By TOM DAVIES, Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The 30-year prison sentence an Indiana teenager received for shooting a former classmate at a middle school isn't out of line for someone convicted of attempted murder, a state appeals court ruled Monday.
Michael Phelps' attorney claimed the sentence was inappropriate because the judge didn't consider Phelps' mental health or his remorse for the March 2011 shooting just inside an entrance to Martinsville West Middle School. The appeals court rejected those arguments.
A Morgan County judge last year convicted Phelps of shooting Chance Jackson twice in the abdomen after an ongoing dispute between the two, who had dated the same girl. The shooting happened just as classes were about to start at the school some 25 miles southwest of Indianapolis. Both boys were 15 at the time.
Jackson was hospitalized for several weeks, and his mother testified that he needed multiple surgeries because the shooting damaged several organs, including his liver and a kidney.
A trial judge sentenced Phelps, now 17, to a 35-year term, suspending five years and ordering him to serve five years of probation after his release. Phelps is currently being held at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Carlisle in southwestern Indiana, according to state prison records.
The three-judge appeals court panel said in its unanimous decision that it found nothing wrong with the sentence, pointing out that Phelps had stolen the handgun from his former stepfather and went onto school property even though he had been banned after blurting out during a class that he was going to blow up the school.
"We find nothing unusual about a 35-year sentence, with five years suspended, for a conviction of attempted murder," the ruling said.
Defense attorney Steven Litz didn't immediately return a phone message from The Associated Press seeking comment.
A psychologist and Phelps' four siblings testified at his sentencing hearing about his troubled upbringing. He never knew his biological father, and his mother had a drinking problem. The psychologist said Phelps felt his mother was choosing alcohol over him and he had a low self-worth and suffered from depression.
The appeals court ruled, however, that the defense didn't establish a link between Phelps' mental-health issues and the shooting. It also ruled that a juvenile court judge had sufficient evidence to send the case against Phelps to adult court.