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A woman who was once America’s youngest death row inmate has been found dead in a suspected suicide.

Paula Cooper was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound outside a house in Indiana.

Cooper given the death penalty in 1986 when she was just 16-years-old after she admitted stabbing a teacher 33 times with a 12-inch butcher knife. She was released from prison two years ago after her death sentence was reduced to a prison term.

Cooper admitted her role in the botched robbery, in which she stabbed 78-year-old Bible studies teacher Ruth Pelke when she was just 15.

Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, said he was “devastated” to learn of Cooper’s death and had spent years working to help her.

Pelke initially favored the death penalty for Cooper but later joined the movement opposing it in 1987, and even wrote of having forgiven Cooper in his 2003 book Journey of Hope.

He said on the Forgiveness Project website, which seeks to promote understanding and forgiveness: “My grandmother would have been appalled she was on death row and that there was so much hate and anger and desire for her to die. I was convinced my grandmother would have had love and compassion for Paula and her family, and I felt she wanted someone in my family to have that same kind of love and compassion.

“I felt like it fell on my shoulders. Even though I knew forgiveness was the right thing, love and compassion seemed out of the question because my grandmother had been so brutally murdered.

“But so convinced that it was what my grandmother would have wanted and not knowing any other way to achieve it, I begged God to give me love and compassion for Paula Cooper and her family and to do that on behalf of my grandmother.”

The US supreme court ruled two years after her sentence that those under 16 at the time of an offence couldn’t receive the death penalty.

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