INDIANAPOLIS – A northeast Indiana teenager convicted in adult court at age 12 in the killing of a friend’s stepfather will get a second chance to be tried in juvenile court after the state’s top court refused to hear his case.
A Kosciusko County court sentenced Paul Henry Gingerich in 2010 to 25 years in prison, saying he and two other boys conspired to fatally shoot 49-year-old Phillip Danner in a plot to run away to Arizona.
In December, the Indiana Court of Appeals threw out Gingerich’s guilty plea and sentence, saying a juvenile court judge rushed when he waived the case to adult court. The appellate court ordered a new hearing to determine if Gingerich should be retried in a juvenile court.
The Indiana attorney general’s office appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that Gingerich had signed a plea agreement and waived his right to appeal his conviction. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s decision.
Gingerich’s attorney, Monica Foster, said Gingerich phoned her from prison Friday.
“He’s a very, very quiet kid, but he was very happy,” she said.
Foster said the next step will be another waiver hearing in juvenile court to decide whether Gingerich should be retried as an adult.
“They’ll be looking at it as if he were a 12-year-old,” she said. But, she added, his behavior in prison would weigh in his favor.
While the state could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, Foster doubted the justices would take it up because it involved state law.
A spokesman for the Indiana attorney general’s office spokesman had no immediate comment.
Foster said in a previous court brief that Gingerich’s guilty plea was invalid because the case should never have been heard in an adult court, that Gingerich hadn’t understood the proceedings and that he had believed the judge was obligated to find him guilty.
Foster said in a brief that the lower court had not allowed Gingerich’s attorneys sufficient time to prepare or conduct a proper investigation into his competency for an adult trial, and accepted a probation officer’s erroneous testimony concerning the availability of facilities other than prisons for youths convicted of violent crimes.
Gingerich, who is now 15, was one of three juveniles charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the April 2010 shooting at Danner’s home near Lake Wawasee, about midway between Fort Wayne and South Bend. Police said Gingerich and a 15-year-old co-defendant shot and killed Danner and that another 12-year-old boy served as a lookout.
The 15-year-old pleaded guilty as an adult and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The other boy was sentenced to juvenile detention until age 18.