Last week, a reader sent me a link to this article, published by the Indianapolis paper on Paul Henry’s 17th birthday. It is mainly a regurgitation of older news and articles, but it does allude to the chance of Paul being set free next year. Yet the fact remains, there is no new news about Paul Henry except that he is still at the Pendleton youth prison and continues to do well there and in school. His dad tells me he is regretful and embarrassed by the role he played in Philip Danner’s death, and avoids any attention in the media.
There is no way to predict with any certainty if he will, in fact, be released on his 18th birthday; this decision is entirely in the hands of a judge. To satisfy readers’ curiosity, all that can be said right now is that Paul Henry is successfully keeping up his end of what the court expects.
Paul Henry Gingerich: Another birthday for a boy in prison
by Robert King, The Indianapolis Star
February 17, 2015
Editor’s note: At age 12 Paul Gingerich became what many believed to be the youngest Hoosier ever sentenced to prison as an adult. Today, he turns 17. He’s been behind bars for nearly five years for his involvement in the shooting death of a friend’s stepfather. Because of a plea deal reached more than a year ago following appeals of his sentencing, there’s a chance Gingerich’s next birthday could be his last in prison. This story, which The Star published in 2012, took a look at Gingerich’s case around the time of his 14th birthday.
Paul Henry Gingerich awoke on the morning of his 14th birthday to the sound of a voice—his prison guard.
“Happy birthday,” she said.
It was 6 o’clock. Paul would just as soon have been given a few more minutes to sleep.
But in a place where he must ask permission to go to the bathroom, where he eats every meal under close surveillance and where birthdays aren’t much different from any other day, it was a nice gesture for one of the state’s most controversial inmates.
Paul Gingerich is thought to be the youngest person in Indiana sentenced to prison as an adult.
He was 12 years old when he arrived here at the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility, the state’s maximum-security prison for children.
He had such a small frame and such a baby face that one of his new teachers—the prison has a school—asked: “What is a 7-year-old doing in our facility?”
Yet Paul was also a killer. He had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder after he and a friend fired four bullets into the friend’s stepfather.
Each boy received 25 years, with the possibility that, for good behavior, they could get out in about half that time. They would still be young men, but young men who had grown up in prison.
In Paul’s case, that means living in a cell with a steel door and bare block walls in a remote corner of Pendleton.
Home consists of a mattress on a concrete slab, a small desk and a chair, and a window spliced with thick bars. Paul’s view is of a small patch of grass, a tall fence and a rolling wave of razor-sharp concertina wire.
Here, in this place, Paul has grown nearly 3 inches to about 5-foot-8, sprouted peach fuzz, popped his first pimples, had his voice change and—now—marked two birthdays.
It is also a place that—should his lawyer pull off an epic reversal—Paul hopes to soon leave.
The trouble begins on a playground.
Three boys—one of them 15, the two others 12—meet in a park in the neighborhood where they live in Cromwell, a small town halfway between South Bend and Fort Wayne.
They play in the park for a while, then begin talking about a subject they’ve been discussing for a couple of weeks now: running away, out west to California. Or, no, maybe to Arizona.
The only problem, according to 15-year-old Colt Lundy, is that his stepfather will never allow it. He’ll stop them from going.
The answer to the problem, Colt says, is simple. They must kill Phil Danner.
Birthdays in prison are typically low-key affairs. There’s one party per month thrown for all the birthday boys, usually featuring cupcakes.
Presents—by regulation, books mailed from booksellers—show up on or around the day. In Paul’s case, his mom had ordered him an inspirational book. His prison mentor gave him a Bible with multiple versions of the Scriptures, even Greek.
Family visits are confined to normal Thursday and Sunday visiting hours. His whole family—mom, dad and two sisters—came and helped him spend $20 worth of quarters in the visiting room vending machines for a birthday party featuring personal pepperoni pizzas, egg and sausage hot pockets and popcorn.
Yet the best present of all came from the Indiana Court of Appeals.
On Feb. 17—Paul’s birthday—the court announced it will consider granting the boy what amounts to a legal do-over on the 2010 proceedings that led to his particular sentence.
The issue before the court isn’t one of guilt, but whether it was appropriate for Kosciusko Circuit Judge Rex Reed to move Paul into adult court at such a young age and to give him an adult’s sentence.
