R. # 46
OFF DEATH ROW SINCE 07-13-89
DOC#: 864800 Black Female
Lake County Superior Court
Judge James Kimbrough
Prosecutor: James McNew
Defense: Kevin Relphorde
Date of Murder: May 14, 1985
Victim(s): Ruth Pelke B/F/78 (No
relationship to Cooper)
Method of Murder: stabbing with knife 33
Summary: Cooper, age 15,
devised a scheme with her friends to obtain money. They went to
the home of a 78 year old Bible teacher and, armed with a knife,
asked her to write down information about her Bible classes.
Cooper then knocked her to the floor from
behind, struck her with a vase, cut her arms and legs, then
stabbed her in the chest and stomach 33 times.
Cooper and the other girls searched the house
for money. Cooper took $10 and Pelke's car.
Conviction: Pled Guilty to Murder and
Felony-Murder without Plea Agreement
Sentencing: July 11, 1986 (Death
Aggravating Circumstances: b(1) Robbery
Mitigating Circumstances: 15 years old
at time of murder, Youngest ever on Indiana Death Row
Direct Appeal: Cooper v. State, 540
N.E.2d 1216 (Ind. July 13, 1989)
On Remand: Pursuant to Indiana Supreme Court Opinion, Cooper
was resentenced to a 60 year term of imprisonment on 08-18-89 by
Special Judge Richard J. Conroy.
(Violates 8th Amendment and Indiana Constitution; murderers less
than 16 years old at the time of the murder cannot receive the
death sentence - Remanded to impose 60 year term of imprisonment)
Paula Cooper (born August
25, 1969 in Gary, Indiana, United States) was sentenced to death
on July 11, 1986 for the grisly murder of Ruth Pelke. Due to
Cooper's age, 15 at the time of the murder, the sentence attracted
an international uproar, including a condemnation from Pope John
Paul II. In 1989, her sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison.
Pelke, a 78-year old Bible
teacher, was murdered on May 14, 1985 in her home in Gary,
Indiana. According to police, Cooper skipped school with three
friends, drank alcohol and smoked marijuana before visiting Pelke,
Cooper's neighbor, ostensibly to ask about Bible lessons. One of
the girls struck Pelke with a vase, and Cooper stabbed the elderly
woman 33 times in the chest and stomach with a foot-long butcher
knife. She and her friends then searched the house for jewelry,
and stole ten dollars and the keys to Pelke's car, a 1976
Cooper was described by her
lawyers as a victim of sexual abuse and had attended ten different
schools by the time of the murder. She had a prior record as a
runaway and for burglary. There was little question of her guilt
in the case.
She was considered to be the
ringleader of the group of girls, aged 14 to 16, who were all
given sentences of 25 to 60 years for their roles in the crime.
According to authorities, Cooper attacked guards in the juvenile
center after her arrest and had to be moved to the County Jail.
There, it was reported that she bragged about her crime and said
she would do it again.
Sentencing and fallout
Cooper was advised by her public
defender to plead guilty. At sentencing, Lake County prosecutor
James McNew portrayed Cooper as a social misfit, beyond any hope
of rehabilitation and asked for the death penalty. The defense
presented evidence that she was a chronic runaway who had been
physically abused and forced to watch the rape of her mother, and
that her mother had attempted to kill her at one point. She was
found guilty and the death penalty was imposed by Judge James
Cooper was sent to Death Row at
Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis. Her case was taken up by
attorney Monica Foster, who organized a campaign which had strong
public support, especially in Europe. The campaign presented an
appeal signed by two million people to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Pope John Paul II made a personal appeal to Indiana Governor
Robert Orr in September 1987. A separate appeal to the United
Nations received one million signatures.
Cooper's case was profiled on 60
Minutes and various European television programs. She was
front-page news in her hometown of Gary, including a scandal where
it was found that several prison guards had sex with her in her
cell, and pregnancy tests were performed, which came up negative.
Judge Kimbrough had died and the
appeals process was slowed as a replacement was chosen. In 1987,
the Indiana legislature passed a bill raising the minimum age for
a defendant in a death penalty case from 10 years old to 16.
Although the change was a reaction to the Cooper case, the
legislature made it clear the change did not affect Cooper's death
In 1988, a Supreme Court
decision, Thompson v. Oklahoma, barred the death penalty for
defendants under the age of 16 at the time of the crime. The
Indiana Supreme Court considered both of these developments, and
on July 3, 1989 the court heard arguments and reduced the sentence
to life in prison. A New York Times editorial that month called
the court's decision "brave" and said that the death sentence for
a 15-year old was "medieval".
Cooper earned a GED and took
college correspondence courses while in prison.
As of 2007 she is projected to
be released in 2014. Although she was sentenced to sixty years,
Indiana removes a day from a prisoner's sentence for each day
served with good behavior.
Pelke's grandson, Bill Pelke,
initially favored the death penalty for Cooper but joined the
movement opposing it in 1987. He wrote about his forgiveness of
Cooper in a 2003 book Journey of Hope.
Spares Teen Killer's Life
By David Elsner - ChicagoTribune.com
July 14, 1989
Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that Paula Cooper can't
be executed for the brutal murder she committed as a 15-year-old,
killing an elderly Bible teacher in Gary.
case had attracted international attention, including a plea for
clemency on humanitarian grounds from Pope John Paul II. The
court's decision has no legal impact outside Indiana and left open
the national question of where to draw the age line on executions.
the U.S. Supreme Court approved the death penalty for those who
committed their crimes at age 16 and 17. But a year ago it stopped
just short of ruling that 15-year-olds were ineligible. After
Thursday's court ruling, Indiana Atty. Gen. Linley Pearson said he
would not appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In their 5-0
decision, the Indiana justices acknowledged the particularly
brutal nature of the slaying. Cooper admitted she stabbed Ruth
Pelke, a 78-year-old Bible teacher, 33 times with a butcher knife
in May, 1985. According to testimony at Cooper's trial, the wounds
were so deep that the knife shredded the carpet under Pelke`s body
and dented the floorboards underneath.
court overturned the execution, citing both the Indiana and U.S.
Constitutions, and ordered instead that Cooper receive a prison
sentence of 60 years, the maximum under Indiana law.
that Cooper could be freed in 26 years, Pearson said, taking into
account the time she already has served since her arrest and
possible good-behavior credit.
