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Attempted murder sentence upheld in Martinsville school shooting

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A Martinsville teen who as an eighth-grader shot and seriously wounded a classmate will continue to serve a 35-year sentence with five years suspended for his attempted murder conviction as an adult.

The Indiana Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the conviction and sentence of Michael Phelps, 17, who shot classmate Chance Jackson at Martinsville West Middle School in March 2011, three days after Phelps’ mother had formally withdrawn him from school.

In Michael Phelps v. State of Indiana, No. 55A01-1108-CR-410, the appeals court found that the Morgan Superior Court ruling “took great care” in arriving at Phelps’ sentence after a bench trial.

“Our focus is upon whether Phelps’s case is ‘the rare case in which a threshold comparison of the crime committed and the sentence imposed leads to an inference of gross disproportionality.’ We find nothing unusual about a thirty-five year sentence, with five years suspended, for a conviction of attempted murder,” Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote.

Phelps appealed on four bases: whether the trial court with juvenile court jurisdiction abused its discretion by waiving its jurisdiction; whether it erred by denying Phelps’ motion to close the proceedings; whether it committed reversible error by denying Phelps’ motion for change of venue; and whether the sentence is inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender, or whether the sentence constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

The appeals court noted Phelps’ history of disciplinary referrals and juvenile delinquent adjudication that culminated with violence against other students and threats against the school. It outlined an escalating pattern of behavioral problems that resulted in Phelps stealing a gun, showing it to other children and confronting Jackson at the school he’d been banned from attending.

“Phelps, who had the intellectual ability to succeed at school, chose not to take advantage of those opportunities, especially in light of his substance-abuse-ridden family setting,” the ruling says.

“Phelps himself suffered from substance-abuse issues. Phelps refused to take advantage of the rehabilitative efforts offered by people within his school system. We cannot say that the slightly enhanced sentence for attempted murder is inappropriate in light of the character of the offender.”

The court found no errors pertaining to issues raised on appeal. It noted the defense’s second request for change of venue had been withdrawn after the defense requested a bench trial.

 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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