Woman Sentenced To Death At 16 Released From Prison

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cooper(CNN) — Paula Cooper was just 16 years old when she became the youngest person on death row in the United States.

That was in 1986.

On Monday, after 27 years behind bars, Cooper walked out of Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility a free woman. She emerged around 10 a.m., said Douglas S. Garrison, chief communications officer for the Indiana Department of Corrections.

Cooper had an unlikely ally supporting her release: Bill Pelke, the grandson of the woman she killed

Paula Cooper, once on Indiana’s death row, will be released from prison on Monday, June 17.

The events that ensnared both families started when Cooper was 15 and devised a plan to steal money with her friends.

After smoking marijuana and drinking wine, they went to the home of 78-year-old Bible teacher Ruth Pelke, armed with a knife. Cooper struck Pelke with a vase, cut her arms and legs, then stabbed her in the chest and stomach 33 times, according to Indiana court records.

Their loot? Just $10.

An Indiana judge sentenced Cooper to death on July 11, 1986, at the age of 16.

More than 2 million people signed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn Cooper’s death sentence.

Pope John Paul II personally appealed to Indiana Gov. Robert Orr on behalf of the teen.

But perhaps the most surprising advocate for Cooper’s life was the victim’s grandson.

Bill Pelke said he forgave Cooper for the murder three months after she was sentenced to death row at Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.

“For a year and a half I thought about how my grandmother died, and it was horrible,” Pelke said. “I started thinking about my grandmother’s life and all the wonderful things about her. I realized I no longer wanted Paula to die. I wanted to help her. I realized forgiveness had already taken place, and it brought a tremendous healing to me.”

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the death sentence in 1989 to 60 years in prison.

Pelke tried to visit Cooper in 1986, but the two didn’t come face to face until eight years later. The two struck up an unlikely friendship over the years. Now they send messages through the prison e-mail system every week.

“I am happy she is getting out tomorrow and I wish her the very best,” Pelke said Sunday. “She is supposed to call me when she gets out, and we’re supposed to meet and go shopping. I told her whenever she got out, I’d treat her. I have a friend who would like to buy her an outfit, and I want to buy her a computer.”

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  • camille

    your fricken crazy, kill one of my relatives and i want to see you die, this is stupid, she was old enough to know what she was doing and now a free woman to do it again maybe,


    God is forgiving and we as people should be also. I think this is a touching story and I am happy for her and him to be friends. God have a plan for each of us and some of us are hard headed and have to let him teach us the hard way. But everything happens for a reason. God bless that man!!!

    "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

  • anonymous

    She is a danger to society. What she did was cold blooded and she knew exactly what she was doing and how wrong it was. She should be in prison for life for taking a persons life. I understand forgiveness and its great that he forgave her, but she should still be in prison. Maybe we should start a petition to put her back in prison.

    • Get over it

      She paid her dues, 27 years is a long time and only time will tell. She grew up and is now a different person. If her family can get over it you should too.

  • martin

    lol because 16 year olds are full blown thinking people who see outcomes of their actions? are you kidding me half of the 16 year olds these days are dumber then they ever were in the 80's she was a baby i hate to say the if she was white thing, but so be it!

  • Esco

    This is a very strange tale of forgiveness, I'm proud of the conclusion the victim's grandson came to after such a violent event in his family. That took strength. It was shocking to read that a 16 yr. old got the death penalty. I can understand the public outcry but I wouldn't if she was of adult age. I'm glad both families can move on and heal after this horrible crime..

  • tracy

    What so she can find more people to kill she has been locked all these years no top mention she was a kid whenshegot locked up.No way in Hell this woman should be able to walk out of prison she shouldonle come out in a body bag.

  • Denna

    Maybe she shouldn't have died, but I don't think she should be released… not yet. She is still young enough to have a life and she stole a life from another.