Cooper from the electric chair, the court in effect extended a
1987 Indiana law that raised the minimum age for a death-penalty
defendant to 16 years from 10. The legislation, however, was
specifically written to exclude the 15-year-old Cooper and became
known popularly as "the Paula Cooper bill".
said creation of that age standard means "Paula Cooper would be
both the first and last person ever to be executed in Indiana for
a crime committed at the age of 15. This makes her sentence unique
and disproportionate to any other sentence for the same crime."
people who have been executed in Indiana, only 3 were juveniles
when they were sentenced to death, and all 3 were 17 at the time
they committed their crimes. The most recent of those was executed
Aug. 5, 1920.
only Cooper and two other juveniles have been sentenced to death
in Indiana. The other two sentences were reversed, leaving Cooper,
now 19, the only juvenile on the state's Death Row.
She is in
the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis, where she is studying
for a college degree. Prison officials said she was taking a
correspondence-course test when she received word of the court
ruling. "She jumped up and down" with joy, said Prison Supt.
decision, written by Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard, also cited
a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that closely paralleled the
Cooper case. In that case, the court narrowly overturned the death
sentence for a 15-year-old Oklahoma boy. But the case did not
establish a binding precedent.
plight did not receive much sympathy from residents of Gary, her
hometown, or others in Northwest Indiana, but she became a symbol
for Roman Catholics and for some European groups, particularly in
Italy, opposed to capital punishment.
In March, an
Italian group presented a petition with 1 million signatures to
United Nations officials urging clemency for Cooper. In 1987, Pope
John Paul II wrote to then-Indiana Gov. Robert Orr requesting
mercy, but he and his successor, Gov. Evan Bayh, refused to act
while the matter was under appeal.
Indiana Killer, 18, A
Symbol To Europe
By Uli Schmetzer - ChicagoTribune.com
July 20, 1988
Europeans this month plan to strike a blow for the life of a young
American woman on Indiana's Death Row.
banner "Paula Cooper Must Live," the case of the now 18-year- old
convicted murderer has become a rallying cry and a symbol for
opponents of capital punishment.
T-shirts and buttons bearing the sad police mugshot of the woman
are the rage from Madrid to Warsaw.
alone, headquarters of the "Save Paula" campaign, more than 2
million people have signed a petition asking American authorities
to commute Cooper's death sentence.
28 and 30, torchlight parades are to begin at midnight and proceed
through central Rome, Brussels, Paris, Madrid and Warsaw in an
appeal to spare Cooper`s life and abolish capital punishment all
over the world.
has become a symbol for all those who find the death penalty
undemocratic and uncivilized," said Paolo Pietrosanti, spokesman
for the Italian-based organization Non Uccidere (Thou Shalt Not
chronic runaway who came from a broken home, was sentenced to
death for her part in the 1985 murder of Ruth Pelke, 78, a Bible
teacher in Gary. Only 15 years old at the time of the murder,
Cooper led three other teenage girls in persuading Pelke to take
them into her home for Bible lessons.
high on marijuana, the girls stabbed the woman 30 times and beat
her with a vase. They escaped with $10.
arrested within two days of the killing and pleaded guilty to
murder charges. Her case is under appeal.
For the last
two years, European papers have pieced together the anguished life
story of the woman, who says she was raped by her father at 14 and
almost killed during a suicide attempt by her mother in the family
garage. The stories portrayed Death Row inmate as repentant and as
an ardent convert to Roman Catholicism.
to save Cooper from execution began two years ago in Italy, where
the death penalty was abolished in 1889 and people up to the age
of 15 are considered legally not responsible for their crimes.
Pope John Paul II last year joined the chorus of voices in Europe
urging that Cooper`s sentence be commuted.
human-rights activists have visited Cooper at the Indiana Women's
Prison in Indianapolis. On her birthday last year, a small crowd
protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome, carrying placards with
the slogan, "Many happy returns, Paula."
accused of being anti-American in our campaign, but we are not. We
simply believe that democratic values cannot be reconciled with
the death penalty," said Pietrosanti.
month's torchlight parades, the campaigners plan to send a
delegation to the United States in the fall to organize joint
lobbies in Washington with the U.S. National Commission Against
the Death Penalty.
Pelke & The Journey of Hope
Bill Pelke & Angela Grobben
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Hope…from Violence to Healing.
The story we
share here with you is a remarkable story.
Written by a
man who had to experience the murder of a beloved family member.
the pain of loss and the revenge feelings towards the murderers,
this is a story of forgiveness and healing, of compassion and
It tells how
his organization “ Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing”,
started and how the members want to share there extreme painful
experiences, from either side of the fence….
I want to
introduce you to a great man and a dear friend of mine, Bill Pelke
On May 14th,
1985 Paula, Karen, April and Denise, 9th grade students at Lew
Wallace High School in Gary, Indiana, left the school grounds at
lunch time. They planned on ditching the rest of the day. They
went to April’s house, where they drank some beer and wine and
smoked some marijuana. They began to talk about what they wanted
to do for the rest of the day.
they would like to go to the local arcade a few blocks away and
play video games. They had one problem. They didn’t have any
money. After discussing ways to come up with some money, April
told the other girls, “There is an old lady who lives across the
alley from where I do. She teaches Bible lessons to neighborhood
kids. She lives alone and I think she has money.”
“If you three girls will go to her house and knock on her door and
tell her you’d like to take her Bible lessons, I think she’ll let
you into her house. If she lets you into her house you can rob
her. I’ll stay back as a lookout since she would recognize me.”
all agreed on that plan. With April staying in the background, the
other three girls went to my grandmother’s front door and knocked.
We called my grandmother Nana. When Nana answered the front door,
one of the girls said, “Mrs. Pelke, we’d like to take your Bible
“Come on in.”
That is the
way that Nana was. Nana was a very religious woman and was
actively involved in the various services of the local Baptist
Church. On Sunday morning she attended Sunday school and then
stayed for the worship service. On Sunday evening she would attend
the Bible Training hour and stay over for the evening service. On
Wednesday she attended prayer meeting and stayed over for choir
practice. She was a leader in the boys and girls clubs at the
church and involve in the visitation and woman’s missionary
program. She was also very active in several programs outside the
church called Child Evangelism and Five-Day Clubs. At these events
she told flannel graph Bible stories. With the advent of video and
such you don’t see this version of storytelling anymore. I have to
explain to high school kids what a flannel graph story is.
A board was
set on an easel. It was about 2 feet high and about 3 feet wide
and covered with felt material. She had cut out pictures of Bible
characters with a flannel material pasted on back. The pictures
would stick on the board as she told the Bible stories, almost
how as a child I loved to watch Nana telling the stories of
“Daniel in the Lion’s Den”, “David and Goliath”, “Jonah and the
Whale”, “Three men in the fiery furnace” and many others. My
personal favorite story was about “Joseph and his coat of many
colors”. Joseph had received this beautiful colorful coat as a
sign of love from his father. Nana would put this colorful coat on
the cutout picture of Joseph. His brothers were pictured off to
the side in their long, plain drab brown robes. She would tell how
the brothers were so jealous and angry they sold him to some slave
traders who came by one day while they were out working in the
field. I always liked it when Nana put that coat on Joseph.
