Goshen, Ind. It is the third day of trial for three Elkhart teens facing felony murder charges. Blake Layman, 17, Levi Sparks, 18 and Anthony Sharp Jr., 19, appeared in Elkhart County Circuit Court once again for what’s become a highly-followed criminal case.
The first witness called to testify on Wednesday was the bus driver who, on the day of the shooting, was dropping off students in the neighborhood surrounding Frances Ave. She described seeing a white, young male with short hair crossing the street and checking behind him before he took off running. The driver said the teen caught her attention because she had just seen a police car driving nearby moments before—the time being approximately 2:33 p.m. Minutes later she said a person came running around the back of her bus from an alley way, followed by two police officers.
“Darker complexion, dark hair, short but looked curly,” the driver described. The defense took terms questioning her memory of the two individuals she saw, their physical appearance and ages.
The next witness is the only other individual admittedly involved in the break-in: Jose Quiroz, now 17-years-old, pleaded guilty to Felony Murder last fall and received a lessened sentence of 45 years in prison with 10 years’ probation. For the past seven month he’s been residing in Wabash Prison in Indiana.
When he took the witness stand, the prosecutor asked him if there was anyone living with him at his home on Frances Ave. last October. Quiroz replied “I plead the fifth.” When asked again if he recalled telling the truth when talking to the police about his involvement in the burglary he responded “I plead the fifth.”
After Quiroz repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment, the judge recessed the courtroom for an extended period of time. During that break an effort was made to call the public defenders that initially represented Quiroz. But after determining that his original attorney may be called for a witness, a new public defender was appointed for a “out of the jury’s presence hearing.”
Quiroz took the stand again was treated as a hostile witness by the chief deputy prosecutor. The judge ordered Quiroz to answer the prosecution’s questions starting with verifying whether or not he advised that Sparks, Layman, Sharp and Johnson all planned to break into the house across the street.
“Yes ma’am that’s what we’re here for,” Qurioz testified.
When asked if it was true he testified earlier that Levi Sparks knocked on two other doors, he responded “I don’t recall that.” It was the same response he gave to the prosecution’s subsequent line of questioning.
Quiroz claimed he had been in prison for the last seven months and he cannot remember much of his previous testimony or of the day of the break-in.
“The only thing I recall is Dan—Danzele Johnson—dying in my arms,” testified Quiroz. He added that he also recalled the prosecution forcing him to sign his November 15 plea agreement.
The prosecution brought up a conversation it had with Quiroz Tuesday night, to which Quiroz said he couldn’t recall the details of. At that point the prosecution introduced previous testimony made by Quiroz since raising several objections and prompting another call for recess until the afternoon.
Once the examination of Qurioz resumed—still in the absence of a jury—each defense attorney took turns posing their own questions. Layman’s attorney asked whether he lied when he entered his guilty plea and thus referring to said transcript would not be of any benefit; to which he responded “yes sir.”
Sparks’ attorney asked about a letter Quiroz wrote to the judge after the guilty plea. Quiroz gave short answers that he did not trust his attorneys or the prosecution.
But the prosecution fired back: telling the judge “He would have to know what the truth is to know that it was a lie,” and pressing for admission of Quiroz’s original account of the events.
The jury was brought back into the courtroom and Qurioz testified once again. He claimed to remember only three things that day: getting high, Danzele Johnson dying in his arms and getting chased by the police.
Quiroz threw prosecutors a curve ball when he claimed to have been under the influence of cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and other drugs on October 3. He attributed his inability to remember events and statements to being high. The chief deputy prosecutor explained that prior to today he had only told officers and lawyers he had smoked marijuana that day. Quiroz replied he didn’t think he had to, and that he thought it was the attorney’s job to determine if he had taken drugs.
His subsequent statements regarding medical treatment after his arrest greatly differed from the account given by the prosecutor.
In the jury’s presence he claimed he lied during his discussions with officers and plea hearing last fall because he was threatened with enhanced sentences by the prosecution and his own court-appointed public defender.
According to Quiroz, attorneys said he would go to prison for 108 years if he didn’t accept their plea.
Quiroz’s first defender was called to testify as a witness later in the day regarding the alleged threats and coercion to accept a plea agreement. Once again witness questioning centered on bolstering and diminishing Quiroz’s credibility.
The trial will resume, Thursday Aug. 22 at 9:00 a.m.