Former Death Row Inmate Walks Free: Comparing the Paula Cooper and Jodi Arias Cases

By | June 21, 2013

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’s Release

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 pjodidifferent. 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.

21 thoughts on “Former Death Row Inmate Walks Free: Comparing the Paula Cooper and Jodi Arias Cases

  1. Observer

    Thanks for pointing out that the two cases are very different. Paula Cooper was a teenager and Jodi Arias was an experienced woman at 27 who had lived with three different men for more than 10 years.

    I think Jodi Arias deliberately wore the glasses and barrettes, adjusted her chair to the ground so she looked smaller and acted the part of a love struck teenager to make it look like she was just a young foolish kid when she did this “bad thing” as Jennifer Wilmott referred to the slaughtering of Travis Alexander.

    I hope the new jurors in the sentencing phase can see her shuffling to the stand in stripes and chains with that short female bailiff guiding her to see that Jodi is not a tiny little teenager but a tall, strong grown woman who is capable of stabbing and slitting someone else’s throat.

    Jodi Arias is now convicted of an extremely cruel murder and there is no presumption of innocence so Jodi and her defense team should not be allowed to dress her like an innocent teenage girl next door to fool the jury.

    Perhaps if the four jurors who against the death penalty had not been fooled by Jodi Arias’s school girl look, immature behavior and soft voice, they would realize she is a menace to society, she will kill again because she believes Travis Alexander deserved to be killed because he rejected her , she cannot be rehabilitated because she is a psychopath and she will find a way to escape or get released from prison through some loophole.

  2. Danny

    I saw that show about those four teenagers killing that old lady. It was a horrific crime and none of them should have EVER been set free. At least that is how I feel about it. As for Jodi Arias, I believe she would kill again if she got the opportunity.

      1. greg

        Based on what evidence?

        Clearly you don’t want to be the woman’s boyfriend — even if there are others who have lived to tell the tale. But, really? I mean, is evidence no longer required in the courts now?

  3. Uppity

    I’ll probably get beaten up for this, but I still can’t help myself. This is a huge problem with our criminal justice system. Life no longer means Life. Sentences in general are a joke now. People who were arrested for marijuana can serve longer terms sometimes than hardened criminals. It’s one reason so many people cling to the death penalty as a form for punishment. And now even that is no guarantee that others will be forever safe from having one of these scumbags or crazy psychos walk the same street with them again. Understanding why somebody did what they did is one thing. Excusing it because we understand why is another. So she’s ‘changed’. How does this change what she did? Paula showed up at a 78 year-old woman’s home and pretended she wanted bible lessons. One of her cohorts stood lookout. Then she stabbed her 33 times. With a butcher knife. She was 16 and quite old enough to know she was committing a horrific murder. Ruth could have been one of our mothers, gang.

    Do any of you mind if Poor Paula moves next door to you now?

    People are right to worry that this could happen with Jodi Arias. Because our system has encouraged horrible injustices to victims who are long forgotten, while their Poor Poor killers, rapists and molesters are busy “Changing”. Jodi will be forgotten and Jodi could easily become Paula one day. It’s a huge reason why so many people want her executed. They Know it can happen. We already know how well Jodi “Changes”. We are afraid because we know our system is fully capable of allowing Jodi’s of the world to Walk, while remaining victim families are left in fear till they die.

    It just seems that our system is increasingly out of whack – and cares a whole lot more about perpetrators than it cares about their victims. To me, no murderer, rapist or child molester should ever be excused for any reason, ever. Sentences should be carried out in full with no exceptions other than new evidence that clearly reveals a change in the circumstances of the crime.

    I guess if I were awaiting the needle, I’d change too. There are a couple of people without whom I think the world would be a better place. That doesn’t mean I have the right to kill them and then be free one day because I changed while I was shaking in my boots awaiting my deserved punishment. Because let’s face it: Nobody finds god on Prom Night.

    1. Observer

      Uppity, I agree with you. Our system is way too lenient on criminals.

      I think juries and judges should not decide sentences. There should be automatic sentences for all murderers.

