Curtis Hill Puts Politics Ahead of Hoosier Common Sense on Cooper Pardon

INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers across Indiana and even the prosecutor who was a part of the 1997 Keith Cooper case now want Cooper to be pardoned by the state. Curtis Hill? He’s choosing politics ahead of updated evidence and Hoosier Common Sense by defending the conviction in a court filing this week.

In fact, Curtis Hill joins Mike Pence by siding against the near unanimous call for Keith Cooper’s justice.

“Curtis Hill is putting his politics and own special interests ahead of doing the right thing for Keith Cooper – a man who has had his life forever altered because of a wrongful conviction,” said John Zody, Chairman. “This should be a red flag to Hoosiers as it highlights Curtis Hill’s approach to the job. Much like Mike Pence, Hill will put his party ideology ahead of Hoosier Common Sense 100% of the time. We don’t need more of the same from the last four years which is why Lorenzo Arredondo is the right choice for Attorney General on Tuesday.”

Full story, including a statement by Democratic nominee Lorenzo Arredondo, is below.

Curtis Hill defends Keith Cooper conviction in court filing
Indianapolis Star // Madeline Buckley

The witnesses who testified against Keith Cooper have recanted, and the prosecutor who won Cooper’s robbery conviction has urged the governor to pardon him; but Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill defended the conviction in a court filing and a statement posted online Thursday.

“The conviction and sentence entered against said defendant were proper under Indiana law and the defendant’s petition is completely without merit,” reads a legal filing from the prosecutor’s office opposing Cooper’s request for a new trial.

The prosecutor’s office is doubling down on the conviction that has become a statewide issue as Cooper, who served nearly a decade in prison, fights for exoneration. The statement from Hill’s office comes days before an election in which Hill is running for Indiana attorney general, and Gov. Mike Pence is waging a national campaign as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s running mate.

“Recent media reports have characterized Cooper’s 1997 robbery conviction as a ‘wrongful conviction’ and suggest that Cooper is ‘innocent’ and/or has been ‘exonerated,’ ” reads a statement from Hill. “Cooper is certainly free to proclaim his innocence. However, to date, there has been no judicial determination that he is ‘innocent’ or ‘exonerated’ regarding his 1997 conviction.”

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office referred to the statement when IndyStar requested a comment from Hill.

Hill’s opponent in the race for attorney general, Lorenzo Arredondo, said in a statement that Hill has not fulfilled his duties regarding Cooper’s case.

“No innocent person should spend even a day in prison, let alone 10 years,” the statement reads. “I am constrained, however, from commenting on the case because, as attorney general, I may become involved in it. My opponent has a duty, as the Elkhart County prosecutor, to see that justice is done. So far, he has failed in that pursuit. ”

Cooper challenged his conviction in 2005 as the evidence against him unraveled and DNA evidence pointed to another suspect. But before the judge could rule on his request for a new trial, the Elkhart County prosecutor’s office, headed at the time by Hill, offered Cooper a deal. He could walk out of jail a free man if he gave up his bid to challenge his conviction.

Knowing his family needed him, Cooper has said, he chose freedom. But he contends the conviction still hinders his opportunities for employment and general quality of life.

Cooper’s co-defendant in the robbery case, Christopher Parish, had his conviction overturned in 2006. He was awarded a $4.9 million settlement after he sued the city of Elkhart for his wrongful conviction.

Cooper would likely not win such a lawsuit while the conviction remains on his record. But if he is successful in removing the conviction, “his chances of being successful would certainly increase,” said Fran Watson, a law professor at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.

Cooper has pinned his hope for exoneration on the governor’s office, which has the power to pardon those who are convicted of crimes. For seven years, Cooper appealed to the office for a pardon, which would wipe away the felony conviction from his record. In 2014, he stood for a hearing before the Indiana Parole Board, which recommended that Pence pardon Cooper.

In September, Pence declined to pardon Cooper until he exhausts his options in court, effectively punting the issue to the next governor. So Cooper’s attorney, Elliot Slosar earlier this month filed a petition in Elkhart Circuit Court asking a judge for a new trial.

The case is hamstrung, though, by the deal Cooper struck with prosecutors in 2006.

That deal Cooper made is the basis of the prosecutor’s rejection of Cooper’s request for a new trial. The response argues that he forfeited his right to clear his name now.

A judge has not yet ruled on the issue.

Cooper still has a sliver of hope, come January. At the gubernatorial debate in Evansville earlier this month, all three candidates for governor, to some extent, said they would support pardoning Cooper.

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