At 16, Cooper was the youngest death row inmate in the U.S.
(Photo: ABC News)
After spending 27 years in prison for killing a Bible studies teacher in 1985, Paula Cooper walked out of Indiana's Rockville Correctional Facility a free woman. Her prison term was shortened after the Indiana Supreme Court intervened.
Cooper, now 43, was initially sentenced to death at the age of 16 for her crime, and her death sentence at such a young age sparked protests internationally. After state legislators increased Indiana’s age for executions from 10 to 16, the state Supreme Court dropped Cooper’s electric chair sentence and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison instead.
On May 14, 1985, Cooper, who was 15 at the time, accompanied three teenage girls to 78-year-old Ruth Pelke’s house. Pelke let the girls into her home after they told her they were interested in Bible studies.
Once inside, Cooper stabbed Pelke 33 times with a butcher knife then joined the other girls in ransacking the home. The girls fled with Pelke's car and just $10.
Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford, who was the Lake County prosecutor during Cooper's murder trial, told the Indianapolis Star that Cooper has served her time and may yet contribute to society.
While in prison, Cooper earned her bachelor’s degree in 2001.
"She was just a child at the time that happened, and now she is an adult and people should wait and see and give her a chance," Cooper's sister, Rhonda Labroi, told the Indianapolis Star.
Labroi said that if people give Cooper a second chance, she’ll do fine.
"Give her an opportunity. Maybe she'll do some wonderful things for children who are growing up and aren't so fortunate, like she was,” said Labroi.
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