      The death sentence should be automatic for serial killers, baby killers, cop killers and premeditated murderers. And they should be put to death immediately with no appeals.

      All other murderers should receive life without parole.

      No murderer should ever be set free.

      But with our crowded prisons, sympathetic judges, juries and parole boards, many murderers only serve six to 10 years. One jury found a mother of two guilty of first degree murder for shooting her husband in the back of the head as he slept but gave her 10 years probation because her two young children took the stand and said they needed their mother at home.

      All a murderer has to do to be set free to kill again is be a model prisoner and lie and say he is sorry to a parole board.

      Like you, I believe Paula Cooper deserved a lethal injection for participating in robbery and murder of a kind elderly woman. At the least, she should spend the rest of her life in prison.

      However, under our system most teenagers who murder in their teens are not eligible for the death penalty. Paula Cooper was 15 when she and three other girls stabbed Ruth Pelke to death. She has served 25 years, which is the maximum most murderers serve who get life with probation.

      Unfortunately, the parole board listens to the family and Ruth’s grandson who forgave to his grandmother’s murderer and advocated for her release.

      If the system is going to be setting murderers free after 25 years, I would rather take a chance on a woman who committed a murder with three other girls at 15 high on drugs and earned a bachelor’s degree, helped train companion dogs for the disabled and counseled other inmates than a psychopath who premeditated and carried out the slaughter of her boyfriend because he rejected her and not only has no remorse but still hates him and gets her kicks slandering him and hurting his family all over again.

      1. Uppity

        I appreciate your well-thought-out response.

        ……Although sometimes I do think we have a problem with bad-seed youths who Know instinctively that they can get away with terrible crimes and unconscionable behaviors because they are minors.

        1. Observer

          Uppity, I again agree with you. However, most courts try teenagers as adults when it comes to violent murders.

          I have read of more than one murder where kind adults tried to help drugged up teenagers and allowed them into their homes only to be murdered for a few bucks. It is appalling. Scary.

          I would love to open my home to children who need help but I know from my experience as a teacher and principal that the most angel faced innocent looking children can be the most dangerous.

    2. stacey

      Actually, it’s been in the last 20 years or so that truth in sentencing laws, mandatory minimums and the like have made things much more problematic for violent offenders than in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. It’s only been in the last 20 years that LWOP replaced those astronomically long sentences, like where an offender is doing 1000 years or more. With the creation of more and more prisons, we’re locking up people for longer and longer, so it’s a misnomer that a life sentence doesn’t mean life these days but it did long ago.

      In as far as “murders should never walk the street again”, well, the courts don’t agree with you. A good number of states don’t agree with the idea of the death penalty, either. Other than Japan, we’re the only other first world country which practices the death penalty, so even first world opinion is against you.

      Until the 18th Century, juveniles, i.e. those over the age of 7, could and usually would be punished to the same extent as an adult. A 7 year old could become a felon for the rest of his/her life. In 1855, Chicago decided that children were different. Because they were in the process of becoming adults, they shouldn’t be considered or labeled felons. Delinquency law developed and spread (though if memory serves me, NY also had a delinquency system early) with the emphasis on children being allowed a second chance due to their immaturity. As a result, they also weren’t housed with adult offenders (makes sense – they were no longer considered adults, so they were no longer housed or treated with adult offenders) and the emphasis was changed to reform (hence getting sent to a reformatory).

      Things changed in the 20th century. Blended sentences and hearings that allowed the State to seek adult prosecution for minors changed a lot of state statutes. Those states with the death penalty opened up the death penalty for children as young as 14 in some cases. In the 1980’s, when Ms. Cooper committed her crime, this was the direction the pendulum was swinging. We were sick of juvenile crime and that whole Dukakis revolving door justice for adults. As a result, kids were sentenced to death, LWOP, and long, long sentences as if they were adults. Further, we started our increase in the corrections industrial complex until today, we incarcerate more of our population than any other industrialized country, and for longer.

