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September 18, 2014

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Indiana woman sentenced to death at 16 released from prison

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Lake County Police Department / AP

This May 29, 1985, photo provided by the Lake County, Ind., Police Department shows Paula Cooper, who was sentenced to death when she was 16 after stabbing a 78-year-old Bible school teacher 33 times during a 1985 robbery in Gary, Ind. A Department of Correction spokesman says Cooper, now 43, was released from an Indiana prison Monday, June 17, 2013. A state court overturned her death sentence in 1988.

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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  1. 'She needs to get back to living' after she forceably stopped someone else from living? Sorry, she should be behind bars for the rest of her life.

  2. @sport..."This story highlights everything that is wrong with the death row system in America. A jury finds an admitted murderer guilty and sentences them to death. The murderer sits around for 25 years getting fed, entertained, clothed (and of course they always "find God"), etc. Then they make an appeal later on down the road and get released."

    Actually your comment highlights what's wrong with the death penalty system. It's supported by people who can't be bothered with things like facts. This woman wasn't released because of an appeal. She was released because lawmakers in Indiana found it repulsive to murder children, at which point state court converted her sentence to 60 years.

    You are a perfect example of how wrong MooGoo is when he claims that it's those against the death penalty who are guided by emotion, it has always been those for capital penalty.

    @MooGoo, you want an educated reason why we shouldn't just quickly execute people like this woman? Well I have more than 140.

    1. Killing people is wrong. If it wasn't wrong then we wouldn't care what this woman did. But it's wrong. If killing is wrong, then killing is wrong,

    140+ The number of people sentenced to death and then later exonerated. There is no remedy to a death sentence wrongly implemented.

    If you are truly concerned about too many people in the world, put your money where your mouth is. You have the means to reduce that number by one.

  3. @akrowdt..."The real issue with our justice system, and the stat that balances your hyperbole, would be to find out how many innocent people have been killed by convicted killers that are back on the streets?"

    Actually that has nothing to do with in since 1) You and I are not responsible for the criminal choices of another person. 2) You and I are responsible for every innocent person our government kills as all power the government wields has been given to it by the people. 3) We can both eliminate the death penalty and keep convicted killers behind bars through Life Without Parole Sentences.

    You seem to suggest that as long as the State kills less innocent people than would die if killers weren't put to death these statistics would 'balance' out.

    So if by having the State kill four innocent Americans this year we can save the lives of, say 40 potential homicide victims, you would find that acceptable? Would you gather your wife, child, mother, father, sister and brother and drive up to Carson city to volunteer YOUR lives to save those precious 40?

    In answer to your question of "When do we stop throwing out evidence that would convict somebody, because of technicalities or procedural errors?" the answer is simple. As soon as police, prosecutors and judges stop violating the Constitution, then this will cease to be an issue.

    I don't think you really understand that
    'the laws are in place to protect the innocent," because if you did you would understand that until proven guilty all are considered innocent, therefore guilty person's right are never violated. More pragmatically you should realize that without the very real consequence of allowing actually offenders to escape conviction there is no motivation for police or prosecutors to always do the right thing. If you believe otherwise I would argue it is you trying to create a Utopia.

    If you are tired of those who commit crimes being released "because of technicalities or procedural errors?" then demand better from the cops and DA's.

    P.s. The 140+ number is very, very real (http://bit.ly/11wBXHm)