cover image Seventy Times Seven: A True Story of Murder and Mercy

Seventy Times Seven: A True Story of Murder and Mercy

Alex Mar. Penguin Press, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-52215-7

Journalist Mar (Witches of America) delivers an engrossing study of faith, forgiveness, and justice centered on the 1985 murder of a great-grandmother in Gary, Ind. Fifteen-year-old Paula Cooper, one of four teenage girls who invaded the home of Bible teacher Ruth Pelke and stole her car, was sentenced to death for the crime. Mar details the physical abuse Cooper endured from her father, her mother’s attempt to kill herself and her two daughters, and Cooper’s experiences being “passed from stranger to stranger” in foster homes and emergency shelters in the three years leading up to the murder. Juxtaposed with Cooper’s volatile childhood are snapshots of Pelke, who had taught one of the teenage girls and driven her to church. Other profile subjects include Jack Crawford, the prosecutor who chose to pursue the death penalty against Cooper, who confessed to stabbing Pelke more than 30 times; Bill Pelke, Ruth’s grandson, who publicly forgave Cooper for the crime; and Earline Rogers, a state legislator who spearheaded efforts to exempt juveniles younger than 16 from the death penalty in Indiana. Though Cooper’s sentence was commuted and she was released from prison in 2013, she died in an apparent suicide less than two years later. Deeply reported and vividly written, this is a harrowing and thought-provoking portrait of crime and punishment. Photos. Agent: Sarah Burnes, Gernert Co. (Mar.)