Sent to prison at 12 for killing, teen is now free

INDIANAPOLIS — Paul Henry Gingerich, who as a boy became perhaps the youngest Indiana resident ever sentenced to prison as an adult, has been released from prison and, according to his mother, is moving forward with his life.

Gingerich was released in March, a few weeks after his 19th birthday after having spent nearly seven years behind bars, most of it at the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility. Since then, he's been living with his mother, Nicole, in Fort Wayne, Ind., while undergoing 24-hour electronic monitoring and close supervision by the courts. He also has a job in a manufacturing facility.

“He’s really working hard on doing everything he is supposed to do and really trying to move forward,” she said.

Gingerich was 12 when he and another boy, 15-year-old Colt Lundy, shot and killed Lundy's stepfather, Phil Danner, in Kosciusko County, Ind. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and were sentenced as adults to 25-year prison terms. Legal experts in the state could point to no other case where someone as young as 12 at the time of their crime had been sentenced as an adult.

Child advocates and juvenile justice groups responded by pushing for a change to Indiana's juvenile sentencing guidelines, resulting in a new law, dubbed "Paul's Law," that granted courts greater flexibility in blending aspects of juvenile and adult sentences.

Indianapolis attorney Monica Foster took up Gingerich's case and appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, which granted Gingerich a new trial. At age 15, he again pleaded guilty. This time Judge James Heuer applied the new sentencing rules, agreeing to monitor Gingerich's progress in juvenile prison until releasing him earlier this year.

Lundy had no such advocate and never pursued a second trial under the new system. He's being held at the Correctional Industrial Facility in Pendleton, Ind. His earliest possible release date is 2021.

Under the terms of his release, Gingerich will wear a GPS-monitoring device on his ankle and be tracked 24 hours a day until July 2018. He will be able to work and make court and legal appointments outside home. With a pass, he can go to church, go shopping or do things such as get a haircut.

He's also meeting a couple of times a month with Allen Superior Court Magistrate Samuel Keirns, who will monitor his progress and who has the power to send Gingerich back to prison if he missteps badly enough. So far, Keirns said, Gingerich has complied with the terms of the program. And Nicole Gingerich said her son may soon move into his own apartment.

The court's supervision will continue until February 2020, when Gingerich will begin 10 years of probation.

Gingerich declined to comment for this story. His mother also declined to provide an updated photo of her son, who now stands 6 feet tall, saying they want him to keep a low profile as he builds his new life. The family has turned down interview requests from national TV news magazines. Even so, profiles of his case still appear on programs as far away as Europe.

Foster, who has long proclaimed that Gingerich was "a good kid who did a very bad thing," said she still believes in him. "I have more confidence in him today than I have ever had," she said. "I think he's growing into a nice young man."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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