Paula Cooper, 43, convicted and sentenced to death for brutally stabbing a 78-year-old Bible studies teacher in 1985, was recently released from prison. Some people are concerned that a similar thing will happen in the case of Jodi Arias. Like Paula Cooper, they fear that she will someday be released from prison.
The Story of Paula Cooper
Four teenage girls, Paula Cooper, Denise Thomas, Karen Korders and April Beverly, decided to skip school. They spent the day smoking marijuana and drinking wine. They were bored and wanted to play video games but had no money. April Beverly was living across the street from Ruth Pelke. Mrs. Pelke was a compassionate elderly woman who had once given April Bible lessons. April was convinced that Mrs. Pelke would have money they could steal.
The plan was to knock on Mrs. Pelke’s door and when she answered they would ask her for Bible lessons. When they knocked on the door, Mrs. Pelke told the girls that she no longer taught Bible lessons and offered to get them the phone number of another teacher. When leaning over her desk drawer to search for the phone number, Mrs. Pelke was struck with a vase and stabbed 33 times with a 12-inch kitchen knife. Paula, who was considered the ringleader and her accomplices wound up with only $10. They then stole the victim’s car. The girls were caught because Paula accidentally left a prescription bottle at the murder scene.
The girls had robbed before but most of their small-time heists were of vacant homes.
When Paula Cooper was interviewed after the murder, she said that “…it wasn’t planned or premeditated. It just happened.”
Paula Cooper pled guilty in 1986 to murder and murder while committing a robbery. At the trial, Paula’s lawyer told the jury that she was an abused child. Her sister Rhonda testified that the two girls were forced to watch as her father raped her mother. Her sister also claimed that Paula’s father beat her with extension cords and that their mother had forced them to assist her in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Paula also had spent time in foster care homes and juvenile centers.
Paula was sentenced to death for the murder. She was the only one of the four girls who received a death sentence.
She was only 16 years old when she was sentenced to death, making her the youngest female since 1892 to have faced execution. At the time of her sentencing, there were only 34 people under the age of 18 who had been given the death penalty, the majority of whom were male.
After sentencing, Paula expressed remorse. “I didn’t do it on purpose. And I can’t just sit here and say I’m sorry, because sorry don’t do it. Sorry isn’t good enough for me. Sorry isn’t good enough for you. I hope that one day I can get out and start my life over… Maybe I can finish school. Will I have a chance?…When you think about something like this… You really don’t realize what you be doing until it’s too late… You know, I really don’t know what happened. It just happened so fast. I had a drinking problem and I always got high… My mother and father were not prepared to have children. My father took his anger out on me and my sister. The courts never helped me and my sister. The sent us back home. They shipped us from place to place. No one cared. I’m sorry for what I did. They say I have no remorse, but I do…”
Paula Cooper’s case gained national and international headlines. Her case appeared on 60 Minutes, German television shows and was the subject of many newspaper and magazines articles. It was also heavily publicized in Italy, a country staunchly against the death penalty and who villainized the United States for having sentenced her to the electric chair.
Her case also gained attention because Paula attempted to become impregnated by two prison officers and a prison counselor. She thought that by getting pregnant she would be spared the death penalty.
After spending less than two years on death row, Paula’s death sentence was commuted to 60 years in 1989 by the Indiana Supreme Court. The change in her sentence came after an international campaign was launched to save her from the death penalty. According to the Indiana Historical Society, on Paula Cooper’s behalf “Appeals were made to the Indiana Supreme Court which received two million signatures; to Governor Robert Orr, who received an appeal from the Pope John Paul II in September 1987; and to the United Nations, which received 1 million signatures.”
Paula Cooper spent about 25 years in prison and is now 43 years old. She was released from prison in part because of an Indiana state law that gives inmates a day’s credit for every day served. Her release was also based upon awarded credits for her educational accomplishments and good behavior. Her most important advocate for release was Bill Pelke, the victim’s grandson, who forgave her for her crime.
Bill Pelke and Forgiveness
When Bill Pelke was interviewed, he said that he “became convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family. I felt she wanted someone in my family to have that same sort of love and compassion. I didn’t have any but was so convinced that’s what she would have wanted, I begged God to give me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family and do that on behalf of my grandmother.”
He also said that “for a year and a half, whenever I thought about my grandmother, I always pictured how she died. It was terrible,” he said. “But when my heart was touched with compassion, forgiveness took place. I knew from that moment on when I think about her, I would no longer pictured how she died, but I would picture how she lived, and what she stood for, what she believed in — the beautiful, wonderful person she was.”
During her incarceration, Paula earned a bachelor’s degree, completed an apprenticeship in housekeeping and helped train companion dogs for the disabled. She also served as a counselor to other inmates. Due to her young age at the time of the crime and her remorse, it is possible that Paula Cooper is a rehabilitated woman. No one can say with certainty that she won’t kill again but if the victim’s own family members can forgive her vicious crimes, then perhaps so can the rest of us.
Differences Between the Jodi Arias and Paula Cooper Cases
The chances of Jodi Arias ever being released from prison are low. The two cases are very different. Paula Cooper was only 15 years old when she committed her crime. Jodi Arias was 27 years old. Paula Cooper was a teen and Jodi Arias was a grown woman. Paula Cooper may not have known right from wrong because of her young age but Jodi Arias most certainly did.
Paula Cooper was high on drugs, had a history of abuse and had a chaotic family life. None of those factors excuse murder but they might help us understand how or why it happened. Jodi Arias, alternatively, was not taking drugs and by her own admission, lived a idyllic family life.
The murder of Ruth Pelke was not preplanned. Jodi Arias premeditated the murder of Travis Alexander and went to great lengths to conceal her guilt.
Paula Cooper expressed remorse and apologized whereas Jodi Arias has never expressed remorse or apologized. I don’t believe she’s capable of remorse or compassion (typical of those with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD.)
Paula Cooper may be a changed woman but I don’t think rehabilitation is possible in the case of Jodi Arias. As I have explained in other articles, Jodi Arias has antisocial personality disorder. People with this disorder are not capable of feeling empathy or remorse. They show no regret for the harm they do to others. They only care about themselves. That’s why other people are no more than objects, means to an end, for the antisocial. Research shows that virtually no effective treatments have been identified to treat ASPD.
For the protection of society, Jodi Arias should never be allowed to leave prison.