Pardon an innocent man

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Petition update

Why hasn't Mike Pence pardoned Keith Cooper? The Most Important Update Yet

Jack Heller
Huntington, IN, United States

Aug 29, 2016 — Friends of Keith Cooper,
I thank you for all you have done for this effort to get Keith Cooper his pardon, from just signing the petition all the way to sharing it, calling the office of the governor, writing emails, and so on. This update will be different from others recently—a little longer, more focused on information, but it will offer a plausible, maybe even likely, reason for why Governor Pence has not yet signed a pardon for Mr. Cooper. The petition has been a summary of the important facts. This update will add to the facts. This update is based upon the complete petition Keith Cooper’s lawyer presented to the Indiana Parole Board in 2014, including exhibits, the information which had persuaded them to grant Mr. Cooper their unanimous recommendation for a pardon in March 2014.

Keith Cooper had a co-defendant on the robbery charge. Christopher Parish was also convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He appealed his conviction on the basis of alibi testimony which had not been given sufficient consideration, the DNA evidence from the hat recovered at the crime scene, and the inadequate police investigation of the case. On December 5, 2005, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Mr. Parish's trial court verdict and ordered a new trial of the charges. Instead of a new trial, the Elkhart County prosecutor’s office dropped the charges against Mr. Parish, and in January 2014, Christopher Parish won a $4.9 million settlement. This outcome is why Mr. Parish’s ordeal has not been part of this petition effort, though he too has certainly been another victim of the injustice in this case.

Simultaneously to Mr. Parish’s appeal, Mr. Cooper was pursuing his own appeal. After the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned Mr. Parish’s appeal, the Elkhart County trial court sent Mr. Cooper an offer. Here I will quote from the petition presented to the parole board: “Once Parish’s conviction was overturned, the trial court gave Mr. Cooper, through his attorney two options: Either the court would grant Mr. Cooper’s post-conviction petition and order a new trial, or, if Mr. Cooper pled guilty, he could be released immediately with a sentence modification to time served and no parole requirements. . . . The choice was agonizing and unfair. Mr. Cooper and his attorney were both concerned that the police misconduct would continue. Mr. Cooper also wanted very badly to be reunited with his wife and children, whom he had been torn away from nearly a decade before. After conferring with his attorney, Mr. Cooper decided to take the choice that resulted in his immediate release from prison, i.e., the sentence modification.”

Mr. Cooper did not actually plead guilty. This is what he wrote to his attorney on January 9, 2006 to accept the offer, “In answering your question about the choice posed by Judge Duffin, my answer is yes. I would accept the sentence modification for the time served with the acceptance that I would not have to do any parole upon my release. In return, Judge Duffin can keep the conviction, and I’d have my freedom.”

Keep in mind that Mr. Cooper accepted this deal at a time when his family was in desperate circumstances, but also when the case against Mr. Parish was falling apart. It is most reasonable to suppose that the Elkhart County trial court offered Mr. Cooper the deal to forestall a re-examination of his case in the light of the developing failure of the case against Mr. Parish.

The prosecuting attorney for the state of Indiana in completing this April 2006 agreement was Curtis Hill. You may see his name on the document attached to this update. One may reasonably believe that he knew what was happening to the evidence in the cases against both Parish and Cooper.

So it is relevant to note that currently, Curtis Hill is the Indiana Republican Party’s candidate in the race to become the state’s next Attorney General: If Governor Pence were to sign a pardon for Keith Cooper it would draw attention to the injustices that he had suffered from the legal system in Elkhart County, Indiana, and of Mr. Hill’s role in completing a bad deal for Mr. Cooper.

Curtis Hill’s campaign slogan is, “Courage to Lead/ Responsibility to Protect.” It is clear, now, that Keith Cooper’s rights, person, and dignity have not been protected in the legal process in Elkhart County. True courage from Mr. Hill, at this moment, would be an admission of the wrongs Keith Cooper has endured from the prosecutor’s office.

Mike Pence likes to say that he is “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—in that order.” His inaction on pardoning Keith Cooper would seem to prioritize his political party loyalties above justice.

The petition has waned in attention lately. But I would like to see a renewed push tomorrow, Tuesday, August 30. Again, please share the petition, call Governor Pence’s office (317-232-4567) to tell him that he needs to put justice above politics, call GOP candidate for governor Eric Holcomb’s office (317-232-4545) and ask him to pledge to pardon Keith Cooper, and email Curtis Hill ( calling upon him to help make this situation right. And share all of this with media outlets.

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