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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classmate Chance Jackson at Martinsville West Middle School in March 2011, three days after Phelps’ mother had formally withdrawn him from school.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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