overturned Cooper’s de*ath sentence and put her in prison for 60 years.
Cooper’s sentence was cut because she was a good prisoner and got a bachelor’s degree while she was there. She was let out of prison on June 17, 2013, after being locked up for 28 years.
28 years later, shortly after her release from prison, Paula k*illed herself. She wrote in a suicide note that “I have taken a life and never felt worthy.”