(CNN) — Paula Cooper was just 16 years old when she became the youngest person on death row in the United States.
That was in 1986.
On Monday, after 27 years behind bars, Cooper walked out of Indiana’s Rockville Correctional Facility a free woman. She emerged around 10 a.m., said Douglas S. Garrison, chief communications officer for the Indiana Department of Corrections.
Cooper had an unlikely ally supporting her release: Bill Pelke, the grandson of the woman she killed.
Paula Cooper, once a teen on Indiana’s death row, was released from prison on Monday, June 17. She spent 27 years behind bars for stabbing a 78-year-old Bible teacher Ruth Pelke in the stomach and chest 33 times.
As of December 2012, there are 61 women on death row in the United States, making up fewer than 2% of the 3,125 inmates sentenced to die, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Here is a look at the women currently on death row. Source: Death Penalty Information Center
Patricia Blackmon was 29 when she killed her 2-year-old adopted daughter in Dothan, Alabama, in May 1999. Blackmon was sentenced on June 7, 2002. She is one of the 61 women currently on death row.
Tierra Capri Gobble was 21 when she murdered her 4-month-old son in Dothan, Alabama, on December 15, 2004. She was sentenced on October 26, 2005.
Shonda Johnson was 28 when she murdered her husband in Jasper, Alabama, on November 30, 1997. She was sentenced on October 22, 1999.
Christie Michelle Scott was 30 when she murdered her 6-year-old son and committed arson in Russellville, Alabama, on September 16, 2008. The jury recommended a life sentence, but the judge sentenced her to death in August 2009.
Wendi Andriano was 30 when she murdered her husband in Mesa, Arizona, on October 8, 2000. She was sentenced on December 22, 2004.
Shawna Forde was 41 when she murdered a 29-year-old man and a 9-year-old girl in Arivaca, Arizona, on May 30, 2009. She was sentenced on February 23, 2011.
Maria del Rosio Alfaro was 18 when she committed burglary, robbery, and murdered a 9-year-old girl in Anaheim, California, on June 15, 1990. She was sentenced on July 14, 1992.
Dora Luz Buenrostro was 34 when she murdered her two daughters, ages 4 and 9, and her 8-year-old son in San Jacinto, California, on October 25 and October 27, 1994. She was sentenced on October 2, 1998.
Socorro Caro was 42 when she murdered her three sons, ages 5, 8, and 11, in Santa Rosa Valley, California, on November 22, 1999. She was sentenced on April 5, 2002.
Celeste Simone Carrington was 30 when she murdered a 34-year-old man during a burglary on January 26, 1992, in San Carlos, California, and a 36-year-old woman during a burglary in Palo Alto, California, on March 11, 1992. She was sentenced to death on November 23, 1994.
Cynthia Lynn Coffman was 24 when she murdered a 20-year-old woman in San Bernardino County, California, on November 7, 1986. She was sentenced to death on August 31, 1989.
Kerry Lyn Dalton was 28 when she murdered a 23-year-old woman in Live Oak Springs, California, on June 26, 1988. She was sentenced to death on May 23, 1995.
Susan Eubanks was 33 when she murdered her four sons, ages 4, 6, 7, and 14, in San Marcos, California, on October 27, 1996. She was sentenced to death on October 13, 1999.
Veronica Gonzalez was 26 when she murdered her 4-year-old niece in San Diego on July 21, 1995. She was sentenced to death on July 20, 1998.
Valerie Dee Martin was 35 when she murdered her boyfriend in Lancaster, California, on March 28, 2003. She was sentenced to death on March 26, 2010.
Maureen McDermott was 37 when she murdered a 27-year-old man in Van Nuys, California, on April 28, 1985. She was sentenced to death on June 8, 1990.
Michelle Lyn Michaud was 38 when she kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered a 22-year-old woman in Pleasanton, California, on December 2, 1997. She was sentenced on September 25, 2002.
Tanya Jaime Nelson was 46 when she murdered two women, ages 23 and 52, in Westminster, California, on April 21, 2005. She was sentenced to death on March 26, 2010.
Sandi Dawn Nieves was 34 when she murdered her four daughters, ages 5, 7, 11, and 12, in Saugus, California, on June 30, 1998. She was sentenced on October 6, 2000.
Angelina Rodriguez was 32 when she murdered her husband in Montebello, California, on September 9, 2000. She was sentenced on January 12, 2004.
