On October 3, 2012 the lives of six individuals were forever changed. That’s when Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp Jr. Jose Quiroz and Danzele Johnson broke into a home on Frances Ave. in Elkhart.
According to prosecutors, a fifth young man, Levi Sparks, was across the street and allegedly attempted to distract the homeowner when the burglary was interrupted.
The homeowner was asleep when he heard several loud “booms” shake his house. He grabbed his cell phone and handgun, ran down the stairs, and encountered several individuals inside his home. He fired. He fired again. He fired several more times, striking Layman and killing Johnson.
A jury trial in August resulted in three guilty verdicts for Layman, Sharp and Sparks. Quiroz pleaded guilty in November 2012 and offered a controversial and hostile testimony during the trial.
September 13, Sharp and Layman received 55 year sentences. Sparks was handed a slightly reduced sentence of 50 years since he was not inside the Frances Ave. home at the time of the shooting.
Now, one year after the day of the crime the defendants are moving forward with the appeal process.
“I have strong faith,” said Layman’s mother Angie Johnson, “I really believe God has bigger plan in this, if it’s to get these boys home to help others. I have confidence in the appeal. This is a case—I don’t know if felony murder should’ve been used.”
But Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill said on the day of the sentencing that the decision to convict the three young men was the jury’s.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, that’s what this American system is all about. Anyone who’s concerned from a family stand point this is a tough day,” Hill added.
The Indiana felony murder statute says if someone dies during the commission of a felony—in this case burglary—then those committing the crime are responsible for the death. Hill said the law has been in place as long as he can remember and based on the facts of the case, he felt the prosecution rightfully applied the charges.
Defense attorney for Levi Sparks, Vincent Campiti called the outcome of the trial “absurd.” Campiti said he was “50/50” going into the trial. Based on the way the law is written, Campiti said it wasn’t totally surprising the jury applied felony murder.
Layman’s mother describes the past year as tiring. It has been one year since she has touched her son, and posted pictures online to make sure her son and his friends don’t’ get “lost in the system.”
Going forward the three teens are appealing. Sparks will retain Campiti as his attorney, Sharp will use a public defender and Layman will use a new attorney from Indianapolis.
There are several possible outcomes for the appeal. The appellate court could affirm the decision, which in that case the families could attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court level. The court could overturn the decision, which in that situation the case would be remanded to a retrial.