Justice was anything but swift for Paul Henry Gingerich, the Kosciusko County 12-year-old whose role in Phillip Danner’s 2010 shooting death left him at the mercy of a flawed Indiana statute. Fortunately, the Indiana Court of Appeals, the state’s Department of Correction and the General Assembly intervened to correct an injudicious application of the law.
The checks and balances the state applied granted Gingerich the chance at rehabilitation he deserved. Nearly four years after he was improperly waived into adult court, he pleaded guilty a second time and was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison. The new law, however, allows officials to release the now-15-year-old to a residential center and avoid adult prison if he proves he has been rehabilitated.
Gingerich was an 80-pound sixth-grader when he and 15-year-old Colt Lundy fired two shots each at Danner, Lundy’s stepfather.
They took off in the Cromwell man’s car with a plan to sell T-shirts to drug people in Arizona. Employees at an Illinois Wal-Mart called police when the boys tried to exchange coins for paper bills.
A week after the shooting, Kosciusko Superior Court Judge Duane G. Huffer denied pleas to leave their cases under juvenile court jurisdiction and waived Gingerich and Lundy to adult court, saying only that the juvenile justice system does not afford an effective rehabilitation for a child charged with murder. After pleading guilty, Gingerich was given a 30-year sentence, with five years suspended.
Good people stepped up. Monica Foster, a public defender for the Indiana Federal Community Defender’s office, took Gingerich’s case pro bono and argued the appeal. Michael Dempsey, executive director of DOC’s Division of Youth Services, agreed to house the 12-year-old with other juveniles instead of with adult offenders, allowing Gingerich the access to educational and rehabilitative services he would not have received in prison.
Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Mount Vernon, sponsored legislation to prevent juveniles from automatically being sentenced to an adult prison if convicted in adult court and to modify the original sentence if the child meets sentencing objectives before he or she turns 19. It was approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Pence last April.
No one has ever argued that Gingerich and Lundy should not be punished for their crimes, but criminal law seeks punishment proportional to the crime, assigning greater responsibility for premeditated acts, for example. Young people – a child, in Gingerich’s case – are inherently less responsible because they lack the emotional and intellectual development governing behavior.
Indiana’s new law requires the judicial system to take the differences between juvenile and adult acts into account, allowing the former an opportunity for rehabilitation.
It took too long for Paul Henry Gingerich, but justice has been served.