Brooke Marie Rottiers was 26 when she murdered two men, ages 22 and 28, in Corona, California, on August 28, 2006. She was sentenced on October 22, 2010.
Mary Ellen Samuels was 40 when she hired someone to kill her husband in Northridge, California, and then murdered her husband’s killer in Ventura County, California on June 27, 1989. She was sentenced on September 16, 1994.
Cathy Lynn Sarinana was 30 when she murdered her 13-year-old nephew in Riverside, California, on December 25, 2005. She was sentenced on June 26, 2009.
Janeen Marie Snyder was 21 when she murdered a 16-year-old girl in Rubidoux, California, on April 17, 2001. She was sentenced on September 7, 2006.
Catherine Thompson was 42 when she hired someone to kill her husband in Westwood, California, on June 14, 1990. She was sentenced on June 10, 1993.
Manling Tsang Williams was 28 when she murdered her husband and two sons, ages 3 and 7, in Rowland Heights, California, on August 7, 2007. She was sentenced on January 18, 2012.
Lisa Montgomery was 36 when she murdered a 23-year-old woman in Skidmore, Missouri, on July 16, 2004. She was sentenced on April 4, 2008. She is being held in federal prison.
Margaret Allen was 39 when she murdered a 39-year-old woman in Titusville, Florida, on February 8, 2005. She was sentenced on May 19, 2011.
Tina Lasonya Brown was 39 when she murdered a 19-year-old woman in West Pensacola, Florida, on March 24, 2010. She was sentenced on September 28, 2012.
Ana Marie Cardona was 39 when she murdered her 3-year-old son in Miami on November 2, 1990. She was sentenced in 1992, the sentence was reversed 10 years later. She was resentenced on June 10, 2011.
Emilia Lily Carr was 24 when she murdered a 26-year-old woman in Boardman, Florida, on February 14, 2009. She was sentenced on February 22, 2011.
Tiffany Ann Cole was 23 when she murdered a 61-year-old man and a 61-year-old woman in Jacksonville, Florida, on July 8, 2005. She was sentenced on March 6, 2008.
Kelly Renee Gissendaner was 28 when she murdered her husband in Gwinnett County, Georgia, on February 7, 1997. She was sentenced on November 20, 1998.
Robin Lee Row was 35 when she murdered her husband and her two children in Boise, Idaho, on February 10, 1992. She was sentenced on December 16, 1993.
Debra Denise Brown was 21 when she murdered a 7-year-old girl in Gary, Indiana, on June 18,1984. She was sentenced on June 23, 1986. She is serving a life sentence in Ohio but is sentenced to death in Indiana.
Virginia Susan Caudill was 37 when she robbed and murdered a 73-year-old woman in Lexington, Kentucky, on March 15, 1998. She was sentenced on March 24, 2000.
Antoinette Frank was 22 when she robbed and murdered a 25-year-old police officer, a 17-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman in New Orleans on March 4, 1994. She was sentenced on September 13, 1995.
Brandy Holmes was 23 when she robbed and murdered a 70-year-old man in Blanchard, Louisiana, on January 1, 2003. She was sentenced on February 21, 2006.
Michelle Byrom was 42 when she hired a killer to murder her husband in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, on June 4, 1999. She was sentenced on November 18, 2000.
Lisa Jo Chamberlin (aka Chamberlain) was 31 when she murdered a 34-year-old manand a 37-year-old woman in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, in March 2004. She was sentenced on August 4, 2006.
Patricia JoAnn Jennings was 47 when she murdered her husband in Wilson County, North Carolina, on September 19, 1989. She was sentenced on November 5,1990.
Blanche Kiser Moore was 56 when she murdered her boyfriend in Alamance County, North Carolina, on October 7, 1986. She was sentenced on January 18, 1991.
Carlette Elizabeth Parker was 34 when she murdered an 86-year-old woman in North Raleigh, North Carolina, on May 12, 1998. She was sentenced on April 1, 1999.
Christina S. Walters was 20 when she murdered a 19-year-old woman and a 25-year-old woman in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on August 17, 1998. She was sentenced on July 6, 2000.
Donna Marie Roberts was 58 when she murdered her husband near Warren, Ohio, on December 11, 2001. She was originally sentenced on June 21, 2003. That sentence was reversed on August 2, 2006, and she was resentenced on October 29, 2007.
