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Paula Cooper: Sentenced to Die at 16, to be Released From Prison

Paula Cooper, 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.

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 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.

As the fourth teen waited outside as a lookout, Cooper stabbed Pelke 33 times with a butcher knife. Then she and the other girls ransacked the house. The four girls fled with Pelke’s car and $10.

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 her 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.

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

Read more: CBS

What people are saying

One thought on “Paula Cooper: Sentenced to Die at 16, to be Released From Prison

  1. Justice for her is so powerful. She will need many services as she reneter the world. As an Executive Coach here in Atlanta, I would love to work with her and get her life back on the right track toward success and forgiveness.

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