In a few short months, Paul Gingerich may face a Kosciusko Circuit Court jury, standing trial on a single charge of murder.
But unless the court rounds up a sixth-grade class to serve on the panel, it won’t be a jury of his peers.
Paul Gingerich is 12.
The debate about whether to waive children and young teens from juvenile court into adult court is one not likely to be resolved by the time Gingerich and his 15-year-old co-defendant, Colt Lundy, stand trial for the killing of Lundy’s stepfather, 49-year-old Phillip Danner.
Experts say the whole purpose of a juvenile justice system is to take into consideration the deep psychological differences between adults and adolescents, regardless of the nature of the crime.
Defense attorneys for both boys argued to Kosciusko Superior Court Judge Duane Huffer for more time to research those differences and what could have led to the shooting. But in supporting Lundy and Gingerich’s speedy waiver to adult court, Kosciusko County Prosecutor R. Steven Hearn said the nature and seriousness of what occurred demand expediency.
For now, the two baby-faced boys entertain themselves in their cell at the Kosciusko County Jail, segregated from the adult inmates. If they are found guilty of the crime, they face up to 50 years in prison. But with credit for time served with good behavior, they could be out of custody by the time they are in their mid- to late-30s, having spent their formative years surrounded by concrete, steel and barbed wire, and later hardened adult criminals.
According to Lawrence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist at Temple University and head of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice, the juvenile justice system is able to protect the community from dangerous youths and can offer resources for rehabilitation largely absent in the adult criminal justice system.
I have met very few people who when they think about this seriously believe that they should be trying 12-year-olds as adults, he said.
Twelve-year-olds do not possess the ability to reason like adults, and by the very nature of their age are at risk of being incompetent to stand trial, he said.
Using basic competency tests, about a third of all children this age are found to be as incompetent as mentally ill adults, Steinberg said.
It’s important that we don’t confuse the seriousness of the crime with the maturity of the defendant, he said. Just because they commit a serious crime does not magically turn them into an adult.
Juveniles commit serious crimes for the same reasons they commit any delinquent acts, Steinberg said.
Research shows youths commit crimes for different reasons and in many instances it is because of peer pressure in a group situation, he said.
‘I am stupefied’
Testimony, court documents and statements from police outlined the crime in great detail:
Lundy began formulating a plan to run away as early as mid-March, wanting to head to the Southwest and possibly sell T-shirts to drug people.
But he had to do something about his stepfather first.
On April 20, Lundy and a group of boys were at the community park in the neighborhood bordering picturesque Lake Wawasee. For some reason, Lundy decided that was the day and finalized his plans.
Summoned by Lundy, Gingerich sneaked into a bedroom window at the Danner home. The pair took two guns – a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol and a .38-caliber revolver – and went into the living room, one sitting in a chair and the other on a sofa, and waited for Danner to come in from the kitchen.
When Danner appeared in the doorway, they both fired, Lundy first, shooting Danner a total of four times. The bullets struck him in an eye, wrist and twice in the chest.
Then, along with 12-year-old Chase Williams, they planned their escape, leaving with the guns that evening in Danner’s Dodge Neon.
The three made it as far as Peru, Ill., but when they wandered into a Walmart in the wee hours of the morning to exchange coins for paper currency, a clerk became suspicious. Police were called, and they soon were taken into custody. Gingerich and Williams talked to detectives.
On April 29, after a two-hour hearing in Kosciusko Superior Court and over the objections of Lundy’s and Gingerich’s defense attorneys, both boys’ cases were sent to adult court. Williams’ case was split off from the two other boys’ because he had not fired a gun. He was eventually kept in juvenile court because the crime prosecutors accused him of prevented a waiver to adult court.
Valparaiso University law professor Geneva Brown said she was shocked to hear of Gingerich’s waiver to adult court.
The reasoning for the murder itself shows the immaturity, Brown said. I am stupefied.
And despite the perception that there is an automatic waiver to adult court for a crime such as murder, the choice is always the prosecutor’s, she said.
If prosecutors hadn’t sought to have the case transferred to adult court, it wouldn’t have happened, Brown said.
Then there becomes the basic question of what to do with a 12-year-old who is convicted of murder, as an adult.
Any sentencing decision should take into consideration whether a 12-year-old should be held to the same level of responsibility as an adult, Steinberg said.
Twelve-year-olds are less able to control their impulses, more susceptible to peer pressure and less likely to think ahead, he said.
All of these inclinations need to be taken into account when determining how responsible a 12-year-old is for his conduct, Steinberg said.
Science can do a lot of things, but one thing it has been unable to do is predict with any certainty what kind of adult any given 12-year-old will become, Steinberg said.
We probably shouldn’t be sentencing 12-year-olds to spend the rest of their lives in prison without any sense of who they are going to be, he said.
Though she teaches law, Brown still works on juvenile cases. Usually, she said, children are waived into adult court only when they have reached the end of the juvenile system, either by their age or because numerous attempts to curtail delinquent behavior have failed.
The children are sent to adult court because there is little likelihood of success in the juvenile system, given their age, she said.
One of the reasons offered for the cases’ transfer to adult court during the Kosciusko County hearing was that there are few treatment facilities that would take children who have committed homicide. Both Steinberg and Brown said that while such facilities are few, they do exist.
And in a cold, cost-benefit analysis, incarcerating a 12-year-old for 45 years in the Indiana Department of Correction is going to be expensive – $63 a day according to the department.
But putting that same 12-year-old in a juvenile facility will produce an adult more likely to function in society, Brown said.
In an attempt to keep them safe from adult criminals, juveniles sentenced as adults are kept at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in a special unit, said Doug Garrison, Department of Correction spokesman.
When the juveniles turn 18, though, they are sent to an adult facility and put right in with the general population.
The future does not bode well, Brown said.