When a child kills, in Kosciusko County
I can only guess at the anger and the hurt a mother or father must feel when a son or daughter takes the life of another person. And what about the crime where the victim has been a family member?
We read the news accounts and can only shake our heads in disbelief.
“Most of the kids locked up here have just made some adult really mad,” the Oklahoma City juvenile detention director told me.
“But sometimes, it’s a different story,” he added. What an understatement.
That conversation took place back when I was writing editorials for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette and urging the county to tear down a deteriorating Wood Youth Center and replace it with a modern and humane facility. So I interviewed directors of other centers around the country.
Of course, in the recent Kosciusko County murder of Phillip Danner, the young boys charged with this crime have done much more than upset adults. They couldn’t have imagined what sorrows they would have wrought. This is a huge tragedy. It touches family members, neighbors, the boys’ teachers, indeed the community.
They’re all left to huddle together like cattle in the storm. And to wonder at this fantasy world in which the boys could head for Arizona to sell T-shirts.
There’s nothing here a county judge or prosecutor can fix. At best they can only render a crude approximation of justice.
There did appear an unseemly rush to transfer 15-year-old Colt Lundy and 12-year-old Paul Gingerich. Judge Duane Huffer found state law didn’t permit the second 12-year-old to be waived. That boy was only an accomplice. He’ll still be locked up for a long time.
For the boys accused of doing the shooting, there was no time to waste, the prosecutor said. “It demands expediency,” he was quoted saying. That was just days after the boys were picked up in Illinois. No time for psychiatric evaluations? No time to interview teachers and school counselors? No time to investigate family life? No time to visit the adult prison where the older boy surely would be housed?
This plan itself, a late spring lark really, speaks volumes of the immaturity of the boys. At a minimum it means they likely will be about as competent in any court proceeding as an adult with a profound mental illness. But apparently the rush to transfer these baby-face accused shooters to the adult court didn’t give the prosecutor time to research this point.
I was reminded of another case, in Huntington in the 1990s. There, a 14-year-old girl had set fire to the family home killing her mother and sister. Then, the police allowed the father to approve of the girl answering questions and waiving her constitutional right to silence. Problem at that time, it was possible the father was complicit in the crime. Even the detective told me he thought so. That waiver wouldn’t have stood a court test.
But it never was challenged.
What about these boys? Did a parent or legal guardian consent to a waiver of constitutional rights? I believe Indiana law still requires it.
A more critical parallel: In the Huntington case, once the late Judge Mark McIntosh heard the full story of the girl’s family life, he “sincerely” recommended that she be held in a juvenile treatment center until she would turn 18. Her original sentence was for 25 years. There the judge made his recommendation under a fairly new state law. Until an appeals court ruling, a couple of years later, the Department of Correction refused to move the girl to a juvenile center.
If we assume the boys are found guilty of killing Phillip Danner, Judge Huffer can make such a recommendation.
I must concede that since the 1990s and the Huntington case, the department has provided for a more sensible place to house juveniles waived to the adult criminal court. The kids are housed separately from adults – “sight and sound separation.” That’s today’s standard.
Mike Dempsey is the executive director of the Division of Youth Services for the DOC. He told me that Colt Lundy, the 15-year-old, would be housed at the Miami Valley Correctional Facility. There, he’ll get high school classes and counseling.
For the 12-year-old, Paul Gingerich, the department probably would place him in a secure unit at one of the state’s juvenile centers.
Still, I have to believe that the boys and the public safety would be better off if the judge had declined to transfer either one to the adult criminal court. It was his call.
Under the waiver now, it’s only a few years before they’re placed in the general population with hardened adult offenders to finish their sentences. With good behavior, they’re likely to still be in their 20s upon release. Then, as much research suggests, they are more apt than those originally sentenced as juveniles to commit new offenses.
“How do you propose to diminish crime or to reform offenders by this system of sending children of the state to this school of v ice and infamy, where they cannot fail by means of the associations into which you thrust them, to be irretrievably ruined?”
That’s was Mr. Bryant of Warren during the 1850 debate over the Indiana Constitution.
For Phillip Danner’s family and all members of the boys’ families, I doubt if there ever will be closure. Such cases have a very long shelf life. For some, the second-guessing of their own if incidental role won’t end. The judge and the court officials will try to clean up the mess as best they can.
It’s hard to believe any good can come of a murder of a step-father in Kosciusko County.