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Seventy Times Seven

"A story of crime, punishment and forgiveness, in a literary non-fiction work that reads like a thriller. "

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LoveReading Says

LoveReading Says

Paula Cooper was only 15 years old and a tenth grader at Lew Walland High School in Gary, Indiana, in 1985, when she and two of her friends brutally killed local Bible teacher Ruth Pelke. Cooper received the death penalty, making her the first female to receive the sentence in Indiana, and at the time was the youngest person on Death Row in the U.S. 

After her sentencing, Ruth Pelke’s grandson, Bill, was at work at Bethlehem Steel, sitting in his crane high above the molten metal when he had an epiphany: he should forgive Cooper because he was certain that his grandmother would have done the same. Some of his family did not agree with his change of heart.

Seventy Times Seven: A True Story of Murder and Mercy, Alex Mar looks not only at the details of Cooper’s trial, imprisonment and appeals, but the larger questions around using the death penalty as punishment, particularly for juveniles. The title comes from the gospel of Matthew in the Bible, when Jesus tells Peter that he needs to forgive, “seventy times seven” times.

The book, meticulously researched, takes the reader to the streets of struggling Gary, Indiana courthouses, the steel mills of Indiana, the Vatican, the U.S. Supreme Court and the women’s prisons that Cooper called home. The research extends to photos of Cooper, Pelske and many others affiliated with the case, making it all the more poignant.

Cooper’s sad story is a prism to view the difficulties in meting out justice and punishment, which often are not one and the same, and demonstrates the meaning of forgiveness. Mar has done a superb job in bringing this tragic case to life.

Maureen Stapleton

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