MARC CHASE: Sometimes forgiveness contradicts justice

2013-06-20T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Sometimes forgiveness contradicts justiceBy Marc Chase, (219) 662-5330

Ask if we ever did anything requiring forgiveness or a second chance, and most of us — this writer included — would have to raise our hands. Just ask my wife, my mother or anyone else with whom I've been close.

But isn't there a limit to blanket forgiveness? Aren't there transgressions so horrible there is no forgiveness?

Bill Pelke doesn't think so, and many of us might not be sure whether to admire or question that.

Bill Pelke's grandmother, Ruth Pelke, of Gary, was barbarically stabbed to death in 1985 by then-15-year-old Paula Cooper, also of Gary. The murder of the Gary Bible school teacher happened during a robbery carried out by four teen girls. Cooper wielded the murder weapon — a butcher knife — stabbing it 33 times into the victim's stomach and chest.

One really has to mean it when thrusting a blade nearly three dozen times into another human's body.

It wasn't a traditional, kick-in-the-door home invasion, either. Cooper and her friends entered Ruth Pelke's Glen Park home under the ruse that they wanted some Bible lessons. Their take in this fatal heist was $10.

The facts of this case drip of reprehensible details I'm certain I could never forgive had it been my grandmother on the end of Paula Cooper's knife.

It wasn't my grandmother, though. It was Bill Pelke's.

And forgiveness is on Bill Pelke's mind, even if some of us find it difficult to believe. In fact, Pelke has said he has befriended Cooper and forgave her all the way back in 1986 when Cooper initially was sentenced to die in the electric chair.

Cooper was the youngest person in the country on death row at the time.

After a lot of legal wrangling and pleas for forgiveness from the Pope, the Indiana Supreme Court reduced Cooper's sentence to 60 years in prison following state legislation and federal precedent raising the minimum execution age.

On Monday, Cooper walked free, with day-for-day credit for good behavior in prison. Pelke told The Times he is ready to embrace Cooper and even plans a shopping outing with her.

Throughout the process, supporters of Cooper have argued she was young and misguided when she performed this horrible act. She deserves a second chance, Pelke and others say.

But this wasn't some youthful indiscretion. Paula Cooper didn't shoplift, vandalize a stop sign or even kill someone accidentally. Cooper stuck a blade 33 times into the body of a 78-year-old Bible school teacher.

So the question remains, was the 28 years Cooper spent in jail enough?

If it were my grandmother, I would say no.

Maybe there is a lesson here that I'm too personally hardened to fully comprehend. In the interest of moving on, Pelke says forgive, and maybe it's time for all of us to accept that.

But in the interest of justice, I'm not sure we should.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or The opinions are the writer's.

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