In 1997, a man attempted to snatch a woman’s purse in Elkhart, Indiana. Keith Cooper wasn’t far from the scene of the incident. The 29-year-old had just picked up some groceries for his family and was walking home to make his children breakfast and watch “X-Men” with them.
Instead, he found himself in a police station awaiting charges for the purse-snatching. Then things got worse: A detective with the Elkhart Police Department connected Cooper to an armed robbery at an apartment complex where a shooting took place.
“This is crap,” Cooper told the detective at the time, The Indianapolis Star reported. “I didn’t do the crime I’m going to trial for, let alone this one.”
Cooper was found innocent of the purse snatching, but convicted of armed robbery. He spent the next 10 years of his life behind bars for a crime he never committed. In 2006, he was finally released from prison after DNA evidence and witness statements proved his innocence.
The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned his conviction, but there was a catch: Cooper could be released immediately with a felony still on his record, or he could face a new trial. Cooper wanted to see his family, so chose to get out as soon as possible.
Hoping to be pardoned, Cooper wrote a letter in 2013 to then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), who is now the U.S. vice president. The Indiana Parole Board recommended in 2014 that Pence grant the pardon. Last September, Pence finally wrote back to Cooper to say he wasn’t going to pardon him.
“It crushed me a little bit,” Cooper, a 49-year-old forklift operator, told the Chicago Tribune. “I haven’t give up hope. My hope is what keeps me strong, but I’m human and it hurts.”
Pence said he wouldn’t pardon Cooper until he had exhausted all of his options in court. On Thursday, Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) came to a different conclusion. He gave Cooper his pardon.
“After careful and thoughtful consideration and review, something I’ve thought about every day over the last month, just earlier today I issued a pardon to Mr. Keith Cooper for his past and I believe wrongful armed robbery felony [conviction],” Holcomb said, according to the South Bend Tribune.
“Since that conviction in 1997 many pieces of the information that were out and about ... have changed,” Holcomb added, noting that “a victim, an informant, even the deputy prosecutor who convicted Mr. Cooper on that first crime all have stated support or no objection to a pardon.”
Now, Cooper can focus on his family again.
“I was watching my children grow up through pictures,” Cooper told the Indianapolis Star of his time in prison. “And that’s the hardest thing I couldn’t swallow.”