The state of Indiana is finding itself in the cross hairs of a lawsuit filed by a former inmate, Keith Cooper. The lawsuit is for the time he spent in prison, and he has a good chance considering he is the first person in Indiana’s history who has ever been pardoned for being innocent.
Cooper was convicted of armed robbery which caused him to spend a decade in prison. Cooper is now fifty years old, and living as a free man. His case came into the spotlight when Vice President Mike Pence, who was then serving as the governor of Indiana, received Coopers file with unanimous recommendations from the state parole board for exoneration and still declined to issue a pardon for Cooper.
Following Trumps win and Pence’s move to the White House, his predecessor, Eric Holcomb, quickly granted Cooper’s pardon which made him the very first man in the history of the state of Indiana to be pardoned for innocents. Cooper invested a lot of time in this pardon, six years of waiting for the pardon from the parole board followed by three years of waiting for the governor’s office to act on said pardon.
Now that Cooper is a free man, he has filed a complaint against the City of Elkhart, Indiana as well as the local police department stating that they manufactured and create evidence against him to create his guilt. Cooper was convicted of a 1996 robbery where one man was shot. Twelve years after the incident, in 2008, two key witnesses in the original trial, Michael Kershner and his mother Nona Canell, both gave statements that were recorded stating they had misidentified Cooper in the crime. Canell even stated that during the investigation she had even requested to see a suspect lineup but the Steve Rezutka, the lead detective on the case, told her there was no need because they had the right man. In 2006 DNA evidence even put another man at the scene, and the state court judge who had originally sentence Cooper offered him a deal for resentencing him for time served. Cooper was freed at that time but was still a convicted felon.
Five years later, Cooper filed a petition to have the crime he did not commit expunged from his record. After three years, the state parole board finally voted unanimously that Cooper be pardoned and sent the recommendation to Governor Mike Pence. Pence then did not act on the pardon for two years. In the summer of 2016, while Pence was campaigning with Trump for the Presidency, he had a letter sent to Cooper stating that to his knowledge, Cooper had not filed a petition with the Elkhart County court to determine weather post-conviction relief was available, the letter also stated that Pence would not be acting on the pardon.
Cooper spent years fighting to regain his good name, and it was well worth the effort because he has now restored his reputation. His lawsuit is pending, and while it does not name the governor in it, it does specifically name Rezutko, the investigator in the robbery, for maliciously prosecuting Cooper with false evidence. Cooper states that due to all this, he now suffers from depression as well as PTSD. If you would like to have a more detailed run down of the case, head to Buzzfeed.