INDIANAPOLIS — Fourteen-year-old Paul Henry Gingerich won a key judicial ruling Tuesday that gives him a second chance to avoid an adult murder conviction for helping to kill a friend’s stepfather in 2010.
The Indiana Court of Appeals found the juvenile-court judge violated his due process rights and tossed out his conviction for conspiracy to commit murder.
“Under these circumstances, in which Gingerich’s counsel had four business days to prepare, and he repeatedly moved for a continuance…we conclude that Gingerich’s counsel did not have sufficient time to prepare and that he was prejudiced,” the 3-0 ruling said.
Specifically, his lawyers were not able to investigate whether Gingerich was competent because a mental health evaluation couldn’t be done for several weeks.
“There simply was no conscientious determination of waiver. The proceedings here bear all the hallmarks of a perfunctory proceeding and not the careful proceeding our constitutions demand,” the ruling said.
Gingerich will remain in custody while the case is sent back to Kosciusko County for further proceedings.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court.
“Among the most disheartening cases seen in the criminal justice system are those involving young people charged with extremely violent crimes. For prosecutors and judges, these are among the most difficult cases as well in terms of balancing the rights of the juvenile with the safety of the community,” Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a prepared statement. “We will carefully review our options after consulting with the county prosecutor and conducting further research.”
Gingerich’s lawyer, Monica Foster, argued in October that she believes she can prove he was incompetent back in 2010 to stand trial.
A doctor’s report from later that year said Gingerich displayed an inability to articulate fully what his attorneys’ role was in the case, he did not understand why he should not speak with the prosecutor without his attorney, he displayed an inability to understand plea bargaining, he did not understand many of the legal strategies his counsel proposed, and he was unable to understand many of the words being used by his counsel.
Foster did not return several calls placed to her office Tuesday.
If, after another waiver hearing, Gingerich is retained in the juvenile court system, he could be held up to the age of 21.
If he is waived to adult court again, prosecutors can file a murder charge against him carrying a possible 65 years in prison. And there is no guarantee he would receive a favorable plea agreement with prosecutors again.
Gingerich – then 12 – along with then-15-year-old Colt Lundy, each were charged with murder in the death of Philip Danner, Lundy’s stepfather. They shot him to death April 20, 2010, inside his Kosciusko County home. Both pleaded guilty.
Gingerich received a 25-year-sentence, and the Indiana Department of Correction placed the boy in its Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility, citing his age and the department’s obligation to keep him safe.
He could be out of prison by age 24 depending on education credits and good-behavior rewards.
The state contended Gingerich didn’t have the right to appeal the waiver because he later pleaded guilty in adult court after many months and ample opportunity to examine the evidence, investigate legal and factual issues and consider completed psychiatric evaluations. The appellate court rejected the argument.