Brenda E. Andrew was 37 when she murdered her husband in Oklahoma City on November 20, 2001. She was sentenced on September 22, 2004.
Angela Darlene McAnulty was 41 when she murdered her 15-year-old daughter in Eugene, Oregon, on December 9, 2009. She was sentenced on February 24, 2011.
Michelle Sue Tharp was 29 when she murdered her 7-year-old daughter in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, on April 18, 1998. She was sentenced on November 14, 2004.
Shonda Dee Walter was 23 when she murdered an 83-year-old man in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, on March 25, 2003. She was sentenced on April 19, 2005.
Christa Gail Pike was 18 when she murdered a 19-year-old woman in Knoxville, Tennessee, on January 12,1995. She was sentenced on March 29,1996.
Suzanne Margaret Basso was 44 when she murdered her boyfriend In Houston on August 25, 1998. She was sentenced on September 1, 1999.
Kimberly Cargill was 42 when she murdered a 39-year-old woman in Whitehouse, Texas, on June 18, 2010. She was sentenced on May 31, 2012.
Linda Anita Carty was 42 when she kidnapped and murdered a 20-year-old woman and the victim’s infant son in Houston on May 16, 2001. She was sentenced on February 21, 2002.
Lisa Coleman was 28 when she murdered a 9-year-old boy in Arlington, Texas, on July 26, 2004. She was sentenced on July 7, 2006.
Cathy Lynn Henderson was 37 when she murdered a 3-month-old boy she was babysitting near Austin, Texas, on January 21, 1994. She was sentenced on May 25, 1995.
Brittany Marlowe Holberg was 23 when she murdered an 80-year-old man in Amarillo, Texas, on November 13, 1996. She was sentenced on March 27, 1998.
Melissa Elizabeth Lucio was 38 when she murdered her 2-year-old daughter in Harlington, Texas, on February 16, 2007. She was sentenced in August 2008.
Kimberly Lagayle McCarthy was 36 when she murdered a 71-year-old woman in Lancaster, Texas, on July 7, 1997. She was originally sentenced in December 1998. Her sentence was reversed in 2001 and she was again sentenced to death on November 1, 2002.
Darla Lynn Routier was 26 when she murdered her 5-year-old son in Rowlett, Texas, on June 6, 1996. She was sentenced on February 4, 1997.
Erica Yvonne Sheppard was 19 when she murdered a 43-year-old woman in Houston on June 30, 1993. She was sentenced on March 3, 1995.
Photos: Women of death row
The events that ensnared both families started when Cooper was 15 and devised a plan to steal money with her friends.
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After smoking marijuana and drinking wine, they went to the home of 78-year-old Bible teacher Ruth Pelke, armed with a knife. Cooper struck Pelke with a vase, cut her arms and legs, then stabbed her in the chest and stomach 33 times, according to Indiana court records.
Their loot? Just $10.
An Indiana judge sentenced Cooper to death on July 11, 1986, at the age of 16.
More than 2 million people signed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to overturn Cooper’s death sentence.
Maryland legislature votes to end death penalty
Pope John Paul II personally appealed to Indiana Gov. Robert Orr on behalf of the teen.
But perhaps the most surprising advocate for Cooper’s life was the victim’s grandson.
Bill Pelke said he forgave Cooper for the murder three months after she was sentenced to death row at Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.
“For a year and a half I thought about how my grandmother died, and it was horrible,” Pelke said. “I started thinking about my grandmother’s life and all the wonderful things about her. I realized I no longer wanted Paula to die. I wanted to help her. I realized forgiveness had already taken place, and it brought a tremendous healing to me.”
The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the death sentence in 1989 to 60 years in prison.
Pelke tried to visit Cooper in 1986, but the two didn’t come face to face until eight years later. The two struck up an unlikely friendship over the years. Now they send messages through the prison e-mail system every week.
“I am happy she is getting out tomorrow and I wish her the very best,” Pelke said Sunday. “She is supposed to call me when she gets out, and we’re supposed to meet and go shopping. I told her whenever she got out, I’d treat her. I have a friend who would like to buy her an outfit, and I want to buy her a computer.”
Exonerated inmates protest Florida death row law
See also: Florida man’s Death Row Diary
Article source: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/06/17/justice/death-row-freedom/index.html?eref=edition
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