Two years after Cooper was sentenced to die, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an unrelated case that the execution of young people who were under 16 at the time they committed an offense was cruel and unusual punishment and was thus unconstitutional. Indiana legislators then passed a state law raising the minimum age limit for execution from 10 years to 16, and in 1988, the state’s high court set Cooper’s death sentence aside and ordered her to serve 60 years in prison.
“Was justice done? Twenty-four years is a long time, but I’m not sure,” Crawford said.
Ruth Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, has organized opposition to the death penalty since about two years after her murder. His grandmother, he said, would have been “appalled” at a young girl being sentenced to die.
Pelke, who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, was in Indiana Monday for Cooper’s release, but missed it. He said he expects Cooper to phone him sometime in the next few days.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to execute anyone who is younger than 18 years when they commit an offense.
Linley E. Pearson, who was Indiana’s attorney general when Cooper appealed to the state Supreme Court, said research now shows that the human brain doesn’t fully mature until age 24.
“So kids can do a lot of things they wouldn’t do if they were an adult,” Pearson said.
Cooper’s sentence was reduced due to her behavior in prison, where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She will remain on parole for a few years, Garrison said.
“We’re just wanting her to be successful, that’s all,” he said. “She needs to get back to living.”