Teen sentenced to 35 years for school shooting

Michael Phelps

MARTINSVILLE - A central Indiana teenager convicted in a school shooting that injured a former classmate was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

Sixteen-year-old Michael Phelps appeared before a Morgan County judge Friday in the March 25 shooting of 15-year-old Chance Jackson. His sentencing in the county seat of Martinsville took most of the day.

Phelps left the Morgan County Courthouse without comment after learning his sentence of 35 years - 30 in prison, five on probation - for attempted murder. It's the culmination of a school shooting case that forever changed Martinsville and victim Chance Jackson.

"The judge did find more aggravators that mitigators in this case and, as an advocate, that's always what we like to prove and he went beyond the presumptive sentence, which is what we wanted him to do," said Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega.

"We're satisfied," said Jackson's mother, Rebecca. "I think Chance has an opportunity to move on now."

Last month's guilty plea left no doubt Phelps intentionally shot his former classmate at Martinsville West Middle School in March. But his punishment came down to testimony before Judge Thomas Gray.

The defense and prosecution painted two very different pictures of Phelps. His attorney described the boy as a scared, scarred 16-year-old, who was the victim of his own toxic family upbringing.

A psychologist who examined Phelps says the youth's troubled family life left him with deep anger. Jeff Vanderwater-Pearcy testified Friday during a sentencing hearing in a Morgan County court that Phelps never knew his biological father and felt that his mother chose alcohol over him.

Vanderwater-Pearcy says anger became Phelps' main way of coping with frustration.

Jackson's mother didn't buy it.

"I grew up with an alcoholic parent and Chance grew up without a father, so I just don't totally agree with that," Jackson said.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, described Phelps as a premeditated murderer who stole a gun, and used Facebook posts and text messages to plan to kill a student, then shot him not once, but twice.

Phelps' attorney, Steven Litz, plans to appeal. He says his client never should have been tried as an adult.

"The idea that we abandon juveniles to the wolves for an adult term is unbelievable to me. We do plan to appeal the waiver to adult court as well as the 30-year prison sentence," Litz said.

In court, Phelps read a handwritten statement, followed by a brief apology to Chance Jackson. But Jackson's family says their pain goes on. Chance has another surgery in November for a hernia caused by the shooting. He has permanent scars on his torso and he's undergoing psychological counseling, after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Judge Gray said the scars in Martinsville are permanent too, telling Phelps in court, by choosing to kill and doing so in front of children, "you stole the community's innocence."

The judge also cited as one of the aggravating circumstances in this case - the fact that Phelps fashioned a weapon while in jail. Phelps' attorney even said his client was hard to control and he even though he told him he needed to be a saint in jail, he wasn't. In fact, shortly after the sentencing, prosecutors filed seven additional charges against Phelps, stemming from his behavior while in jail.

Those charges include intimidation, obstruction of justice, and causing battery with bodily injury. Prosecutors say while in jail, Phelps threatened witnesses, including one who was beat up the day before his original trial.

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