WARSAW, Ind. (WANE) - A northern Indiana teenager who was 12 years old when he helped kill his friend's stepfather will be released from prison within a year, a judge ruled Friday.
During a hearing inside the Kosciusko County Courthouse on Friday, Paul Gingerich, now 18 years old, received a modified sentence. His 30-year sentence will now have 20 years served and ten years suspended. That's different from the previous 30-year sentence of 25 years served and five years suspended he received for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the fatal shooting of Phillip Danner, 49.
For the last six and a half years, Gingerich has been in a juvenile correctional facility. After turning 18 in February, he was eligible to be considered for alternative sentences under "Paul's Law," which was passed in 2013 and named after him.
"We kept this 12-year-old boy from having to go to an adult facility as a juvenile and when he does go to an adult facility, he will be there for a short period of time and the sentence today was just. He has been punished," Monica Foster, Gingerich's attorney, said.
Friday, Judge James Heuer ruled that Gingerich will go to an adult prison for 300 days, but because Gingerich will be in a Community Transition Program there, that will be reduced by 120 days. The remaining 180 days are eligible for the "earned good time credit" which allows an offender to take a day off their sentence for every day of good behavior. That means Gingerich could be released from prison in 90 days if he follows the programs.
Once released from the adult prison, Gingerich will be assigned to the Allen County re-entry program for at least one year and then will transition into a less-strict community corrections program and won't be released earlier than April 28, 2020. The Kosciusko County prosecutor said all of that time will be served on home detention with an ankle bracelet. Once released from the community corrections programs, Gingerich will be on probation with the Kosciusko County Probation Department for ten years.
If Gingerich violates any of the programs, he will be sent back to adult prison.
"Someone who commits this type of offense is wired differently. They've got some type of mental thing going on and you never know if or how or when it will reoccur, if ever. But, we do know what happened once and that thought process has to be monitored and we know for the next ten, 15 years, the state will monitor his actions," Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton said.
In court, Gingerich spoke to the judge and said the many "treatment programs in his correctional facility have taught him how to ignore negative influences and become a leader." He told the judge he's sorry for what he did and he's tired of hurting his family as an uncle, brother and son.
"I can and will be a leader and law abiding citizen if given a second chance," Gingerich said. "Sorry will never be enough for the terrible mistake I've made."
In letters, Danner's sister and daughter asked the judge to keep Gingerich locked up longer.
"He is guilty of murder. Premeditated murder. Good grades and college credits don't make Paul innocent of this crime and do not guarantee he won't commit another crime," Kim Wilson, Danner's sister, wrote.In the video below, prosecutor Dan Hampton reads the letters from Kim Wilson, Danner's sister, and Natasha Hoffman, Danner's daughter.
"It was very difficult. The family understands what happened and we all are trying to find solace that he will be monitored by the state for an extended period of time," Hampton said.
Foster is confident Gingerich will become a productive member of society.
"I think he's going to do something good. I think he's had the opportunity for self reflection that most kids his age haven't had and that will cause him to do something that gives back to society," Foster said.
While at the adult facility in Pendleton, Gingerich will be in the SNAP unit, which is for those with mental help problems and physical disabilities. Foster said he qualifies for that unit, which is separated from the general prison population, because Gingerich has Crohn's disease.
Gingerich is believed to be the youngest person in Indiana to be sentenced as an adult. He helped 15-year-old Colt Lundy shoot and kill Lundy's stepfather, Phil Danner, in 2010 at his home near Lake Wawasee. Each boy fired two shots and Danner was hit four times, according to police records.
Lundy also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 30 years, with the last five served on probation. He was sentenced on September 27, 2010 and is currently incarcerated in an adult prison. His expected release date is May 30, 2022.