A teenager convicted of shooting a former middle school classmate was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a judge who told him the shooting just inside a school entrance “stole the innocence of this community.”
Just before he was sentenced, 16-year-old Michael Phelps read a long statement, some of it inaudible, where he described his turbulent home life, his mother’s frequent drinking and his growing frustrations with life and his victim in the months before the shooting.
“I let it get to my head. I let my anger get the best of me,” Phelps told Morgan County Judge G. Thomas Gray, before turning to apologize to his victim, 15-year-old Chance Jackson.
Phelps was convicted of attempted murder in an adult trial last month in the March 25 shooting just inside an entrance to Martinsville West Middle School south of Indianapolis.
Gray sentenced Phelps to 35 years in prison, suspending five years and ordering him to serve five years of probation after his release.
He told Phelps that the aggravating factors in his case including that he shot Jackson twice and made a weapon while in jail after his arrest outweighed the mitigating factors of his upbringing in a chaotic household.
“Mr. Phelps, you stole the innocence of this community. Chance Jackson did not deserve this. Morgan County did not deserve this,” he said.
The judge noted that Jackson’s wounds have changed his life and will cause him decades of physical problems.
“You have put him in his own prison for the rest of his life,” Gray said. “He will be in pain and suffering for the rest of his life.”
After Gray pronounced his sentence, Phelps became teary-eyed, lowered his head and pressed his face against his folded hands.
Steve Litz, Phelps’ attorney, said after the hearing that he plans to appeal both the sentence and another judge’s decision to try Phelps as an adult.
Jackson’s mother, Becky Jackson, testified that her son has undergone two emergency surgeries since Phelps shot him twice in the abdomen, damaging several organs, including his liver and a kidney. She said doctors had to remove his gall bladder and that her son faces another surgery in November to reconnect abdominal muscles.
Jackson said her son also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Reading for a letter she wrote to the court, she recalled her horror after hearing that her son had been shot.
“As I rushed to the hospital with my mother, I was not sure if I would see my son alive again,” she said.
In his closing statement, prosecutor Steve Sonnega said the shooting was not just a spur-of-the-moment decision by Phelps, who was 15 at the time. He said Phelps planned the attack, stole the 9-millimeter handgun he used in the shooting from a family friend, and posted on Facebook allusions to his plans.
“This is not a friction thing where a kid loses his cool. This is a planned, premeditated crime,” Sonnega said.
Martinsville West Middle School Principal Suzie Lipps testified that three weeks before the shooting, Phelps had been suspended and barred from school property after he blurted out in a class that he “was going to blow up the school.”
Earlier in the day, psychologist Jeff Vanderwater-Pearcy and Phelps’ four siblings testified about his troubled upbringing, including never knowing his biological father and coping with his mother’s drinking. Vanderwater-Pearcy said Phelps felt his mother was choosing alcohol over him and that he had a low self-worth and suffered from depression.
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