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AG asks Indiana high court to review ruling overturning boy's slaying conviction

Friday, January 11, 2013 - 12:04 pm

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana attorney general's office appealed a court ruling on Thursday granting a trial to a boy who, at age 12, pleaded guilty as an adult to conspiracy to commit murder in the 2010 killing of a friend's stepfather.

The office asked the state Supreme Court to review a December state appeals court ruling that found that a county judge improperly decided a week after Paul Gingerich's arrest that he could be charged as an adult.

Gingerich's attorney, Monica Foster, said he was a young boy whose case was mishandled by the local judge and that the attorney general's appeal is disgraceful.

Gingerich, who turns 15 in February, is serving a 25-year sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in the killing of 49-year-old Phillip Danner in a plot with two other boys to run away to Arizona in 2010.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller's filing argues that letting the appeals court ruling stand would bring uncertainty to the plea bargaining process, under which defendants agree to give up their right to appeal in exchange for typically lighter sentences.

"Balancing the interests of justice when an offender is so young is extremely difficult," Zoeller said in a statement. "In working with prosecutors, my office is concerned about not setting a precedent that would allow violent offenders to back out of their plea agreements after pleading guilty."

A Kosciusko County judge had ordered Gingerich could be tried as an adult after a two-hour hearing that was held a week after the boy's arrest. Gingerich's defense attorney had protested that they didn't have enough time to prepare for the hearing or to conduct a psychological examination.

Foster said she believed the circumstances of Gingerich's case were so unique that the attorney general's appeal was a "disgraceful waste of taxpayers' money and resources."

"There is no reasonable person that would believe that what happened in that trial court came anywhere close to meeting the values of due process that are enshrined in our constitution," Foster said.

The Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Gingerich had not received the due process to which he was entitled and ordered a new juvenile court hearing. The court rejected the state's arguments that Gingerich had given up his right to appeal as part of the plea agreement and found that a probation officer had provided the trial judge misinformation about the availability of private detention facilities.

Police said Gingerich and Danner's stepson, who was 15 at the time, shot and killed Danner in April 2010 in his home near Lake Wawasee, which is between Fort Wayne and South Bend, while a third boy, who was 12, stood watch outside. The boys met later and took off in a car belonging to the 15-year-old's mother, who was in Florida on vacation.

The three were caught early the next morning in Peru, Ill., when a store clerk became suspicious of them and alerted police.

The 15-year-old pleaded guilty as an adult to conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The other 12-year-old, who was present but didn't enter the house, was sentenced to juvenile detention until age 18.

The attorney general's office said that its request to the Indiana Supreme Court means that Gingerich will remain in Department of Correction custody until the court takes action.