When I got
older and had children of my own, I had the privilege watching
Nana teach my children and their friends these same Bible stories.
This is what she loved to do. So when these girls told Nana they
wanted to take her Bible lessons it was one more chance for her,
at the age of 78, to share her faith with young people. She told
them, “Come on in.”
turned her back to go to her desk in the dining room to get some
information about the classes, Denise grabbed a vase off of the
end table and hit Nana over the head. As Nana fell to the floor,
Paula pulled a knife out of her purse and began to stab her. While
she was stabbing Nana, Denise and Karen started looking through
the house trying to find some money.
trouble finding any so they came back to where Nana was still
being stabbed and told Paula they were not having any luck. Paula
was mad that they couldn’t find any money and told Denise to take
the knife. Denise refused so Paula told Karen to take it. Karen
took it and twisted and turned the knife in Nana’s body while
Paula ransacked the house looking for more money.
came up with a total of $10 and the keys to Nana’s old car. They
left Nana to die on the dining room floor. They took her car and
drove back to the high school they had left a few hours earlier to
see if any of their friends wanted to go joyriding.
found Nana’s body the next day. You can imagine the pain, the
sorrow and the anger that my family felt.
were arrested the day following the discovery of Nana’s body. I
had great difficulty believing that four girls so young could have
gotten involved in such a terrible, heinous crime. I had children
that were the same age.
began about a year later. April Beverly, the girl that had known
Nana and set her up was sentenced to 25 years in prison even
though she was not in the house when the murder took place.
girl that was accused of hitting Nana over the head with a vase
was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
The State of
Indiana at one point said they were going to go for the death
penalty for all four of the girls, but they decided to just go for
the death penalty for the two girls who handled the knife. Both
girls pled guilty, so there was no criminal trial. Each girl
simply had a sentencing hearing.
girl, Karen Corder, who was sixteen at the time of the crime pled
guilty to twisting and turning the knife in Nana’s body for 15-20
minutes. The judge had the choice of either sentencing Karen to
death or to Indiana’s alternative at that time of 60-years in
prison. He elected not to sentence her to death and gave her the
60-year sentence. The judge stated the reason he was not giving
her the death sentence was because she was under the influence of
a dominating personality, Paula Cooper.
was 15 years old at the time of the murder. She was the one who
brought the knife along. Paula pled guilty to stabbing Nana. She
was deemed to be the ringleader of the girls. There was a
four-hour sentencing hearing to determine what her punishment
would be. Would she live or die?
prosecution spent a little over two hours telling why she should
get the death penalty. My father was one of the witnesses for the
prosecution. He stated what he saw when he walked into the house
that day and identified pictures that were taken at the crime
scene. My father told the judge that it would be a travesty of
justice if she did not get the death sentence. He pulled a paper
from his pocket that listed about 25 or 30 Bible references that
he said called for the death penalty.
spent about an hour and a half stating why she should not get the
death penalty. Then the Judge James Kimbrough gave his decision.
I’ll never forget the words of the judge that day. He started off
by saying that when he graduated from law school in 1959 that
there was one thing that he knew for sure – and that was the fact
that he was opposed to the death penalty. He said at that time the
majority of the people in the United States were opposed to the
death penalty. But the judge went on to say how the pendulum had
now swung to the direction where the majority of the people in our
country wanted, in fact demanded the death penalty. He stated that
he hoped that someday soon, the American public would have their
fill of death that this penalty brought and that it would come to
Then he went
on to say that according to the laws of the State of Indiana, he
had no choice. He sentenced Paula Cooper to death. She became the
youngest female on death row in our country. I am ashamed to admit
it, but that was okay with me. I knew our country had a death
penalty and that people were being sentenced to death for various
crimes of murder and some were even being executed. I felt that if
they didn’t give the death penalty to the person who murdered
Nana, then they were telling me and the rest of my family that my
grandmother was not an important enough person to merit the
perpetrator being sentenced to death. Well, I thought Nana was a
very important person and for that reason alone I had no problem
that the death penalty was given.
walked out of the court room, television cameras were present. I
was asked my opinion of what had just happened in court. I stated,
“I feel that the judge did what he had to do”. Then fighting back
tears, I added, “But it won’t bring my grandmother back”.
That was on
July 11th, 1986.
Three and a
half months later, on November 2, 1986, I was at work at Bethlehem
Steel where I had been employed for about 20 years as an overhead
crane operator. I was working the 3-11 shift and had been told at
the start of the turn that my services as a crane operator would
be needed at the west end of the mill.
So I climbed
up the fifty feet of stairs to get to my crane cab. I took my
crane down to the area where I was told I was needed, but when I
looked around for the people that were to need my services, there
was no one there. As I sat back in my chair I began to think about
Nana’s life and her death. As tears came into my eyes, I asked God
I asked God
why He had allowed one of his most precious angels to suffer such
a terrible death.” Nana was a good Christian woman. Our family was
a good Christian family. I asked God why our family had to suffer
so. As I thought about Nana my mind flashed back to the courtroom
on the day Paula Cooper was sentenced to death. As the judge began
to deliver his sentence there was an old man sitting in the galley
that began to cry and wail very loudly, “They’re going to kill my
baby! They’re going to kill my baby!”
looked over to the bailiff and said, “Bailiff, escort that man
from the courtroom. He’s disrupting the proceedings.” I remembered
watching as the old man walked by me as he was being led out of
the courtroom. Tears were coming out of his eyes and rolling down
his cheeks. I found out later he was Paula Cooper’s grandfather.
recalled as Paula Cooper was led off to death row. There were
tears coming out of her eyes, rolling down her cheeks and onto her
light blue dress causing dark blotches.
It was that
point when I began to picture an image of Nana. There had been a
very beautiful picture of Nana taken about a year and a half
before her death. Whenever the newspapers did a story about her
death, about the trials, or about the death sentence being given
to Paula Cooper, they showed this very special picture. I began to
envision an image of that picture, but there was one distinct
tears coming out of Nana’s eyes and streaming down her cheeks.
I knew that
they were tears of love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her
family. I knew Nana would not want this old man to have to go
through what a grandfather would have to go through to see his
granddaughter that he loved very much, strapped in the electric
chair and the volts of electricity put through her body until she
was dead. I knew Nana would not wish this on that old man.
thought about how Nana had invited Paula into her home to tell her
about Jesus. I felt that Nana would have wanted someone from our
church, family or community be more interested in trying to
continue to share that faith to Paula, rather than being so
interested in seeing her put to death.
