In 1986, Paula Cooper was just 16 years old when she and three companions murdered 78-year-old Bible studies teacher Ruth Pelke in the midst of a robbery. While her accomplices received lighter sentences, Cooper confessed to the crime and was sentenced to death in Indiana. In turn, she became the youngest person on death row in the country. Two years later, the state's high court set her death sentence aside and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison, but Cooper was released today, after 27 years in jail.
Back in '86, her death sentence drew a plea for clemency from Pope John Paul II, and more than two million people signed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn Cooper's death sentence. Maybe those are just a few reasons why her release is being seen as a positive opportunity for now-43-year-old Cooper to get a new lease on life. What's more, the victim's grandson, Bill Pelke, is perhaps Cooper's biggest supporter.
Pelke says he forgave Cooper for the murder just three months after she was sentenced to death row at Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. He explains:
For a year and a half I thought about how my grandmother died, and it was horrible. I started thinking about my grandmother's life and all the wonderful things about her. I realized I no longer wanted Paula to die. I wanted to help her. I realized forgiveness had already taken place, and it brought a tremendous healing to me.
Wow! What's more, the two ended up striking up an unlikely friendship. They had been exchanging emails every weeks, and Pelke told the press this weekend:
[Paula] supposed to call me when she gets out, and we're supposed to meet and go shopping. I told her whenever she got out, I'd treat her. I have a friend who would like to buy her an outfit, and I want to buy her a computer.
Amazing. With hope, Pelke -- who earned her bachelor's degree in jail -- will be able to find non-discriminating employers and be able to truly move forward now that she's free. And if Bill Pelke, of all people, has found it in his heart to forgive and accept Cooper for who she was then and now, why shouldn't anyone else be supportive of her freedom?
How do you feel about Paula Cooper's release from jail and her friendship with Bill Pelke?