Woman sentenced to death at 16 for brutal killing of Bible teacher to go free after 28 years
By Your Black World
An Indiana woman who participated in the brutal attack and killing of an elderly woman is getting a second chance on life.
Paula Cooper was originally sentenced to death in 1985 at age 16, after she and two other girls beat an elderly Bible teacher to death after pretending they wanted to come inside the woman’s home to study scripture. After entering the home, the girls beat the 78-year-old Bible teacher, Ruth Pelke, to death.
Cooper, now 43, is being released because her sentence was commuted to 60 years by the Indiana Supreme Court in 1988.
While behind bars, Cooper received a bachelor’s degree, trained companion dogs for the disabled, and counseled other inmates.
In a 2004 interview, Cooper spoke about what it means to be rehabilitated.
‘ Rehabilitation comes from you. If you’re not ready to be rehabilitated, you won’t be.’
Ruth Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, says he and Cooper have become friends since she’s been in prison.
My main concern is seeing her get settled and find a job,’ he told the Indianapolis Star. Cooper’s horrific crime shocked Indiana, causing prosecutors to push for the death penalty. After her sentence, she became the youngest person on death row in the country. At that time in Indiana, anyone over the age of 10 convicted of capital murder could receive the death penalty.
The sentence stirred outrage around the world with even Pope John Paul II pleading for clemency for Cooper.
Cooper is being released due to an Indiana law which allows credit for educational endeavors and good behavior.