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Woman Put on Death Row at 16 Now Free

2:38 PM, Jun 17, 2013   |    comments
Paula Cooper (Indianapolis Star)
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John Tuohy, The Indianapolis Star

ROCKVILLE, Ind. - A 43-year-old woman who was once Indiana's youngest Death Row inmate was released from prison Monday.

Paula Cooper left the Rockville Correctional Facility, about 60 miles west of Indianapolis, a little after 10 a.m., said Doug Garrison, Department of Corrections spokesman. She was taken to an undisclosed location to get a new start with at least $75, a new outfit and a bachelor's degree.

Cooper was 15 when she was charged with murder in the stabbing of 78-year-old Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher in the Chicago suburb of Gary, Ind., during a robbery.

Three other co-defendants - also teenage girls at the time - went to prison but have been released.

Cooper was 16 when she was convicted, the youngest person ever in this state to face the death penalty when she was sentenced. At the time in 1986, she also was the youngest Death Row inmate in the country.

An appeal from Pope John Paul II, an international campaign to overturn the death sentence and legal challenges helped spare Cooper's life.

The Indiana Supreme Court commuted the death sentence in 1989 and sent her to prison for 60 years. She earned credits for an early release.

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