I began to
think about Nana’s love for Jesus and I immediately thought of 3
things that Jesus had to say about forgiveness. The first thing I
thought about was the “Sermon on the Mount” in the book of
Matthew. This is where Jesus said, “If you want your father in
heaven to forgive you, then you need to forgive others.”
thought of when Jesus was teaching the disciples about
forgiveness, and Peter asked, “How many times are you supposed to
forgive…? 7 times?”
answered by saying, “seventy times seven.”
I knew that
didn’t mean that you forgive 490 times and then cease to forgive,
but that Jesus was saying forgiveness should be a habit, a way of
thing that I thought about that night in the crane cab, was when
Jesus was crucified. I envisioned the nails in his hands and his
feet and the crown of thorns on his brow and Jesus looking up to
heaven and saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what
I thought to
myself that Paula Cooper didn’t know what she was doing. Anyone
who takes a 12-inch butcher knife and stabs someone 33 times
doesn’t know what they are doing. What happened that day was a
crazy, crazy …crazy senseless act.
I knew that
forgiveness would be the right thing, and thought, maybe someday I
would try to forgive her.
again I pictured that image of Nana with the tears coming out of
her eyes and streaming down her cheeks. There was no doubt in my
mind that they were tears of love and compassion. I felt she
wanted someone in our family to have that same love and
compassion. I felt like it fell on my shoulders. Even though I
knew forgiveness was the right thing…love and compassion was
something else. I didn’t have a bit of it because of the brutal
and heinous way that Nana had been murdered. Yet those tears that
I pictured in her eyes dictated to me that I try to generate some
sort of love and compassion.
I felt if I
didn’t at least try, then whenever I would think about Nana I
would feel guilty that I hadn’t tried. I didn’t not want to feel
guilty when I thought about Nana.
As I sat up
in the crane cab that night, not knowing what else to do, with
tears coming out of my eyes and streaming down my cheeks, I
started praying again. I begged God to please, please, please give
me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family and to do
it on behalf of Nana. I asked those things in Jesus’ name
It was just
a short prayer.
Then I began
to think about how I could write Paula Cooper a letter and tell
her about Nana. I could share Nana’s faith and tell her about a
God that loved her and a God that would forgive her.
that God had answered my prayer. My heart had been touched with
compassion and I no longer wanted Paula to die. I suddenly felt it
would be terribly wrong for the State of Indiana to strap her in
the electric chair and put the volts of electricity to her.
learned the most important lesson of my life that night. It was
about the healing power of forgiveness. When my heart was touched
with compassion, forgiveness took place. I didn’t need to try and
forgive her. The forgiveness was automatic and it brought this
It had been
a year and a half since Nana’s death and whenever I thought about
her, I envisioned how she died and it was absolutely horrendous. I
pictured someone that I loved dearly, butchered on the dining room
floor of her home. This is where we went every year on Christmas
Eve; this is where we went for Easter, Thanksgiving, birthdays and
other happy, joyous occasions. We would sit around the large
dining room table and have wonderful meals and a great time. To
picture her butchered on that dining room floor was terrible. When
I say butchered, that’s how I saw it.
report said that not only had she been stabbed 33 times with a
12-inch butcher knife, but they had a section of the carpet that
was under Nana’s body in the courtroom that day. They showed how
the carpet had been shredded by the knife. They also had pictures
of the hardwood floor that was beneath the carpet. The pictures
showed how the hardwood floor had been bruised and splintered by
the knife. I envisioned her butchered on the dining room floor.
But when my heart was touched with love and compassion,
forgiveness took place, and I knew from that moment on, that I
would no longer picture how Nana died, but I would picture how she
lived, what she stood for, what she believed and the beautiful,
wonderful person that she was.
And I knew
that I did not need to see someone else die in order to bring
healing from Nana’s death.
healing had taken place within me. God had done something
wonderful. For years I’ve used different words to describe that
experience. I’ve called it a miracle, I’ve called it an epiphany,
I’ve called it a mountain top experience, and I have said that it
felt like I’d been born again. I was TRANSFORMED.
I wanted to
do whatever I could do to help Paula Cooper. Before I left my job
that night, I made God two promises. I promised that any success
that came to my life as a result of forgiving Paula Cooper, that I
would give God the honor and glory. It wasn’t anything I had done;
it was because God had touched my heart. I promised I would give
God the credit.
promised God that any door that opened as a result of forgiving
Paula Cooper, I would walk through it. If I would have had any
idea of the doors that would open, I would’ve been too scared to
make that promise. That was over 25 years ago and I have kept
those two promises to this day.
The next day
I wrote Paula Cooper a letter and explained to her about my
experience of forgiveness. I told her how I wanted to try and help
her. I asked her for her grandfather’s address, and told her I
would like to visit with him. I also wanted to visit with Paula.
know if she would respond or not but about ten days later I got a
letter from her. It was clear that we both wanted to visit each
other; however the Department of Corrections in the State of
Indiana wouldn’t allow it. We tried to visit for a number of
years, but they simply wouldn’t allow it. Since we couldn’t visit,
we began to exchange letters about every 10 days.
I was able
to visit with her grandfather shortly before Thanksgiving. I was
able to go to his house with a fruit basket and look at family
photo albums of when Paula was a little girl. She was a beautiful
little girl and no one would have thought she would grow up and
commit such a terrible crime.
I ran into
an old friend shortly after my transformation in the crane. I
hadn’t seen him since Nana’s death. When I saw him, he walked up
to me and said, “Bill, I hope that bitch burns.”
A lot of
people had said something similar to that after Nana’s death. It
was their way to express condolences about her death. I just
looked at him and said, “I don’t”. He asked, “What do you mean?” I
explained to him a little bit of what happened in the crane and
how I had prayed for love and compassion. When I finished talking
to him, he looked at me and said, “You know, I don’t want her to
die either. You should write a letter to the ‘Voice of the People’
section of the Gary Post Tribune and tell how you feel.”
A lot of
people had been writing to the “Voice of the People” section after
Nana’s death about the death penalty. Most of the articles said
Paula should die. I wrote a short article that was titled, “The
answer is love, prayer and forgiveness”. I signed it the grandson
of Ruth Pelke.
I wanted to
see what kind of dialogue that the article would generate, but
surprisingly all articles on the death penalty stopped. I checked
daily and there was nothing. About 100 days after the article
appeared, I got a telephone call from an Italian Journalist whose
name was Anna. She told me that when Paula Cooper was sentenced to
death it was headlines in papers throughout Europe. She explained
how they don’t have the death penalty in Europe.
informed me that the Paula Cooper case had generated quite a
sensation in Italy. She told me a group called “Don’t Kill” had
formed to gather signatures asking the State of Indiana not to
execute Paula Cooper. Because of all the interest in the Cooper
case, Anna and a colleague decided to come to Indiana and do some
called the “Gary Post Tribune” and said, “We’re coming to the area
to do a story on the Paula Cooper case, whom do you recommend that
we interview?” Anna was told, “There is the attorney, there is the
grandfather, there is an investigator and oh yes, a grandson of
the victim wrote an article a while back talking about
me. “We in Italy don’t picture Americans as being very forgiving
people. When we come and do our interviews, do you mind if we talk
I said “Sure
I’d be happy to.”
