Indiana authorities found Paula Cooper—who was once the country’s youngest person on death row—dead of an apparent suicide. Cooper was only 15 years old in 1986 when she confessed to murdering a 78-year-old woman named Ruth Pelke by stabbing her 33 times with a butcher knife. Two years after Cooper received the death penalty, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that those under 16 at the time of the act could not be sentenced to death. Cooper’s sentence was changed to serving a prison term of 60 years.
Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, was opposed to the death penalty and runs an organization called Journey of Hope which supports death penalty alternatives. He believed that his grandmother would not have wanted Cooper on death row, reports AP. Pelke visited Cooper while she was in prison and assumed he would hear from her in June, when she was going to be released from parole. “I have no idea what was going on in her life. I thought she was doing well from everything I had heard,” he said. “I had hoped she would travel with us. She had always told me she wanted to help young people to avoid the pitfalls that she had fallen into. She said she knew she had done something terrible to society and she wanted to give back.”
Due to good behavior, Cooper’s sentence was reduced and she was released in June 2013, after spending 28 years in jail. She had also earned a bachelor’s degree during her time in prison. Cooper was found outside of a residence in Indianapolis and had died of what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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