INDIANAPOLIS — A northern Indiana boy convicted in adult court at age 12 in the killing of a friend's stepfather should not be denied a new trial just because he signed a plea agreement, his lawyer says in documents filed with the state Supreme Court.
Attorney Monica Foster said Paul Henry Gingerich's case didn't belong in adult court in the first place. Foster filed a brief Monday asking the high court to let stand an Indiana Court of Appeals decision in December that ordered a Kosciusko County judge to hold a fresh juvenile court hearing to determine whether the boy should be tried as an adult.
That appeals ruling threw out Gingerich's guilty plea and 25-year prison sentence, saying the local court rushed to judgment.
Last month, the attorney general's office asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case, arguing that Gingerich signed a plea agreement and waived his right to appeal.
But Foster contends the guilty plea was invalid because the case never belonged in adult court. The local court didn't allow the boy's attorneys time to prepare or conduct a proper investigation of his competency, and accepted a probation officer's erroneous testimony concerning the availability of facilities for youths convicted of violent crimes, Foster's brief said.
"That the State required Paul's parents and lawyers to sign his plea agreement is proof only that the State recognized it had problems with this young boy being treated as an adult," the brief said.
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.
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.
Gingerich didn't understand the proceedings and thought the judge was obligated to find him guilty, Foster's brief said.
Police said Gingerich and a 15-year-old co-defendant shot and killed Danner on April 20, 2010, in his home near Lake Wawasee about midway between Fort Wayne and South Bend. Another 12-year-old boy allegedly served as a lookout. 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 boys were allegedly trying to convert coins into paper bills.
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.