So Anna and
her colleague, representing the three largest papers in Italy,
came to Gary, and did their interviews. They also went to
Indianapolis to talk with Paula. They went back to Italy and wrote
about their interviews in a three day series of articles. A short
time later, I got a telephone call from a popular TV program in
Italy and was told that they were going to do a program about
Paula Cooper. I was asked if I would come to Italy and be on the
Of course, I
said, “I’d be happy to go.”
On May 14th,
1987, the 2nd anniversary of Nana’s death, I flew to Rome, Italy.
When I got to Italy, there was a major press conference. I was
shocked at how much attention Italy pays to the death penalty
issue. Italy is among the leaders in trying to bring about
worldwide abolition of the death penalty. After the press
conference, I went to the television station for an interview
about the upcoming program. I found out that the cameramen were
going to go on a wildcat strike which is quite common in Italy.
The program director said they would have to send me back to
Indiana and that maybe in a month or two they would try to do the
program again and bring me back.
I had just
been on a 10-hour plane trip to get to Italy. I didn’t want to get
right back on a plane and go home. For one thing I was afraid that
if I went home they’d never bring me back again and I wanted to
tell my story. I told them I could get some more time off from
work and could stay until the strike was over. I also told them it
might be cheaper for them if I stayed because they wouldn’t have
to pay for another plane ticket. After a short conference and they
said, “You can stay as long as you like, and in fact we’ll give
you one million lire’ to help with your expenses while you are
here.” I hadn’t been in Italy long enough to know what the
exchange rate was, but a million sounded pretty good to me.
I ended up
being in Italy for 19 days.
who started “Don’t Kill” drove me around within a 150 mile radius
of Rome, where I spoke at schools, churches and to various types
of media. The organization had collected 40,000 signatures to send
to the governor of the State of Indiana and I was very happy
knowing that 40,000 people wanted Paula Cooper to live. In
Northwest Indiana it seemed like I was the only one who wanted her
traveled around Italy, I had the chance to thank people for
signing the petitions and encouraged others to sign. I also had a
chance to go to the Vatican and to speak on Vatican radio. Being
raised as a Baptist from the time I was a little boy, I never
thought I’d ever go to the Vatican, and now here I was on Vatican
radio. I spoke on the national and international segments. I
talked about love and compassion and forgiveness. I told of Nana’s
love for Jesus and talked about the healing power forgiveness. I
told the listeners that I didn’t want Paula strapped in the
electric chair and her life taken from her.
I had the
opportunity to go back to Italy two more times over the next
couple of years. Each time I encouraged people to sign the
petitions. I thanked those people who had. By the fall of 1989
over 2 million people had signed the petition asking the state of
Indiana to take Paula Cooper off of death row. Pope John Paul II
got involved in Paula’s case and asked the governor to have mercy
drew a lot of international publicity and the State of Indiana
became very embarrassed when people around the world found out
Indiana law called for a 10 year-old to get the death penalty. The
legislatures felt they should raise the age limit for which a
person could be sentenced to death. They raised the age limit to
16, but they stipulated that Paula Cooper was still supposed to be
executed under the old law.
I got a
telephone call while I was at work in the fall of 1989. The caller
identified himself as a journalist with UPI. He said, “Mr. Pelke,
on the automatic appeal before the Indiana Supreme Court, they
have just taken Paula Cooper off of death row and commuted her
sentence to 60 years in prison.”
He told me
the reason she was taken off of death row was because the justices
said it would be exclusionary if she were the only one executed
under the old law. He asked me for a comment. The first words out
of my mouth were, “Praise the Lord.” I went on and gave testimony
about Nana and her faith. I talked about love and compassion and
forgiveness. I told him how I was glad that she was off of death
row because I made a promise that if Paula was to be executed I
would have walked hand in hand with her to the electric chair. I
was glad that I would not have to do that. During the next hour
and a half I had 15 calls from various media around the country
asking for my comments. I told them each the same thing. It was a
great day for me.
after Paula was taken off of death row I began to make plans to go
on a two-week march against the death penalty during April of
1990. The march was to start at Florida’s death row in Starke, and
end at the burial site of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in
Atlanta, Georgia. The march was billed as a spiritual march to
light the torch of conscience in churches about issue of the death
penalty. Since it was spiritual reasons that I was opposed to the
death penalty, I felt I should go.
left, my wife said, “Why don’t you just go for one week instead of
I said, “I
wouldn’t know which week to pick. I think I should be there for
asked, “Who’s going to be there?”
I said, “I
“Well what are you going to do on the march?”
I said, “I
“Well, where are you going to sleep?”
I said, “I
don’t know. I don’t know anything except I feel I need to be
got her blessings and drove my van from Indiana to Florida. When I
got to Florida I went to the registration table for the Pilgrimage
March. Sitting behind the table was one of the organizers, Sister
Helen Prejean. Many of you will be familiar with that name. She
wrote a book three years later called “Dead Man Walking”. It was
made into movie and Susan Sarandon won the academy award as best
actress for playing Sister Helen.
I got to
know Sister Helen and the other marchers pretty well as we walked
the highways ‘putting the rubber to the road’. I also began to get
a real education about the death penalty. I learned how it cost
more to execute a person than it does to keep them in prison for
the rest of their life. One person on the march had coauthored a
book called “In spite of innocence” that told of 23 people who
were executed in the 20th century and later proven to be innocent.
I learned about innocent people who were presently on death row. I
learned there are no rich people on death row, only poor ones. I
learned many of the people on death row had ineffective council.
The thing that got to me the most was walking down the highways
with people who had loved ones on death row. There were daughters
with fathers on death row, wives with husbands on death row and
mothers with sons on death row.
that if you execute somebody, you create more victim family
members. It was on this march with Sister Helen that I dedicated
my life to the abolition of the death penalty. The same day that I
decided to dedicate my life to this cause Rick Halperin announced
to us that there would be a similar event in Texas the following
year. Without hesitation I stated that I would be there.
While on the
Texas Against State Killing March (TASK March) I came up with an
idea of having an event an event that was led by murder victim’s
family members who were opposed to the death penalty. I knew from
my involvement with the Paula Cooper’s case and from the two
marches I had been on that the media was always interested in
murder victims’ family members that didn’t want revenge. The media
was used to hearing victims’ families call for revenge.
