Woman survives death row, kills self later


A woman who at age 16 was the youngest death row inmate in Indiana was found dead, apparently by her own hand, two years after was released from prison.
Paula Cooper had pleaded guilty to murder in 1986 but a successful appeal led to her June 2013 release after 27 years in prison.
Cooper, 45, died just after 7:15 a.m. ET Tuesday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Her death is still under investigation, and the Marion County coroner's office conducted an autopsy Wednesday.
"It's an unusual ending to a tragic case," said Indianapolis lawyer Jack Crawford, who was the Lake County prosecutor when Cooper was charged. "I've been involved in a lot of cases in my life, and nothing compared to this case."
Cooper became infamous in 1985 when at 15 she was charged with murder in the stabbing of 78-year-old Ruth Pelke during a robbery. Law enforcement identified Cooper as the ringleader in the slaying. Cooper was 15 when she was charged with murder in the stabbing of 78-year-old Ruth Pelke, a Bible teacher in the Chicago suburb of Gary, Ind., during a robbery.
Three other co-defendants — also teenage girls at the time — went to prison but have been released.
Cooper was 16 when she was convicted, the youngest person ever in this state to face the death penalty when she was sentenced. At the time in 1986, she also was the youngest Death Row inmate in the country.
An appeal from Pope John Paul II, an international campaign to overturn the death sentence and legal challenges helped spare Cooper's life.
The Indiana Supreme Court commuted the death sentence in 1989 and sent her to prison for 60 years. She earned credits for an early release.



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