      Whatever; when Cooper was sentenced, death for a minor was ok (in Indiana where her crime occurred, children as young as 10 could face death). It was constitutional in Sanford v. Kentucky, (1989 I believe the first time SCOTUS heard a case dealing with the expansion of the death penalty to include minors). But, citing evolving standards, SCOTUS reversed itself in Roper v. Simmons in 2005. The pendulum on minors continues to swing away from the tough on kids ’80’s. In this year’s Miller v. Alabama, SCOTUS held that juvenile LWOP was cruel and unusual. Offenders convicted as children deserve a reasonable chance at parole. Note, that doesn’t happen overnight, but they deserve the chance to get out. Part of the reasoning was a recognition that a person’s brain doesn’t reach full maturity until 25 (note, Ms. Arias, that’s 25 years of age. You were 27 when you committed your murder). Even with that revelation from science, the age of majority remains 18, in line with the 26th Amendment (which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, and that was enacted in 1971). It should also be noted that the US is a signatory to treaties involving humane punishment for juvenile offenders. While that little fact didn’t change the results for those offenders who killed prior to majority in the years before Roper, it also weighed into SCOTUS’s decisions.

      Ms. Cooper hit the lottery three times. First, she got sentenced to death. If she’d been tried 10 years before or after Roper, she wouldn’t have faced the death penalty. If she’d been tried 10 years before, she would have been tried as a juvenile. Her second lottery hit was Roper, which took death off her plate. The vast majority of death row inmates who were taken off death row due to Roper were resentenced to LWOP. Her third lottery hit was Miller, making her eligible for parole. Lots of people were actually executed for crimes committed as minors prior to Roper.

      Arias will not be so lucky. FWIW, remember, Charles Manson was sentenced to death originally. He was released from death row as a result of the Furman decision. Because there was no such thing as LWOP in the ’70’s, he’s been parole eligible for decades. It is well understood that he will never be released. Same for his followers.

      Oh, and one other thing – when it comes to parole boards. Most parole boards that I’ve ever dealt with were comprised of people appointed to the position by the Governor of the state. The Governor of the State, attempting to avoid a Dukakis/Willie Horton debacle (circa 1988, remember?), always loads the parole board with very conservative, tough on crime people – retired cops, retired prosecutors, and others who will be strict with parole. The only time governors have problems is when the federal courts step in and mandate a reduction in prison population due to overcrowding.

      Now, the comparison between Arias and Cooper is an interesting comparison. In both cases, there were a lot of stab wounds – too many for most of us to be comfortable with. Unlike Arias, Cooper pled guilty. Arias was 27 at the time of her crime, Cooper was 15. Cooper has always claimed responsibility for her crime, Arias hasn’t. While dead is dead, and murdered is murdered, Cooper murdered her victim in the course of a robbery. Arias murdered her victim as a result of what? being pissed off that he had the gaul to dump her? And dump her BEFORE she had a better “catch” lined up. (And yes, I too wonder if she’s ever killed or been violent with a former boyfriend who dumped her. All we’ve really heard about are the boyfriends she dumped when she found somebody she considered better.) Unlike Arias, Cooper was unlucky in that she committed her crime during a period of time when the death penalty had expanded to include minors. Arias’s crime would always be death qualified in states with the death penalty in any era of US history.

      As to mandatory sentencing – it doesn’t work. In relationship to the death penalty, SCOTUS has repeatedly held it’s unconstitutional. The facts and circumstances of each murder and each murderer must be examined. Do you really think the guy who premeditatedly kills the guy who raped his daughter should be taken out and shot just like a guy who premeditatedly kills his daughter to collect insurance money? And then there are the errors that are made. Does the case of Cameron Todd Willingham bother you at all? How about the Area 2 corruption in Chicago and the torture confessions extracted there? http://humanrights.uchicago.edu/chicagotorture/ In the Arias case, it’s rather cut and dried – she killed him. She drove more than 10 hours out of her way to kill him and took pictures of her “work”. Most cases are not like Arias. Throw in the propensity for crime labs to fabricate evidence (
      Houston: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston_Police_Department
      MAssachusetts: http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2013/04/us-massachusetts-forensic-lab-chemist-charged
      North Carolina: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publications/criminal_justice_magazine/sp12_sci_evidence.authcheckdam.pdf
      FBI: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/radley-balko/a-massive-mess-of-forensi_b_2365141.html
      and I could go on and on),
      some police corruption, the need for the public to have a defendant in a well publicized case, and all the other things that can go wrong, and it’s a good thing that there is so much review. People are fallible. Mistakes are made. You never want to be on the receiving end of those mistakes. You could wind up being Gary Gauger, convicted of murdering his parents and later exonerated.

