Paula Cooper, the woman who killed an elderly Bible study teacher in Gary, Indiana with a butcher knife at the age of 15, was released from prison on Monday after having found reconciliation with the victim’s grandson. Of the four teenagers who participated in the crimes against Ruth Pelke, Cooper was the only one to be convicted for murder.
The young woman and her friends decided to rob 78-year-old Pelke in May of 1985 after smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. The elderly woman let the girls into her home when they told her that they were interested in Bible lessons. They proceeded to stab her to death and to steal her car.
Cooper was sentenced to execution by the electric chair for her crime after confessing to the murder, making her the youngest female in the United States to be on death row at the time. Three years later, after many petitions had been made to lighten the young girl’s sentence – including a plea from Pope John Paul II – Cooper was taken off of death row and was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
On Monday, only 27 years after having been imprisoned, Cooper was released with parole on good behavior. She was known in the penitentiary for being a hard worker, and had earned her bachelor’s degree while in prison. The now 43-year-old Cooper has remorse for her actions, and wants to warn troubled youth who may think that petty crimes are cool about the reality of the consequences of their actions. “Prison strips you of everything,” Cooper said.
Ruth Pelke’s grandson, Bill, was given the opportunity to share his grandmother’s faith with Cooper and began to seek reconciliation with her killer after praying for God to give him forgiveness for the young woman who had murdered his grandmother.
He has since co-founded ‘Journey of Hope…from Violence to Healing,’ an organization that speaks out against the death penalty and endorses restorative justice, saying that healing can come through reconciliation between the criminal and the victim’s family. journeyofhope.org
When asked by CNN anchor how he could forgive Cooper, Bill cited his faith - “My grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family,” he said.