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Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Juvenile (15) - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 14, 1985
Date of birth: August 25, 1969
Victim profile: Ruth Pelke, 78
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife (33 times)
Location: Gary, Lake County, Indiana, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on July 11, 1986. Resentenced to a 60 year term of imprisonment on August 18, 1989
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DOB: 08-25-1969
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 times

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 Sentence)

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)
(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)

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.


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 Plymouth.

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 Kimbrough.

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 sentence.

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.


Indiana Court Spares Teen Killer's Life

By David Elsner -

July 14, 1989

The Indiana 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.

Cooper's 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.

Last month 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.

But the 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 means 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.

In saving 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".

The court 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."

Of 133 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.

Since then, 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. Clarence Trigg.

The 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.

Cooper's 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 -

July 20, 1988

ROME — Europeans this month plan to strike a blow for the life of a young American woman on Indiana's Death Row.

Under the 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.

Paula Cooper T-shirts and buttons bearing the sad police mugshot of the woman are the rage from Madrid to Warsaw.

In Italy 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.

Between July 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.

"The girl 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 Kill).

Cooper, a 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.

Drunk and high on marijuana, the girls stabbed the woman 30 times and beat her with a vase. They escaped with $10.

Cooper was 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.

The campaign 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.

Priests and 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."

"We're often 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.

After this 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.


Bill Pelke & The Journey of Hope

Written by Bill Pelke & Angela Grobben

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Journey of 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.

Dealing with the pain of loss and the revenge feelings towards the murderers, this is a story of forgiveness and healing, of compassion and love.

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 decided 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.”

April said, “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.”

The girls 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 lessons.”

Nana said, “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 like Velcro.

I remember 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.”

When Nana 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.

They had 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.

The girls 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.

My father found Nana’s body the next day. You can imagine the pain, the sorrow and the anger that my family felt.

The girls 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.

The trials 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.

Denise, the 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.

The first 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.

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?

The 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.

The defense 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 an end.

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.

When I 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 “Why?

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!”

The judge 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.

I also 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 difference.

I pictured 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.

I also 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.”

I also thought of when Jesus was teaching the disciples about forgiveness, and Peter asked, “How many times are you supposed to forgive…? 7 times?”

Jesus 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 life.

The third 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 they’re doing.”

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.

But once 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.

I realized 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.

And I 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 tremendous healing.

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.

The autopsy 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.

A tremendous 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.

I also 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.

I didn’t 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.

Anna 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 interviews.

They had 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 forgiveness.”

Anna told 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 to you?”

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 program.

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.

Two priests 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 to live.

As we 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 on Paula.

Paula’s case 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.

Shortly 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.

Before I left, my wife said, “Why don’t you just go for one week instead of two?”

I said, “I wouldn’t know which week to pick. I think I should be there for both weeks.”

Then she asked, “Who’s going to be there?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

She said, “Well what are you going to do on the march?”

I said, “I don’t know.”

She said, “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 there.”

Finally I 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.

I realized 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.



540 N.E.2d 1216 (1989)

Paula R. COOPER, Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff below).

No. 45S00-8701-CR-61.

Supreme Court of Indiana

July 13, 1989.

William L. Touchette, Lake County Appellate Public Defender, Crown Point, Victor L. Streib, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland, Ohio, for appellant.

Linley E. 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 Force.

Richard A. Waples, Legal Director, Indiana Civil Liberties Union, Indianapolis, Lawrence A. Vanore, Barnes & Thornburg, Indianapolis, for amicus curiae, Indiana Civil Liberties Union.

Nigel Rodley, 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

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

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 circumstances.

This is a difficult conclusion to reach because of the gruesome nature of Cooper's acts.

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.

Cooper's 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

The appeal 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 dispositive.

II. The Indiana Constitution

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.

Criminal 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 constitutional. Id.

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 arouse.4 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 52.

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.

In accordance 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.

III. United States Constitution

Cooper also 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.

William Wayne 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.

Justice Sandra 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 734.

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).

The Attorney 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.

IV. Conclusion

Having concluded 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 improper... .

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 N.E.2d 538.

Before sentencing 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.).


PIVARNIK, J., concurs in result with separate opinion.

PIVARNIK, 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.

Clearly, pursuant 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.


1. Suro, 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.

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2. Wheat, 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).

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3. Ashley, 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.").

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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.

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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 D4.

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6. Governor 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.

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7. The 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.

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8. J.L. Hoffmann, On the Perils of Line-Drawing: Juveniles and the Death Penalty, 40 Hastings L.J. 229 (1989).



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