An Indiana Woman, once known as the youngest person to be placed on death row, has been found dead of an apparent suicide.
Paul Cooper (45) was found at her home, with cause of death suspected as a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was arrested in 1986 for her role in the murder of a 78 year-old Bible studies teacher. She confessed to stabbing Ruth Pelke 33 times with a 12-inch butcher knife in a robbery, where the only spoils of war were $10 and an old car. She was 15 at the time.
At 16, she was the youngest inmate ever to be sentenced to death, which enraged human rights activists. Her sentence was eventually diminished from death to 60 years with probation. A petition was drafted and appeal for clemency was sought from Pope John Paul II in 1988, with a priest delivering the petition to Indianapolis with more than 2 million signatures.
Two years after her sentence, the U.S. Supreme court ruled that those under 16 at the time an offense was committed could not be sentenced to death, as it was unconstitutional and cruel and unusual punishment.
She was released from prison in 2013 for good behaviour, after 28 years behind bars, and had earned a Bachelor’s degree through the prison’s education programme.
Bill Pelke, the victim’s grandson, has said that he is devastated by the news of Paula Cooper’s death. In fact, he helped organise opposition to the death penalty after realising his grandmother did not believe in a means to an end, and would not agree with the sentence.
“I have no idea what was going on in her life. I thought she was doing well from everything I had heard.”
Cooper’s story came to a tragic end, as she took her own life.
Paula Cooper dies aged 45, at 7:15 am in Indianapolis.
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