It was Foster who helped call national media attention to the lack of sentencing options for crime-committing children tried as adults when she took on the appeals case of Paul Henry Gingerich. At 12, he made history as the youngest person in Indiana to be sent to prison as an adult.
His crime was awful — he helped a friend shoot and kill the friend’s stepfather as part of a plan to run away from home. But Foster argued he should have been tried as a juvenile, not an adult. (The Court of Appeals has ordered a legal do-over, sending the case back to juvenile court.)
Foster knows the power of a good hue and cry. In 1987, she was part in an international campaign to save 15-year-old Paula Cooper from being executed by the State of Indiana for fatally stabbing an elderly woman in Gary.
The outpouring of protests against the girl’s death sentence — including a condemnation of it by Pope John Paul II — caused a rethinking of both the sentence and the law. In 1989, after the Indiana General Assembly raised the minimum age for the death penalty, from 10 years old to 16, Cooper’s sentence was commuted to 60 years in prison.
Indiana’s new dual-sentencing law might not work. There are fears it will be used to send more children into the adult criminal system, and fears, based on experience in some states, that black and Hispanic juveniles will be sent on to prison more frequently than their white counterparts.
But Foster sees the potential in giving judges more options to help juvenile offenders become law-abiding citizens. “The law,” said Foster, “is unquestionably right.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com