I felt that
if murder victims’ family members would take a stand against the
death penalty then others would stand by our side and support us.
Six months earlier, Marie Deans, founder of Murder Victims
Families for Reconciliation (MVFR) asked me to be on her board and
help them get the 501 (c) 3 non-profit status. I talked to Marie
about my idea and MVFR hosted their first main event two years
later which was known as the Indiana Journey of Hope.
COOPER v. STATE
540 N.E.2d 1216 (1989)
Paula R. COOPER, Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).
Supreme Court of Indiana
July 13, 1989.
Touchette, Lake County Appellate Public Defender, Crown Point,
Victor L. Streib, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland,
Ohio, for appellant.
Pearson, Atty. Gen., Michael Gene Worden, Deputy Atty. Gen.,
Indianapolis, for appellee.
John R. Van
Winkle, John G. Shubat, Bingham Summers Welsh & Spilman,
Indianapolis, for amicus curiae, Indiana Juvenile Justice Task
Waples, Legal Director, Indiana Civil Liberties Union,
Indianapolis, Lawrence A. Vanore, Barnes & Thornburg,
Indianapolis, for amicus curiae, Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
Amnesty Intern., United Kingdom, Paul L. Hoffman, Joan W. Howarth,
Amnesty International-USA, Legal Support Network, Los Angeles,
Cal., Michael Sutherlin, Indianapolis, Joan Fitzpatrick, Alice M.
Miller, Jane G. Rocamora, David Weissbrodt, Amnesty
International-USA, Legal Support Network, New York City, for
amicus curiae, Amnesty Intern.
Joseph A. Morris,
The Mid-America Legal Foundation, Chicago, Ill., Dennis J.
Stanton, Merrillville, for amicus curiae, The Mid-America Legal
Foundation, Leadership Councils of America, and the Lincoln
Institute for Research and Education
The question is
whether Paula Cooper may be executed for committing the grisly
murder of Mrs. Ruth Pelke. We hold that she may not.
There are two
separate and independent grounds for this decision. First, in
light of the Indiana General Assembly's policy decision that
persons who commit crimes at age 15 or younger may not be
executed, we conclude under article 7, section 4 of the Indiana
Constitution that Cooper should not be executed.
Second, the legal
issue presented by Cooper is within the boundaries of Thompson
v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. ___, 108 S.Ct. 2687, 101 L.Ed.2d 702
(1988), which held that the eighth amendment of the United States
Constitution prohibits execution of an offender under the same
This is a
difficult conclusion to reach because of the gruesome nature of
I. Case History
On May 14, 1985,
Paula Cooper, age 15, gathered with several of her girlfriends.
The conversation turned to a plan to obtain money. They devised a
scheme they thought would induce a neighborhood woman to give them
money, but it met with no success.
accomplice April Beverly suggested they could get into 78-year-old
Ruth Pelke's house "to get money and jewelry and different things"
by asking her when she held Bible classes. They went to the house
and spoke to Mrs. Pelke, but did not get inside. Beverly gave
Cooper a knife "to scare the old lady with" and they tried again.
This time they gained entrance by asking Mrs. Pelke to write down
the information about her Bible classes.
While Mrs. Pelke
was writing down the information, Paula Cooper grabbed her from
behind and pushed her to the floor. Cooper hit her on the head
with a vase. She took the knife, cut Pelke's arms and legs, and
stabbed her in the stomach and in the chest. The autopsy revealed
Pelke was stabbed thirty-three times.
After the murder,
Cooper helped the other girls search the house. They found the
keys to Pelke's car, which Cooper used to get away. Cooper also
took ten dollars from the house.
On July 8, 1985,
the prosecutor filed an amended information charging Cooper with
three counts of murder under Ind. Code § 35-42-1-1. On April 21,
1986, Cooper pled guilty to count I, knowing or intentional
murder, and count II, murder in the commission or attempt of a
robbery. There was no plea agreement. During the hearing at which
Cooper pled, she described her attack on Pelke in some detail. She
admitted that she had entered the house intending to commit
robbery and that she had in fact taken ten dollars. The trial
court found that Cooper's statements provided the factual basis to
prove she had committed the crimes and entered a judgment of
conviction on both counts.
The trial court
held a sentencing hearing on July 11, 1986. After expressing doubt
about applying Indiana's death penalty statute to a juvenile, the
late Judge James Kimbrough considered various mitigating and
aggravating circumstances and sentenced Cooper to death.
On direct appeal Cooper's attorneys
argue that sentencing Cooper to death violates the Indiana
Constitution and the United States Constitution because she was 15
years old when she committed the crime. These issues and Cooper's
appeal have been the subject of international attention.1
pending in this Court, however, must be resolved only on the basis
of Indiana and federal law. While Cooper's lawyers raise at least
six grounds for vacating her penalty, we find two to be
II. The Indiana
The Indiana Code
requires automatic review by this Court of every death sentence.
Ind. Code § 35-50-2-9(h) (Burns 1985 Repl.) This review must occur
whether a prisoner seeks it or not; it cannot be waived. Judy
v. State (1981), 275 Ind. 145, 416 N.E.2d 95. The Indiana
Constitution requires that this review be by way of direct appeal
to this Court and confers upon the Court "the power to review all
questions of law and to review and revise the sentence imposed."
Ind. Const. art. VII, § 4.
The framers of
the constitutional reform of which section 4 was a part provided
explicitly for reference to certain historical materials in
interpreting its meaning: "The report of the Judicial Study
Commission and the comments to the article contained therein may
be consulted by the Court of Justice to determine the underlying
reasons, purposes, and policies of this article and may be used as
a guide in its construction and application." Ind. Const. art.
VII, Schedule (Burns 1978 Ed.). The Commission's report describes
the origin and scope of the power to review and revise sentences
contained in section 4: "The proposal that the appellate power in
criminal cases include the power to review sentences is based on
the efficacious use to which that power has been put by the Court
of Criminal Appeals in England." Report of the Judicial Study
Commission 140 (1967). The English statute establishing the Court
of Criminal Appeals set forth that court's power to review and
revise sentences as follows:
On appeal against
sentence the Court of Criminal Appeal shall, if they think that a
different sentence should have been passed, quash the sentence
passed at the trial, and pass such other sentence warranted in law
by the verdict (whether more or less severe) in substitution
therefor as they think ought to have been passed, and in any other
case shall dismiss the appeal.
Act, 1907, 7 Edward 7, ch. 23, § 4(3).
In light of these
directives, this Court has regarded the duties placed upon it by
the Code and the Constitution as requiring a more intensive level
of scrutiny for sentences of death than for other criminal
penalties. Criminal sentences generally are reviewed under the
Rules for Appellate Review of Sentences, Ind. Rules of Procedure.
