Judge James Heuer gave 15-year-old Paul Gingerich a 30-year sentence, with the final five years suspended, which is the same sentence Gingerich received in November 2010 in the death of Phillip Danner at his home near Lake Wawasee, about halfway between Fort Wayne and South Bend.
But the Indiana Court of Appeals threw out the first guilty plea and sentence, ruling that Kosciusko County Superior Judge Duane Huffer had rushed when he waived the case to adult court. Defense attorney Monica Foster said Gingerich agreed to plead guilty in December because a new law that went into effect July 1 allows him the chance to avoid serving time in an adult prison. Gingerich currently is being held at the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility.
Foster and prosecutor Daniel Hampton disagreed on how long Gingerich will have to remain in a juvenile facility. Foster said he could be placed in a residential facility as early as this summer after receiving his high school degree, while Hampton said the earliest that could happen is after he turns 18.
Both agreed that Gingerich, who has already served more than three years in custody, will remain under state supervision in some manner, in a maximum-security facility if he gets in trouble, or in a group home, community corrections, on probation or parole if he's well-behaved.
Gingerich apologized to Danner's family during a brief, tearful statement before being sentenced.
"If I could, I would change what was done," he said. "It is my actions that are responsible for your suffering. I'll have to live with that the rest of my life. I'm very sorry for what I've done. ... I know sorry isn't enough."
Before Gingerich spoke, Danner's sister, Kim Wilson, said the only apology her family had ever heard had come from Foster. She said they had never heard from Gingerich or his parents, but said she saw a videotaped interview with Gingerich's mother in which she repeatedly asked how this could have happened to her son.
"Paul, this did not happen to you," Wilson said. "You are not the victim."
Wilson said her family endures constant media reports that focus on Gingerich's young age at the time of the murder, but not on Danner, an active father and grandfather with many friends.
"I want you to know Phil was a good person. He did not deserve to die," she said.
Gingerich looked at her at times during the statement, and at other times stared at the table he was sitting at. She said she would forgive Gingerich, but said it would be easier if he apologized. Foster told Wilson that Gingerich had written the family an apology letter after his first guilty plea, but the Correction Department would not allow him to send it.
Danner's 15-year-old son pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in September 2010 in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges of murder and aiding murder. He was sentenced to 30 years.
Foster described Gingerich as teenager with above average intelligence who a psychologist said is less likely than the average juvenile defender to again break the law.
"He is attempting to rehabilitate himself," she said. "I think he's well on his way to rehabilitation."