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Paula Cooper, Once the Youngest Person on Death Row, Found Dead

Image: Paula Cooper, Once the Youngest Person on Death Row, Found Dead
This July 5, 2012 file photo shows Paula Cooper posing for a photograph in Rockville, Indiana. (Sarah Tompkins/The Times via AP, File)

By    |   Wednesday, 27 May 2015 03:11 PM

Paula Cooper, once the youngest person on death row in the United States, was found dead in Indianapolis Tuesday.

According to The Associated Press, Indianapolis police found Cooper, 45, dead from a gunshot wound in an apparent suicide.

At just 16, Cooper was sentenced to death row in 1986 after she admitted to stabbing 78-year-old Ruth Pelke 33 times during a robbery the year before. She and three others reportedly stole $10 and a car off the victim.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the three others received sentences of 25, 35, and 60 years while Cooper received the death penalty.

About two years ago, the Indiana Supreme Court tossed out the death penalty and gave her a 60-year sentence. The change of heart came after a U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing a juvenile to death was considered cruel and unusual punishment. Cooper was released from prison June 17, 2013, on good behavior.

Human rights activists across the United States and Europe were enraged when Cooper was originally sentenced as a minor. A priest in 1988 even started a petition protesting the sentence that garnered more than 2 million signatures.

Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, said he was devastated to learn of Cooper’s death as he helped organize opposition to her death penalty sentence, the AP reported.

“My grandmother would have been appalled she was on death row and that there was so much hate and anger and desire for her to die,” Pelke told the AP. “I was convinced my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula and her family.”

Pelke visited Cooper while she was in prison, and she told him she was scared to be released because she had lived most of her life incarcerated, according to the Star. He last spoke with her in August and expected to get into contact with her next month because her parole was scheduled to end. Pelke now runs the Forgiveness Project, a charity that promotes compassion and clemency, for which he expected Cooper to speak.

“It's just amazing that after all those years of incarceration that she would be released and then something like this would happen,” Cooper’s public defender Kevin Relphorde told the Star, adding she had expressed remorse for the murder. “She was willing to pay her debt to society.”

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Paula Cooper, once the youngest person on death row in the United States, was found dead in Indianapolis Tuesday.
paula cooper, suicide, dead, youngest, death row
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2015-11-27
Wednesday, 27 May 2015 03:11 PM
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