Mike Pence Refuses to Pardon Innocent Man Keith Cooper: ‘It’s Like a Slap in My Face’
In 1997, Keith Cooper was wrongly convicted of attempted murder and armed robbery in Elkhart, Indiana. He fit the description of the suspect: tall, thin and Black. The man who was found to be his accomplice and eventual co-defendant, Christopher Parish, was sentenced to 30 years, while Cooper was sentenced to 40 years. Cooper still claims that he and his alleged accomplice have never met.
Fast forward to 2005, and Parish’s conviction was overturned by the Indiana Court of Appeals. At this time, Cooper was presented with a choice: he could choose to have a new trial with the same judge who convicted him, or choose to be released from prison with a felony on his record. And because his family, including two children, were struggling and in a homeless shelter without their main breadwinner, Cooper decided to go home as quickly as possible, rather than start another uphill legal battle.
Cooper soon realized that having a felony conviction on his record makes his life — and the lives of countless ex-cons — notoriously difficult. Thus, he is seeking a pardon to lift the wrongful conviction from his record.
In 2014, Indiana’s parole board as well as a former Elkhart County prosecutor on the case all recommended that Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) pardon Cooper. Pence refused, and according to Indiana’s Fox 29, wrote that Cooper should both exhaust all of his other legal options and go forward with a new trial before requesting a pardon.
Had Pence granted it, this pardon would be a historical one: the first pardon in which the pardonee is innocent, rather than a guilty party seeking the pardon for good behavior.
Cooper was understandably devastated and angered by Pence’s refusal. He said, “It’s just like a slap in my face. It took him three years, three years just to write that letter. He could’ve done that three years ago.”
The International Business Times postulates that, according to a petition on change.org, Pence is refusing this pardon for reasons related to Republican Party loyalty, specifically, because a pardon “would look bad for Curtis Hill, the prosecuting attorney who [initially] offered Cooper the agreement.” They further elaborate that Hill is the Republican Party’s candidate for Attorney General in the state of Indiana.
Regardless of what the reason may be for Pence’s deliberate inaction, the lives of Keith Cooper and his family — all innocent victims in this situation — all hang in the balance until Pence pardons Cooper.
The aforementioned petition was started by Jack Heller, an assistant professor of English at Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, a city about 75 miles southeast of Elkhart, Cooper’s hometown. Heller runs a Shakespeare program for incarcerated people at Pendleton Correctional Facility. His petition has garnered well over 100,000 signatures, and was started because of the overwhelming evidence that Cooper is an innocent man.
The prosecutor has until Nov. 1 to decide if Cooper will be granted a new trial.