INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A woman who was sentenced to death at age 16 after she confessed to her part in the torture and murder of a 78-year-old bible studies teacher has been released from an Indiana prison after spending a quarter century behind bars.
Paula Cooper, whose death sentence in 1986 enraged human rights activists and drew a plea for clemency from Pope John Paul II, left the state prison quietly in a state vehicle and wearing donated clothing, Department of Correction spokesman Doug Garrison said.
The prison, about 60 miles west of Indianapolis, gave the now-43-year-old woman $75 to help her make a fresh start.
When asked where Cooper was being taken, Garrison said, "We have something arranged but that's not something I can talk about."
Cooper was 15 years old when she used a butcher's knife to cut Ruth Pelke 33 times during a robbery in Gary that ended in Pelke's death. Her three companions received lighter sentences but Cooper confessed to the killing and in 1986, at age 16, she became the youngest person on death row in the country.
Shortly after, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the execution of young people who were under 16 at the time they committed an offense could not be sentenced to death, saying it counted as cruel and unusual punishment and was thus unconstitutional. Indiana legislators then passed a state law raising the minimum age limit for execution from 10 years to 16, and in 1988, the state's high court set Cooper's death sentence aside and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute anyone who is younger than 18 years when they commit an offense.
Cooper's sentence was reduced due to her behavior in prison, where she earned a bachelor's degree. She will remain on parole for a few years, Garrison said.
"We're just wanting her to be successful, that's all," he said. "She needs to get back to living."
Email Alert Sign Up
Sign up here to receive breaking news stories from KSWT.com and morning updates to your email inbox.
EL CENTRO, CALIF. (13 On Your Side) - The successful construction of a new solar power project is expected to provide electricity to about 12,000 homes in Imperial Valley. The T-Solar Project was unveiledMore >>
The successful construction of a new solar power project is expected to provide electricity to about 12,000 homes in Imperial Valley.More >>
YUMA, Ariz. (13 On Your Side) - Police are on the lookout for an arsonist suspect who lit a home on fire last week. Witnesses tell police they saw a person flee from a home in the 4800 block of WestMore >>
Police are on the lookout for an arsonist suspect who lit a home on fire last week.More >>
MESA, AZ (CBS5) - Mesa police have identified the body found in a dumpster early Friday morning as a 14-year-old Mesa girl. Police said Claudia Ann Lucero was last seen at her Mesa home about 6:30 a.m.More >>
Mesa police have identified the body found in a dumpster early Friday morning as a 14-year-old Mesa girl.More >>
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - A San Diego man faces charges of operating a website that let people anonymously post explicit photographs of others, then extorting hundreds of dollars from the victims to removeMore >>
The Justice Department says Bollaert created the so-called "revenge porn" website ugotposted.com a year ago.More >>
PHOENIX (AP) - A construction worker arrested in the killing of a 14-year-old Mesa girl who was assaulted, strangled and dumped in a trash container is being held without bond. A judge Tuesday night orderedMore >>
According to Mesa police, the probable cause of death was strangulation and that Madrid was linked by DNA and other forensic evidence. More >>
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Los Angeles will pay nearly $6 million to settle lawsuits by 11 police officers who claimed they were punished for failing to meet or objecting to traffic ticket quotas. Police ChiefMore >>
The Los Angeles Times says motorcycle officers in the West Traffic Division claimed they were required to write at least 18 tickets each shift and were reprimanded if they objected.More >>
PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools has ordered three charter schools that earned failing ratings on state assessment tests to close. The Arizona Charter Schools Association saysMore >>
The actions were taken after students at the schools failed statewide assessment tests three years in a row.More >>