In Indiana, juveniles as young as 10 can be tried as adults. That’s younger than in many states, but some states have no age limit. Last year, Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega could have moved to adult court the case of an 11-year-old boy who killed his 6-year-old brother. But he decided against it.
Paul was 12 years and 2 months old at the time of the killing. He was a sixth-grader at Wawasee Middle School. He had no prior criminal record. A psychologist who evaluated Paul said the boy lacked a basic understanding of the court proceedings and wasn’t competent to stand trial as an adult.
“Phil Danner is dead,” the judge said at the time. “Phil Danner was, regardless of what we call this crime, murdered.”
The decision was remarkable in light of the fact that, from 2000 to 2010, only 13 children in Indiana were sentenced as adults for murder or attempted murder. None was younger than 14.
Reed didn’t return phone calls for this story. Voicemails left for the prosecutor also were not returned.
The sentence prompted Dan Dailey, a blogger from Texas who follows juvenile justice issues, to launch a website called “Free Paul Henry Gingerich” and to set up a trust fund for his defense. He also asked for help from Indianapolis attorney Monica Foster, who has defended some of the state’s most notorious killers. (See accompanying box.)
Foster agreed—even setting aside her typical fee of $350 an hour to take up Paul’s appeal.
“I would like to have him treated as the 12-year, 2-month-old person that he was, which is a kid,” she said. “I don’t think he was competent to stand trial. I don’t think he was competent to plead guilty.”
Specifically, she said, defense attorneys typically are allowed two to four months to build an argument for why their young client’s case should remain in the juvenile courts. Paul’s lawyers were given four days. Foster also said the psychologist’s report should have carried more weight.
National juvenile justice organizations—the Children’s Law Center, the National Juvenile Defender Center and the Campaign for Youth Justice—have filed briefs in support of her case.
At its core, though, Foster said 12 is too young to write off the life of a child who she said “doesn’t have a criminal orientation.”
“He’s the most innocent kid I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” she said. “He just really happened to be in a bad place at a bad time, and I really believe that’s all this case is about.”
After leaving the playground, the boys walk to Colt Lundy’s house. Colt goes in alone and finds his stepfather there already, in the family room. Colt goes into his bedroom and moves the blinds, signaling for the two 12-year-olds waiting across the street—Paul and Chase Williams—to come over.
The plan is for either Paul or Chase to join Colt inside and help him carry out the deed. Paul and Chase talk as they cross the street about who should go in. At first, Chase says he will, but thinks better of it. Paul will go.
He climbs in through Colt’s bedroom window. Inside, Colt is waiting with two guns: a .40-caliber Glock and a .38-caliber revolver.
The two boys move into the living room. They talk about whether they can go through with it. Paul, he would later say, thinks they won’t go through with it and tells Colt he’s not sure he can. Then Danner appears in the doorway. He sees Colt, sees the gun. Colt fires. Paul points his gun at the man. He shuts his eyes, he says later. He fires, too.
Danner is hit four times. He falls to the floor in the doorway—dead.
In handing down his sentence to Colt and Paul, Reed said he tried to account for the youth of the two accused boys: He could have given them 45 years.
Colt was assigned to the “youthful offender wing” at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle. It’s a prison that’s home to 2,000 male inmates, including some of the people Foster represents in her death penalty cases. His father declined to comment on his son’s case or grant The Indianapolis Star access to him in prison.
“He would essentially have to learn survival skills, what it takes to survive in an adult facility,” said Mike Dempsey, executive director of youth services with the Indiana Department of Correction.
“And he would clearly be victimized relatively quickly.”
So Gingerich was assigned to Pendleton Juvenile—a decision that Paul’s mom said “was just the happiest moment of my life.”
The difference in the two worlds is dramatic. And it’s another reason why Foster is pursing a new trial. Although Paul is at Pendleton now, he could be moved to Wabash anytime prison officials deem it necessary.
At Pendleton, there are juveniles who have committed serious crimes—murder and manslaughter, sex and drug offenses and property crimes. But at Wabash, the concentration of inmates leans more toward violent offenders.
At Pendleton, juveniles can earn a diploma or high school credits that, once they’re released, count at any high school in the state. At Wabash, juveniles can earn only a general educational development certificate.
At Pendleton, the population is 300 juveniles, with no one older than 21. At Wabash, there are about 50 juveniles in a population of 2,000 that includes middle-aged child molesters and people who committed multiple murders. The juveniles and adults are kept almost entirely apart.