      And, personally, I’d have no problem if Ms. Cooper moved in next door to me. I recognize that most people at 43 are very different from who they were at 15. Ms. Arias? Her I’d have a problem with. Then again, come to think of it, I have no idea if my neighbors are murderers or not. They’re quiet and they keep to themselves, but the neighbors always say that about serial killers and the like.

      Now, who wants to bet whether or not Ms. Arias will even try to get her GED in prison? To finish her high school education, Ms. Cooper had to get her GED in prison – very few 15 year olds have a high school diploma. Ms. Arias has not finished up this basic level of education even though she’s now in her 30’s.

      1. Polk8dot

        Actually, that last comment is not correct. From all written accounts, Arias actually HAD achieved her GED in jail.
        That is the only accomplishment she was willing to take on pursuing, under her lawyer’s guidance, no doubt setting up the future Mitigation factor. I do not see it as such though. The fact that she had 5 years, and deigned to ‘finish’ high school, sadly is no big deal, and quite popular in prisons nowadays.
        Other than that, your comment is incredibly well researched and written. I believe you must be deeply involved in the field of criminal justice, to possess such breadth of knowledge on the subject, and it was great to read all of it in one place, so concisely yet eloquently presented. I may not agree with all of your notions, but for sure the heinousness of Arias’s crime trump’s Paula Carter’s, and I too believe that she had killed before (lots of homeless people ‘disappear’ all the time, and she would have no qualms about killing a stranger for no other reason than to see how it feels and looks), and am sure SHE WILL KILL AGAIN if set free at some point in time.

  4. Zooyork

    Poor Ruth Pelke. What a horrible thing to befall a kind, generous lady. I’m saddened by her story and the selfish act of those teenagers, for $10… my God.

  5. Observer

    Here’s an example of a cold blooded killer being sentenced to life but being eligible for parole in 17 years.

    Lawyer having affair with judge sentenced to life for killing wife

    Posted: Saturday, July 29, 2000

    LISA M. COLLINS
    Associated Press

    PONTIAC, Mich. — A lawyer convicted of killing his pregnant wife, purportedly to further his affair with a judge, was sentenced to life in prison Friday.

    Michael Fletcher, 30, showed no emotion but his parents sobbed when the judge handed down the sentence, the maximum allowable under the law.

    The lawyer was found guilty last month of second-degree murder for the Aug. 16 shooting death of Leann Fletcher at their Hazel Park home. Jurors rejected a first-degree murder charge.

    Prosecutors said Fletcher staged the shooting to look like a suicide or accident; his lawyer and family maintain his innocence.

    “In all of these years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crime that was so incredibly cold-blooded,” Oakland County Circuit Judge Jessica Cooper said, noting that the couple’s 3-year-old daughter would have to live the rest of her life without her mother.

    Leann Fletcher’s family and friends cheered and cried on hearing the sentence, which makes Michael Fletcher eligible for parole in 17 years.

