Indiana’s incoming governor should easily clear away a disturbing bit of old business that should have been handled by his predecessor.

More than two years ago, the state’s parole board recommended that Gov. Mike Pence pardon Keith Cooper, who spent nearly a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Cooper was convicted and sentenced to 40 years for an October 1996 armed robbery in the Elkhart apartment complex where he lived, during which a 17-year-old was shot in the stomach.

After the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned his co-defendant’s conviction, Cooper was given the choice of being set free with a felony conviction on his record or facing a new trial. He chose to go home to his wife and three children, who were homeless at times during his wrongful incarceration.

THAT DECISION HAS affected his ability to secure a better living. And his name isn’t truly cleared.

Despite the Indiana Parole Board’s recommendation — which is supported by a former Elkhart County deputy prosecutor and the victims in the crime — Pence has declined to act. In September, through his general counsel, he asked Cooper to first go through a potentially lengthy court proceeding first.

In effect, Pence, the vice president-elect, was punting the decision to whoever succeeded him in the governor’s office.

Turns out his successor, Eric Holcomb, is on the record on this subject. During a gubernatorial debate in October, all three candidates for governor, to some extent, said they would support a pardon for Cooper.

AT THAT TIME, Holcomb said he would like to speak with Cooper and review the facts.

“Knowing the facts now, I would look forward to quickly pardoning him swiftly if the facts bear that out,” he said.

The incoming governor will have a lot on his plate come January. But the supportive facts are there, and he should indeed be swift in issuing this pardon. Keith Cooper — and the cause of justice — have been delayed for far too long.

— The South Bend Tribune

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