INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana boy who as a 12-year-old was convicted as an adult for helping kill his friend's stepfather should be retried in juvenile court, his attorney told appeals court judges Tuesday.
In 2010, a northeastern Indiana judge sentenced Paul Henry Gingerich to 25 years in prison after the boy signed an agreement to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Gingerich was originally charged with murder.
Gingerich's attorney, Monica Foster, said Tuesday that the local court rushed to judgment without considering Gingerich's maturity. Defense attorneys had complained that due process wasn't being followed and their requests for more time were repeatedly rejected, she said, even though a psychologist questioned whether Gingerich understood what was happening.
"He thought the judge's job was to convict him," she said.
Deputy Attorney General Angela Sanchez contended that the trial judge had no reason to question Gingerich's maturity level, and that Indiana law allows children as young as 10 to be tried as adults.
Sanchez also argued that Gingerich, now 14, and his parents had signed a plea agreement in which he waived his right to appeal.
"That was after they were in adult court," Judge John Baker said Tuesday, noting that the point is whether his case had belonged there.
Gingerich's lawyers were given only a week to prepare for the waiver hearing in Kosciusko County, the judges said Tuesday, while attorneys in other counties get as many as 90 days.
"How can that possibly be consistent with due process?" Judge James Kirsch asked.
Sanchez maintained: "This was not a railroading judgment, this was a carefully thought-out process."
Gingerich, who is eligible for release when he's 24, could risk a longer prison sentence if he gets a new hearing and is charged again with murder as an adult, the judges said.
"You may win the battle and lose the war," Baker told Foster.
Gingerich's older sister and several other relatives who attended the hearing declined comment afterward.
Afterward, Foster told reporters she was confident that wouldn't happen.
"I just don't believe that any fair judge who listened to a fair hearing would waive this kid to adult court," she said.
There is no timetable for the judges to rule.
Gingerich and a 15-year-old friend were convicted in the April 2010 fatal shooting of the friend's stepfather, 49-year-old Phillip Danner. According to court documents, the two boys were plotting to run away to Arizona with another friend.
The documents say Gingerich told police he simply went along with his older friend and didn't believe his friend was serious about killing his stepfather. He said he closed his eyes when he fired the gun in Danner's living room.
The 15-year-old, who also pleaded guilty as an adult to conspiracy to commit murder, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The other friend, who was present but didn't enter the house, was sentenced to juvenile detention until age 18.
"No question that this is a tragic case, most especially for the victim who lost his life due to actions of the defendant," Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement issued after Tuesday's hearing.
Larry Landis, executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, attended the hearing. He said Indiana's laws regarding adult sentencing of minors were written before scientists discovered that adolescents' brains don't fully develop until age 25.
If the appellate court does order a fresh juvenile hearing, it will show that judges handling such cases involving young defendants should "slow down and make sure the child knows what is happening," he said.
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