More than three years after 12-year-old Paul Gingerich was improperly sentenced as an adult to 30 years in prison for his role in a killing, he now has a chance to be free at 18 – an imperfect result, advocates say, that nonetheless might be the best possible under the circumstances.
Gingerich’s future is up to him, defense attorney Monica Foster said. If Gingerich, now 15, stays on track for an accelerated diploma with honors, he may be transitioned from Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility to a supervised residential setting next year, and his release could come as soon as February 2016.
“We have progressed a long way from where we started and think this was a just result,” Foster said. “It was a tragic, terrible crime that occurred, but the prosecutor’s office, to their credit, was willing to look at all the facts.”
Foster and Kosciusko County Prosecutor Dan Hampton signed a deal subject to a judge’s final approval in January. Gingerich will plead guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit murder as a Class A felony in exchange for the state dropping charges of murder and aiding, inducing and causing murder.
Gingerich was convicted along with then-15-year-old Colt Lundy for his role in the shooting death of Lundy’s stepfather, Phillip Danner, in his home in Cromwell. Lundy had orchestrated a plan in which he, Gingerich and another 12-year-old boy would take Danner’s car and go to Arizona, where Lundy’s biological father lived.
Lundy signaled Gingerich to come inside the home, then supplied him with a handgun. Gingerich said later that he entered the house with the intention of talking the older boy out of going through with his plan to kill his stepfather, but both boys fired at Danner.
Gingerich’s case made international headlines and caught the attention of Dan Dailey, executive director of the nonprofit Redemption Project for Kids, which assists children who commit parricide. He blogged about the case and established a trust for Gingerich to which donors have contributed about $8,000, he said.
“We don’t know what happens now,” Dailey said, noting young offenders like Gingerich will face lifelong obstacles. “The fact is, we live in an unforgiving society where no matter what happens in court, something is going to follow these kids. … They’re always going to have something against them in the way of getting a good job, getting a good place to live, or whatever opportunity they want to pursue.”
The Gingerich case moved Rep. Wendy McNamara, R-Evansville, to push legislation giving judges the discretion to impose blended juvenile-adult sentences – leeway that Indiana and only three other states lacked at the time Gingerich was sentenced as an adult. But even with the Gingerich case pointing to such a need, it took two sessions before a compromise bill, House Enrolled Act 1108, was signed into law this year.
McNamara said representatives of the Indiana Department of Correction asked her to carry the bill in part because of the position the department was in when Gingerich was sentenced to an adult prison. “They said he was the size of like an 8-year-old when he was committed,” she said. “The DOC virtually had to violate the law to place him in a facility where he could get (juvenile and educational) services.”
Lawmakers also ultimately realized that juvenile offenders someday would return to society, and so their treatment should emphasize and reward rehabilitation, McNamara said.
“If we don’t provide them the same services other juveniles are getting, we are creating an egregious act,” she said.
Dailey, a native Hoosier who now lives on an 80-acre spread near Big Bend National Park in Texas, said Gingerich also will be an heir to the land he’s leaving in the names of the children he’s assisted through the Redemption Project. It’s off the grid, but it’s a connection to something, Dailey said.
“No matter how old they get, they’ll have a permanent place to call home,” he said. “Sometimes all we have to offer these guys in the way of hope is that they will have something.”
But Gingerich isn’t typical of the kids he assists through the Redemption Project, Dailey explained. He has a strong parental support system, for instance. “I’m very much impressed with his family’s attitude toward what happened,” he said. “It was a terrible tragedy and they don’t seek to minimize it. They seek to accept responsibility.”
Foster said Gingerich has made the best of his time.
“He’s really been an extraordinary student at the Pendleton Juvenile Facility,” Foster said. “He’s been sort of a leader with the other students in helping them to do the right thing.”
His plea deal includes the same conviction and sentence imposed in adult court – 30 years with five suspended, plus credit for time served – but it sets a review hearing after Gingerich’s 18th birthday at which time the sentence may be suspended and a judge may order his release.
“The level necessary to restrict defendant’s freedom will be directly correlated to his successfulness in completing assigned rehabilitative programs and adherence to the rules and regulations of the program, the facility, and of society,” the agreement says.
Gingerich is believed to be the youngest offender ever sentenced as an adult in Indiana, and his case rallied opponents of tough sentencing for juveniles. Indiana Code 31-30-3-4, passed in 1997, allows children as young as 10 to be waived to adult court.
Karen Grau, president and executive producer of Indianapolis-based filmmakers Calamari Productions, said a new documentary on the Gingerich case is scheduled to air on the Lifetime Network soon, now that the case has been tentatively resolved.
Grau also was involved in an earlier documentary focused on Gingerich and Lundy called “Young Kids, Hard Time” that aired on MSNBC.
Like Gingerich, Lundy also was sentenced to 30 years with five suspended for his conviction of conspiracy to commit murder. Lundy is held at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. His projected release date is in 2022, according to the Department of Correction.
Dailey said the system ultimately worked in Gingerich’s case.
“What we’ve done for this kid, we haven’t defined his future and we’re not going to let this terrible crime define it,” Dailey said. “He was only 12.
“His future is now in his hands again, and that’s a great gift when you think about it.”•