Seventy Times Seven: A True Story of Murder and Mercy

Penguin Pr. Mar. 2023. 384p. ISBN 9780525522157. $28. CRIME
Mar (Witches of America) interweaves historical background into the narrative to tell the story of four Black girls, ages 14–16, who skipped school and murdered 78-year-old Ruth Pelke, a white woman, during a burglary in Gary, IN, in 1985. The girls were soon captured, and DA Jack Crawford requested the death penalty. At that time, Indiana law allowed the death penalty for those as young as 10 years old. Paula Cooper, 15, believed to be the ring leader, received the death sentence, whereas the others received 25-, 35-, and 60-year prison terms. The book details how Pelke’s grandson Bill, who once favored the death penalty, broke from the family, became Cooper’s ardent supporter, and publicly opposed the death penalty. Cooper’s young age provoked an international crusade to commute her death sentence; it eventually was commuted in 1988, after the Supreme Court ruled in Thompson v. Oklahoma that states cannot execute juveniles under the age of 16. Cooper eventually served more than 26 years in prison before being released and died by suicide two years later.
VERDICT The book’s title is a biblical reference about forgiveness. Well-written, well-researched, and worth being added to a true-crime collection.
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