    http://brainerddispatch.com/stories/072900/nne_0729000051.shtml

  6. Don Osborne

    I can’t see you getting beaten up on this, Uppity – as usual, you are spot on the money, as are you, Observer.
    Far too much emphasis is placed on considerations for the offender – and in finding excuses for them. They always seem to have been abused – particularly in childhood. Arias was abused as a child, and abused as an adult ( are you there, Mr Zervakos? ). Poor Jodi. Always suffering abuse. Pity there is no-one available to support her claims, though. It is obvious her parents care – they were there throughout the trial in what must have been the most horrendous of circumstances for them, to give her support she didn’t deserve one iota of.
    Like you, Uppity, I would not be at all surprised if Travis was not Arias’ first victim – murders like this are rarely one-off killings. For some time after becoming familiar with this crime, I firmly believed that Arias did not act alone, mainly due to Travis’ size and interest in cage fighting, and you would expect him to give a good account of himself in a life and death attack. However, it soon became just as likely that his killer, acting alone, certainly knew how to kill – and how to use a knife. The killer also knew how to immediately disable, as it is obvious Travis never had a chance either to defend himself, or to inflict any sort of retaliatory damage to his killer – and thus she had him completely at her mercy, of which she showed him none. This killer wanted the victim to be fully aware he was about to die, and who it was that was going to take his life in torturous circumstances – remember Juan’s vivid two minutes silence?
    Do young killers such as Cooper warrant favorable future consideration? Did she give that poor old lady the slightest consideration while she was slaughtering her? She’s due the same consideration – that’s all she’s entitled to.

    1. Uppity

      We’ve got to stop meeting like this Don. lol.

      FWIW, nothing here has changed my opinion, not because I am stubborn and unmovable, but because I care one hell of a lot more for victims than I care for murderers. While. for the sake of argument, I appreciate the detailed comparisons to Cooper’s murderous rage vs. Arias’ murderous rage, including age, circumstances, childhood, etc etc – None of these comparisons mean much to the completely innocent and SLAUGHTERED Ruth Pelke, who will never get another chance at life like her murderer is receiving. As far as I am concerned, that trumps All.

      I could see Jodi becoming Cooper one day, long after Travis’ slaughter is no longer important to anybody any longer. And should you or I live that long, we will hear sympathetic arguments as to why Poor Jodi has “changed” and should get another chance in society.

    2. Chris Larson

      Why do you believe that Jodi did not act alone? Stabbing anyone directly in the chest would give any attacker a huge advantage.The victim would be bleeding out and gasping for air. She soaked the tile floor in the hallway with water to drag the body more easily. Her adrenaline took over. There is no evidence that another person helped her, and if there had been you can be assured she would have thrown them under the bus. just my opinion!

  7. lizzie

    The case of Ruth Pelke is heart-breaking. But I don’t think mandatory sentences of the type @Uppity and @Observer propose will work nor do I think they would be a good idea (for reasons other than the many legal reasons @Stacey supplied.) I think the old adage “hard cases make bad law” applies here.

    If a jury knew that conviction for a crime (such as 1st degree murder) would automatically result in a very stiff sentence (such as a swiftly carried out DP) a juror reluctant for the particular defendant to receive that mandated sentence might vote for acquittal even if he/she thought the state had proven the person guilty. (Ex: I think it is clear the Arias foreman would not have voted for 1st degree if it had automatically meant the DP. I’m not sure he even would have voted for 1st degree had it AUTOMATICALLY meant Life WITHOUT the possibility of release since he seemed to buy into the “one day and one [little] mistake” defense argument.) So we could have more murderers and other serious criminals acquitted, more convictions for lesser-included charges (charges that carry significantly less punishment) instead of convictions for the main charges, and/or the need to retry cases multiple times due to hung juries if harsh sentences were automatic. While that sort of thing happens with some juries now (essentially jury nullification), it seems even more likely to happen with mandatory stiff sentences for certain crimes.

    And if we look at what a disaster mandatory Sex Offender and Child Abuse laws sometimes are– And before folks think I want pedophiles to be free to prey on children or for children to be abused, I don’t. But requiring a 17 yo boy to register as a sex offender for all in his community and the nation to see for years and years because he fooled around with his longtime 15 yo girlfriend? I know 15 yos can’t consent in most states but I remember being a 15 yo girl (long ago!) and at that age, I thought I COULD decide about my own behavior in many, many arenas. I’m sure today’s 15 yos feel the same way. And determining if “statutory rape” or other sex crime has occurred often depends on age differences and state laws. That makes sense on its face (a 20 yo man preying on a 11 yo girl) but in some states, the age difference can be as little as 2 yrs. So whether the act is “relationship sex” (albeit perhaps ill-advised relationship sex) or is a crime comes down to exactly when the “perpetrator” was born. Two years and two weeks older than the minor, the 17 yo, if convicted, must register as a sex offender and the minor is his victim. One year and 11 1/2 months older than his girlfriend, it’s not a crime, registering isn’t an issue and she’s just his girlfriend, not his victim (except perhaps in the eyes of her parents!) So mandatory rules can lead to strange and unfair outcomes.

