Dear Governor Pence,
A pardon for Keith Cooper “would be a blessing from God.” This sentiment was expressed by Michael Kershner, the surviving victim of the senseless shooting for which Keith was wrongfully convicted.
Every wrongful conviction is tragic in its own right. Keith’s is particularly heartbreaking. At the time of his arrest, Keith was a married father of three. In 1996, Keith moved from the dangerous neighborhoods of Chicago to Elkhart in search of a better life.
But the promise of the move proved hollow. In Elkhart, Keith was arrested as he walked to get groceries one morning. After a one day trial, Keith was wrongfully convicted and didn’t return home until ten years later.
By the time of his release from prison, Keith had lost everything. His high-school sweetheart moved on. His children were separated and raised by others. His extended family stopped writing letters. His possessions were sold. His name had been replaced with a six digit number.
Keith has never lost hope that someday the truth would come to light and his name would be cleared. Though Keith is no longer physically incarcerated, he lives with the daily stigma that is associated with being falsely labeled as a convicted armed robber. Since his release, Keith has attempted to rebuild his life as best he can under the cloud of his wrongful conviction. But he has frequently been denied jobs for which he was qualified because of his false record.
A pardon based upon innocence is a unique request. No Governor in the State of Indiana has ever granted one. But the explanation for that is simple – no Indiana Governor has ever been presented with an application like this. The overwhelming majority of applicants are those who seek reprieves for crimes that they have committed but repented for. That is not the case here, as Keith has always been innocent.
DNA evidence conclusively clears Keith from committing this horrible crime. The DNA evidence identifies the true shooter, a man who is currently imprisoned for another shooting. Each of the victims and eyewitnesses recanted their identifications of Keith. They all support his pardon application.
Nona Canell, the mother of Kershner and an eyewitness to the shooting in which her son was nearly killed, submitted a statement in support of Keith’s pardon. In that, Canell begged you to pardon Keith so that she “can sleep at night… If I had the power I would have done it already.”
You have the power to give Keith his name back.
You have the rare chance to provide closure to all of the victims in this case.
You have the opportunity to do something ordinary for someone so extraordinary.
Please bless all of the victims of this tragedy and grant Keith Cooper the pardon that he unquestionably deserves.
Staff Attorney, The Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School