An Indiana woman who has been on death row since the age of 16 for killing an elderly Bible school teacher will be getting a second chance in life. Paula Cooper is scheduled to be released from prison after spending almost 30 years behind bars for confessing to the killing of Ruth Pelke in 1986. At the time of her confession and subsequent murder conviction, Cooper, now 43, was the youngest death row inmate in the United States.
After human rights activists and death penalty opponents from around the world protested Cooper’s sentence, The Indiana Supreme Court ordered that Cooper serve 60 years instead of being put to death and also raised Indiana's minimum age limit for execution from 10 to 16. In making its decision, the state court cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bars the execution of juveniles who were younger than 16 at the time of their crime.
Cooper and three other girls went to Pelke's house under the guise of seeking lessons about the Bible. After Pelke let Cooper and two of the other girls inside her home, Cooper stabbed Pelke 33 times with a butcher knife, NBC News reported. The girls left the house with $10 and Pelke's car.
Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford was the Lake County prosecutor during Cooper's murder trial.
"People still know about this case," he said. "The name Paula Cooper still resonates, and she's going to attract some attention when she is released." Crawford now opposes the death penalty.
Cooper's sister, Rhonda Labroi, hopes that people will keep an open mind about her sibling.
"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," Labroi said. "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. There are second chances. It seems like God has given her another chance. I think if people give her a second chance, she'll do fine."