INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indiana judge didn't take enough time when he rushed a 12-year-old boy accused of helping kill a friend's stepfather into adult court, an appeals court said Tuesday in throwing out the child's guilty plea and overturning his 25-year prison sentence.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Paul Henry Gingerich had not received the due process to which he was entitled and ordered a new juvenile court hearing.
"The Constitution won today," Monica Foster, the public defender who handled Gingerich's appeal, said. "This is a 12-year-old kid who did not get the due-process protection of the U.S. Constitution."
Gingerich was one of three juveniles from a small town in northeastern Indiana charged with killing 49-year-old Phillip Danner as part of a plot to run away to Arizona in April 2010. Gingerich, who authorities say fired one of the shots that hit Danner, is serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder.
The Indiana attorney general's office did not immediately say whether it would appeal Tuesday's decision to the state Supreme Court.
"Among the most disheartening cases seen in the criminal justice system are those involving young people charged with extremely violent crimes. For prosecutors and judges, these are among the most difficult cases as well in terms of balancing the rights of the juvenile with the safety of the community," Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a statement. "We will carefully review our options after consulting with the county prosecutor and conducting further research."
A Kosciusko County judge had ordered Gingerich to be tried as an adult after a two-hour hearing that was held a week after the boy's arrest. The boy's defense attorney had protested that they didn't have enough time to prepare for the hearing or to conduct a psychological examination.
Although it's possible Gingerich could receive a longer sentence as a result of the new hearing, Foster said she didn't believe any judge would hand one down given all the facts of the case and her client's success in the juvenile justice system. He's a straight-A student with no disciplinary problems who's participating fully in his rehabilitation program "with flying colors," she said.