Still, DOC’s Dempsey said a boy at Wabash can look out his window and see nearly 2,000 adult criminals walking around. “That’s stressful,” he said. “That’s traumatic.”
At Pendleton, Paul lives in his own room on a wing where new arrivals spend their first two weeks. He attends school five days a week. He spends time daily in a common area where he can watch television and play games. On his birthday, he and some other residents played spades and “Sorry!”
“I’m getting whupped,” he said to the 14-year-old who was beating him in the board game.
Another boy in the unit, who is 16, said he and Paul are the local spades champions.
But his success isn’t limited to playing cards. Paul is making straight A’s. He was recently promoted to ninth grade because eighth-grade classes weren’t challenging enough. He occupies a spot on the student council and uses his good-behavior credits not for video game time but for extra visits with his mother, who twice a week makes the four-hour round trip to see Paul.
“He is one of my best students,” health and physical education teacher Mark Hargett said. “He does what I ask. He is one of the first guys done, and he’s always willing to help. Basically, around here, he’s what I call a model student.”
Paul is applying for a prison job doing cleanup duties. He’s even looking at moving into one of the prison’s specialized programs in Scouting, future soldiering or faith-based instruction, which would make him less isolated.
Paul is doing so well, counselor Michelle Griffith said, that had he been given an open-ended juvenile sentence, as nearly all Pendleton Juvenile residents receive, the Department of Correction probably would decide soon that he’s ready to go home.
Instead, Paul faces an additional decade or more in prison.
Continued good behavior could slice his 25-year sentence in half. But without a successful appeal, the boy who entered prison at 12 would leave at 25, having spent half his life locked up.
Before that happens, Paul would have to move on to Wabash. Pendleton Juvenile doesn’t keep anyone older than 21. He would have to learn those new survival skills after all.
Joel Schumm, a law professor at Indiana University’s Robert H. McKinney School of Law, sees it as throwing away a boy’s life.
“As opposed to putting him at home with family and people who are going to support him and give him a positive environment, you are going to put him in a pack of wolves in prison,” Schumm said. “And I think it is a terrible idea.”
With Danner dead on the floor, Colt opens the front door and invites Chase and another boy, who had shown up later, to come in and check out the body.
Then they make plans to run. Paul heads home, packs some things in a bag and returns to Colt’s house. But then his mom calls him. He has to come home. The other boys agree they’ll pick him up after his mother goes to bed.
Colt grabs his stepfather’s keys, his credit card and his GPS device. With Chase along, he drives his stepfather’s car to Paul’s house. Paul throws his shoes out the window and sneaks out. They set the GPS for “Arizona,” where they have some vague notion about selling T-shirts to drug dealers.
Along the way, they make a couple of stops for food and gas. About 200 miles in, they pull into a Walmart parking lot in Peru, Ill. It’s well after midnight.
A police officer finds it curious that three boys are out alone so late. He asks a few questions and doesn’t buy the answers. Soon, Chase speaks up. There’s a dead man back in Indiana.
The two Pauls—one a well-mannered boy who is a model student, the other a boy who fired two bullets into a man—are hard to reconcile.
Paul is a boy who might have fallen under the influence of an older boy but who now has matured beyond that.
But Paul is also a killer who wears on his wrist a plastic prison bracelet given upon his arrival at Pendleton. It bears the words: “Very High Risk.”
Standing in front of the judge, crying, Paul Henry Gingerich told the court simply: “I did wrong.”
His mother, Nicole, said she and her husband, Paul, were in divorce proceedings at the time of the shooting. But she said her son was no trouble at home, and his only problems at school were talking in class and missing an occasional assignment. She thinks Colt bullied her son into the crime.
“It was completely out of character for my son to be involved with something like this,” she said. “I never imagined that he could ever be involved with it. He’s always been a pretty good boy.”
Paul has said very little about the incident since, in large part because of his appeal. Foster has asked correction officials not to ask him about the specifics of what happened in Colt Lundy’s house on April 20, 2010. And the only condition she placed on The Star, in granting access to Paul in prison, was to not ask him about the shooting itself.
Watching Paul and his fellow inmates shooting hoops in the prison gym recently, Hargett, the P.E. teacher, said the incidents that put such boys in prison often are an anomaly in their young lives.
