Death row woman goes free

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deathrowINDIANA — Paula Cooper was just 16 years old when she became the youngest person on death row in the United States.

That was in 1986.

On Monday, after 27 years behind bars, Cooper walked out of Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility a free woman. She emerged around 10 a.m., said Douglas S. Garrison, chief communications officer for the Indiana Department of Corrections.

Cooper had an unlikely ally supporting her release: Bill Pelke, the grandson of the woman she killed.

The events that ensnared both families started when Cooper was 15 and devised a plan to steal money with her friends.

After smoking marijuana and drinking wine, they went to the home of 78-year-old Bible teacher Ruth Pelke, armed with a knife. Cooper struck Pelke with a vase, cut her arms and legs, then stabbed her in the chest and stomach 33 times, according to Indiana court records.

Their loot? Just $10.

An Indiana judge sentenced Cooper to death on July 11, 1986, at the age of 16.

More than 2 million people signed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn Cooper’s death sentence.

Pope John Paul II personally appealed to Indiana Gov. Robert Orr on behalf of the teen.

But perhaps the most surprising advocate for Cooper’s life was the victim’s grandson.

For more on this CNN story, click here.

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