Rule 2 of that series provides that a trial court's sentence will
be affirmed unless it is manifestly unreasonable. In capital
cases, however, these rules "stand more as guideposts for our
appellate review than as immovable pillars supporting a sentence
decision." Spranger v. State (1986), Ind., 498 N.E.2d 931,
947 n. 2, cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1033, 107 S.Ct. 1965, 95
L.Ed.2d 536 (1987).
In contrast to
appellate review of prison terms and its accompanying strong
presumption that the trial court's sentence is appropriate, this
Court's review of capital cases under article 7 is part and parcel
of the sentencing process. Rather than relying on the judgment of
the trial court, this Court conducts its own review of the
mitigating and aggravating circumstances "to examine whether the
sentence of death is appropriate." Schiro v. State (1983),
Ind., 451 N.E.2d 1047, 1058, cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1003,
104 S.Ct. 510, 78 L.Ed.2d 699 (1983). The object of this review is
to assure consistency in the evenhanded operation of the death
penalty statute, and our decision is made "in light of other death
penalty cases." Judy, 275 Ind. at 169, 416 N.E.2d at 108.
The thoroughness and relative independence of this Court's review
is a part of what makes Indiana's capital punishment statute
While this case
has been pending on appeal, the legal landscape surrounding it has
changed dramatically in ways that reflect on the appropriateness
of this death penalty "in light of other death penalty cases." The
Indiana General Assembly responded to the sentence imposed on
Cooper by enacting Public Law No. 332-1987, approved April 7,
1987, and entitled "An Act to amend the Indiana Code concerning
children accused of murder." 1987 Ind. Acts 332. Prior to this
act, Ind. Code 35-50-2-3(b) read: "... a person who commits murder
may be sentenced to death under section 9 of this chapter."
Section 1 of the 1987 act amended Ind. Code 35-50-2-3(b) to read:
"... a person who was at least sixteen (16) years of age at the
time the murder was committed may be sentenced to death under
section 9 of this chapter."
The 1987 act,
section 2, also amended Ind. Code § 35-50-2-9(c) by adding to the
statutory list of mitigating circumstance the fact that "The
defendant was less than eighteen (18) years of age at the time the
murder was committed." Section 3 of the 1987 act proclaimed: "This
act does not apply to a case in which a death sentence has been
imposed before September 1, 1987."
Although Public Law No. 332-1987 was
popularly called "the Paula Cooper bill," the Attorney General
correctly points out that its effective date meant that it did not
apply to Cooper herself. The bill's sponsors declared openly that
this exclusion was purposeful.2
Although the exclusion was assaulted on the House floor during
consideration of the bill as being unjust,3
it was apparent that the authors wished to enact a general policy
without the passion that legislating on a particular case would
Later legislative efforts to extend the act to Cooper were
defeated when opponents asserted that legislating about a case
pending on appeal would be improper.5
The state's chief executive also decided not to intervene in
Cooper's case while it was on appeal.6
Cooper's attorneys argue that if
Cooper is executed she would be the only person ever to receive
that penalty for a crime committed at age 15. Of the 133 offenders
who have been executed in Indiana, three were juveniles at the
time they were sentenced to death. All three were age 17 at the
time of their crime. The most recent of the three was William Ray,
executed August 5, 1920. Brief for Appellant at 51.7
Since 1920 three other juveniles, Jay Thompson, Keith Patton, and
Paula Cooper, have been sentenced to death for crimes committed
prior to the age of majority. The death sentences of Jay Thompson
and Keith Patton have been reversed, however, leaving Paula Cooper
the only juvenile on death row in Indiana. Brief for Appellant at
Now that Indiana
law establishes 16 as the minimum age for the imposition of the
death penalty, Paula Cooper would be both the first and the last
person ever to be executed in Indiana for a crime committed at the
age of 15. This makes her sentence unique and disproportionate to
any other sentence for the same crime.
with our duty to review and revise sentences under the Indiana
Constitution and in light of the General Assembly's policy
decision that no one should be executed for a crime committed at
age 15, we reverse that part of the trial court's judgment
ordering Cooper's execution.
argues that executing someone who was 15 years old at the time of
the offense violates the eighth amendment of the United States
Constitution. Counsel for Cooper argue that her case is controlled
by Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U.S. ___, 108 S.Ct. 2687, 101
L.Ed.2d 702 (1988). In that case a majority of justices agreed
that Thompson's death sentence must be vacated; however, they did
not agree upon the reasons.
Thompson committed a brutal murder at age 15. He was waived into
adult court, tried and found guilty, and sentenced to death. His
claim before the Oklahoma courts and the U.S. Supreme Court was
that execution for a crime committed at age 15 constituted "cruel
and unusual punishment." Writing for a plurality of four justices,
Justice John Paul Stevens declared that application of eighth
amendment principles must be guided by the "evolving standards of
decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."
Thompson, 487 U.S. ___, ___, 108 S.Ct. 2687, 2691, 101 L.Ed.2d
702, 709 (quoting Trop v. Dulles,356 U.S. 86, 101, 78 S.Ct.
590, 598, 2 L.Ed.2d 630, 642 (1958) (plurality opinion)). Stevens
noted that every legislature which had spoken on the subject had
decided that 16 should be the minimum age for execution. He
asserted that juries rarely impose execution on juveniles under
16, and that executing persons under age 16 could not be expected
to make "any measurable contribution to the goals that capital
punishment is intended to achieve." Id. at ___, 108 S.Ct.
at 2700, 101 L.Ed.2d at 720. Accordingly, he said for four members
of the Court, Oklahoma's statute was unconstitutional as against
the eighth amendment.
Day O'Connor cast the fifth vote to set aside Thompson's sentence
on eighth amendment grounds. O'Connor reached the same result on
what she described as narrower grounds than those used by the
plurality. Saying that she believed a national consensus probably
does exist that executing persons under 16 is cruel and unusual
punishment, she announced herself unready to make that consensus a
matter of constitutional law without further evidence. She did
declare that prisoners "may not be executed under the authority of
a capital punishment statute that specifies no minimum age at
which the commission of a capital crime can lead to the offender's
execution." Id. at ___, 108 S.Ct. at 2711, 101 L.Ed.2d at
This search for a bright line, an
age below which the commission of a crime cannot constitutionally
lead to execution, has been convincingly criticized as an endeavor
that will ultimately lead to disparate treatment of defendants
whose offenses and culpability are equal.8
Nevertheless, to the extent that a plurality decision of the U.S.
Supreme Court can be seen as precedent, this Court is obligated to
follow that Court's decisions on federal constitutional questions.
See Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 562, 4
L.Ed. 97 (1816).