“One bad day,” Hargett calls it.
And he thinks Paul is past his.
When Paul arrived, prison officials could barely coax him to speak. He refused class assignments that required him to talk in front of his classmates, who usually number no more than 12 to 14.
Griffith, the counselor, said his introversion might have been part of problem before the crime.
In an interview with The Star in July, Paul spoke in short phrases, barely above a whisper.
How’s it going? “Um, I’m doing all right.”
Are you scared? “I was scared when I first got here, but then like a week passed and I started school, and it didn’t seem so bad.”
Have you thought about why you’re here? “No, I don’t like thinking about that.”
There are signs, though, that he does. One classroom assignment last summer asked the student inmates to write a letter of advice to their future children. Paul’s advice: “To choose friends carefully so they don’t fall into bad situations.”
When interviewed days before his birthday, Paul still seemed reticent to talk about himself, and his feelings, allowing only: “Usually, I’m in a fair mood. I don’t have any problems.”
But he seems to be finding his voice. In conversations, his voice is now audible more often than not. He has spoken in front of his class. He asks questions of Foster about his case and the appeal. And if you ask him about what he’s reading, be prepared for an oral book report.
He read the book “Endurance” and can describe in detail the plight of famed South Pole explorer Ernest Shackleton. He’s read the biblical Book of Acts and can discuss how Saul persecuted Christians until he was struck blind by God and found faith, then had to convince people he was a changed man.
Whether he identifies with Saul, he couldn’t say.
As for his future and whether he thinks about his chances of freedom, Paul pauses at length. He seems unable to find the words until he says: “Sometimes.”
As for what he might have done differently two years ago when an afternoon at the playground turned into conspiracy to commit murder, he pauses again. He struggles once more for words. Then speaks.
“Yeah, I think about it sometimes,” Paul said. “I think I should have gone home.”
Robert King has been a reporter with The Indianapolis Star since 2004, currently writing about about public safety and crime prevention. In 2013, the Society of Professional Journalists named him the Indiana Journalist of the Year. Star researcher Cathy Knapp contributed to this story.
April 20: Paul Gingerich, then 12, and Colt Lundy, then 15, shoot two bullets each into Lundy’s stepfather, Phil Danner, killing the 49-year-old Cromwell man instantly.
April 22: Prosecutors in Kosciusko County ask, during a detention hearing, that Gingerich be tried as an adult in criminal court.
April 29: Kosciusko County Superior Court Judge Duane Huffer moves Gingerich’s case into (adult) criminal court. The next day Gingerich is charged with murder.
Nov. 3: Gingerich pleads guilty to a lesser charge, conspiracy to commit murder.
Jan. 4: Kosciusko County Circuit Judge Rex Reed sentences Gingerich to 30 years, with 5 of those years suspended to probation.
Jan. 18: Gingerich enters the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility after Department of Corrections after officials conclude he wouldn’t make it in an adult prison.
Jan. 26: Indianapolis attorney Monica Foster becomes Gingerich’s attorney and files a notice of appeal.
Feb. 17: Gingerich turns 13.
Feb. 17: The Indiana Court of Appeals agrees to hear Gingerich’s appeal. The news comes on his 14th birthday.
Oct. 30: The 3-judge Court of Appeals panel hears arguments in the case, and express skepticism of the swift move by the prosecutor and judge in Kosciusko to move Gingerich’s case to the adult criminal court.
Dec. 11: The Court of Appeals issues its decision, saying the court in Kosciusko erred by not giving Gingerich’s attorney enough time to make the case he should have been tried as a juvenile. They reversed the conviction and order the case back to Kosciusko for a do-over.
Jan. 10: Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announces he will appeal the Court of Appeals ruling.
Feb. 17: Gingerich turns 15.
March 7: The Indiana Supreme Court declines to hear Zoeller’s appeal, forcing the case to start over in Kosciusko.
July 1: A new law, passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, takes effect and offers courts greater flexibility in sentencing juvenile cases.
Dec. 2: Gingerich agrees to a plea deal that allows him to be sentenced under the new law and opens the door that, with good behavior, he could be set free when he turns 18.
PS: We have just been informed that Colt Lundy was transferred from the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (level 3) to the adult facility at Pendleton IN on April 21, 2015. He is designated as “medium security,” which appears to be a relaxation of the conditions under which he is held.
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