    We’ve also had some awful cases where parents have, at the very least, lost custody of their children because they took pictures of them naked. (I treasure a picture my parents took of me and my two sibs together in the bathtub when we were all under age 7 or so—naked bodies visible only from the lower chest up–but it wouldn’t be a good idea to do that these days if using film requiring commercial processing, printing digital pics commercially, or storing digital images online as photo co employees and internet providers must report suspected “child pornography.” The requirement to report does not require the images to include ANY sexual activity or be “full body” or graphic poses.)

    Obviously I am not a legal scholar but it seems many of the current laws we have about punishment for and reporting of certain “high emotion” crimes have come about from hard cases, well-meaning legislators, and public outcry over high-profile cases. We’ve also gone nuts on the subject of guns. No, I’m not an NRA member but look at the recent case of a young boy who chewed his breakfast Pop Tart into the shape of a gun at school. School officials claimed their zero-tolerance policy on guns required a mandatory suspension. We’ve also had zero-tolerance policies on drugs applied when an 8th grader was “caught” giving her friend a Midol for cramps.)

    While I don’t support automatic sentences or arbitrary rules, I have mixed feelings about Bill Pelke’s effect on the Cooper case. I admire him and I think his ability to forgive Cooper has probably given him peace in a way no state-imposed punishment ever could. So I think it’s a good thing he could do what he did. But at the same time, Cooper’s crime was a crime against society, not only a crime against Ruth Pelke and her family. So I have some qualms about the effect our current “Victims Rights” laws can have on the outcome of a case. As has been discussed elsewhere on this site (by @Maria, I think) do we really want convicted defendants (such as Arias) to receive harsher punishments because their chosen victim had numerous sympathetic and attractive family members who were visibly affected by the crime? If so, that MUST mean we think other defendants should receive lighter sentences if they kill in the same cruel manner as Arias and are convicted but their chosen victims don’t have surviving family members (or the family members that do exist are “unsympathetic” or “unatttractive” for some reason.) Hardly an equal-justice-for-all view of our society or of our criminal justice system.

  8. Don Osborne

    Chris – I did not say that I believe Arias did not act alone. That was just a first impression. Then I went on to say that she knows how to use a knife. You are correct in saying there was no evidence of another person helping her, so I obviously did not explain myself properly.

  9. Laquinton W.

    I remember my days in juvie… hence why im about to say what I am. I narrowly missed the kind of situation Ms. Cooper found herself in at age 15…. sometimes not understanding what has happened to you in life can cause unprecedented anger…. The older you get, the more you understand, the more at peace u become. Love also plays a HUGE, almost majority part in a child’s healthy development. Paula didnt have much of it. Believe me, when you go thru the types of traumatic things that ADULTS aren’t statistically able to single-handedly bounce back from as a child, it can devastate you. It tore me apart when I heard about a child being in death row. ONLY IN AMERICA! We refuse to help our kids in need but instead punish them when they retaliate. ITS SAD! Did you guys know that at the time the legal minimum age for death row was 10yrs old?!?!?!?!?! This is okey with y’all????? Kids can change if given a shot. Mr Pelky ws right about that and he is actually hands-on in Paula’s life. He stepped up to the plate, along with the procecutor, and was that ONE person Paula needed. Too bad he didn’t come along sooner. A lot of mess coulda been prevented. This country is HUGE on abandoning its kids. I’m ashamed to live here…. but since I AM here, I am honored to be ONE of those very very few to be working with these “troubled” kids, changing their lives for the better!

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