General argues that neither the plurality opinion nor Justice
O'Connor's concurrence can be viewed as a constitutional rule
requiring its acceptance as precedent. We acknowledge that as a
plurality decision the Thompson opinion does not carry the
precedential weight that a full majority would. Nonetheless, it is
clear that four of the United States Supreme Court justices agree
that it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute a juvenile
convicted of a murder committed before the age of 16, and one
justice believes it is unconstitutional to execute a juvenile
unless the death penalty statute itself identifies a minimum age
for the death penalty.
The Supreme Court
has instructed upon its own plurality opinions by saying that "the
holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those
Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds."
Gregg v. Georgia,428 U.S. 153, 169 n. 15, 96 S.Ct. 2909,
2923 n. 15, 49 L.Ed.2d 859, 872 n. 15 (1976) (interpreting the
effect of the plurality decision in Furman v. Georgia,408
U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972)).
The Indiana death
penalty statute under which Cooper was sentenced did not itself
contain a minimum age. Such a statute, Justice O'Connor said,
violates the eighth amendment. We are persuaded that Indiana's
statute fits under Thompson v. Oklahoma and violates the
eighth amendment of the United States Constitution. Because of the
similarities between the statutes under which Thompson and Cooper
were sentenced, we are bound to follow the result which was
supported by the majority in Thompson, regardless of the
division in the Supreme Court's reasoning in that case.
that Cooper may not be executed consistent with the Indiana
Constitution or the United States Constitution, we come to
determine the appropriate mandate which should issue. Our rules
favor final disposition of a case on appeal under certain
circumstances. Appellate Rule 15(N), Ind. Rules of Procedure,
provides in pertinent part:
The court shall
direct final judgment to be entered or shall order the error
corrected without a new trial unless such relief is shown to be
impracticable or unfair to any of the parties or is otherwise
The rule reflects
a policy that a reviewing court should direct a final judgment on
a pure question of law or a mixed question of law and fact, but
should refer cases involving resolution of disputed material facts
back to the trial court for a hearing on the evidence. B & R
Farm Services v. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance (1985), Ind.,
483 N.E.2d 1076. See also Herrod v. State (1986), Ind., 491
Cooper, the trial court conducted a lengthy evidentiary hearing
and entered findings concerning both aggravating factors and
mitigating factors. The trial judge determined that the
aggravators outweighed the mitigators such that the maximum
penalty possible under the statute, execution, was justified.
These same factors, weighed the same, clearly support the next
most severe penalty under the statute, namely, the maximum
sentence of imprisonment. In order to bring this lengthy and
expensive litigation to an end, we conclude that a final judgment
imposing the maximum sentence permitted under the Indiana Code
should be directed on appeal.
That part of the
trial court's judgment which orders execution is vacated. We
remand with instructions to enter a sentence of 60 years, the
maximum prison sentence for murder under Indiana law. Ind. Code §
35-50-2-3(a) (Burns 1985 Repl.).
and DICKSON, JJ., concur.
concurs in result with separate opinion.
Justice, concurring in result.
I concur in the
result reached by the majority in the disposition of this case. In
Thompson v. Oklahoma (1988), 487 U.S. ___, 108 S.Ct. 2687,
101 L.Ed.2d 702, five Justices of the United States Supreme Court
held that the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution
prohibits the execution of an offender under circumstances present
in the instant case.
Four of the
Justices held outright that a death sentence imposed on a person
who was under sixteen (16) years of age at the time of the
commission of the crime was unconstitutional as against the Eighth
Amendment. The fifth Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, found that it
was unconstitutional to execute one under sixteen (16) years under
the authority of a capital punishment statute that specifies no
minimum age at which the commission of a capital crime can lead to
the offender's execution. At the time this crime was committed,
Paula Cooper was fifteen (15) years of age. Our Indiana death
penalty statute under which she was sentenced did not provide at
the time she committed the crime a minimum age at which the death
penalty could be imposed.
to the holding of a majority of the United States Supreme Court,
it would be unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on Paula
Cooper and we are guided by their holding.
For this reason,
I concur in the result reached by the majority.
Pope Urges Indiana Not to Execute Woman, New York Times, Sept.
27, 1987, at 13, col. 1. A Teen-Ager on Death Row,
Washington Post, Sept. 30, 1987, at A18 ("An American teenager has
become a well-known figure and the center of controversy in
Europe."). Death Penalty Protest, Washington Post, March 4,
1989, at A17 (Italian delegation presents petition with one
million signatures to United Nations protesting the death penalty
and asking clemency for Cooper.). Tackett, Indiana Law May Bar
Teen's Execution, Chicago Tribune, March 2, 1989, at 1 (friars
travel from Italy for oral argument). See also Hackett,
Indiana Killer, Italian Martyr, Newsweek, Sept. 21, 1987, at
37; Sitomer, Abolish the Death Penalty for Juvenile Offenders,
The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 8, 1987, at 19.
Back to Reference
Death Bill Clears House, The Times of Hammond, Feb. 20, 1987,
at A1 ("I'm not trying to save Paula Cooper, just the Paula
Coopers of this world," Rep. Earline Rogers).
Back to Reference
House Votes to Raise Death Penalty Age to 16; Bill Now Goes to
Senate, Gary Post-Tribune, Feb. 20, 1987, at B1 ("Basically
that means we are excluding Paula Cooper," [Rep. Joyce] Brinkman
said. "I don't want a bill that tells Paula Cooper, `You are going
to be the exception.' That is an injustice.").
Back to Reference
4. On this
subject, one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Earline Rogers said: "I
made it a point not to include her because I think this should be
handled in a non-emotional way." Klose, Minimum Death Penalty
Age Debated, Washington Post, March 25, 1987, at A3.
Back to Reference
5. Rep. Chester
Dobis said: "If we do this and this becomes law, we will be
eliminating one branch of government (the judiciary) and I don't
think that's our job." Remondini, House Nixes Bill Designed to
Save Paula Cooper's Life, Indianapolis Star, April 4, 1989, at
Back to Reference
Robert D. Orr said that "until the judicial system has completed
its work and the (state) Supreme Court has taken action in the
matter, it would be inappropriate for me to intercede."
Huddleston, Attorney Says Pope Has Urged Orr to Grant Cooper
Clemency, The Times of Hammond, Sept. 27, 1987, at A7.
Back to Reference
foundation for this is V. Streib, Death Penalty for Juveniles
195 (1987). The author is Professor Victor L. Streib, who is
co-counsel for Cooper on appeal. The Attorney General does not
dispute these statistics.
Back to Reference
Hoffmann, On the Perils of Line-Drawing: Juveniles and the
Death Penalty, 40 Hastings L.J. 229 (1989).