It was a tearful day in court as the three teens convicted of murder in a fatal burglary last October were sentenced.
Blake Layman, 17, received a 55 year sentence with mandated drug treatment and 344 days credit for time served in prison and a $10,000 suspended fine.
Levi Sparks, 18, received a 50 year sentence with credit for time served and a $10,000 suspended fine. His sentence is slightly reduced because he was not inside the home at the time of the burglary.
Anthony Sharp Jr. 19, received a 55 year sentence with credit for time served, $10,000 suspended fine and recommended drug and alcohol treatment.
The prosecution stated they were exercising restraint with these charges and added that they could have asked for gang enhancements but chose not to.
Layman, Sparks and Sharp were found guilty on Aug. 22 for the death of 21-year-old Danzele Johnson. The teens were among a group of five that broke into a home in the 1900 block of Frances Ave. in Elkhart last Oct. During the course of the break-in the homeowner fired his handgun and killed Johnson. The homeowner was later cleared of any wrongdoing in that fatal shooting.
Under Indiana’s felony murder statute if a person dies during the commission of a felony—in this case burglary—those involved in perpetrating that crime are responsible for that death. The remaining four teens were charged with felony murder but only three went to trial in August. The fourth, 17-year-old Jose Quiroz, pleaded guilty for a reduced sentenced in November.
After the four day trial and less than five hours of deliberation the jury ultimately found the teens guilty of felony murder. The families have since expressed their desire to appeal the decision in hopes of either overturned verdicts or a new trial for a lesser charge.
Layman was the first teen called for sentencing. His attorney explained what he felt were “mitigating” circumstances: he worked at Wendy’s, went to alternative school after being expelled from Concord schools for fighting, he was quote an “asset” to his family who had a single bread-winner, his mom, and a younger sister battling cancer.
The defense and the judge in turn weighed those against the aggravating factors in this case. They cited Layman’s frequent use of marijuana and non-prescribed drugs like Xanex and Vicodin, as well as his suspension from high school in the ninth grade for fighting as evidence of bad behavior.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor, Vicki Becker, said there is a solution, “the solution is appreciating other people’s privacy…property…sanctity.” She acknowledged how the Layman family is suffering, but qualified that by saying it is because their child made “decisions to violate basic fundamental principles of right and wrong.”
“We’re here because Blake Layman made a conscious choice,” said the prosecution, “because he was selfish.”
At that point here was an outburst from the audience in the courtroom. This has been an emotional trial all along with dozens of friends and family sitting in the whole time. The judge issued a stern warning that any type of facial expression or outburst will not be tolerated and said he was quote “embarrassed.”
Blake Layman spoke for the first time. He offered an apology for the two victims of the burglary—not just Danzele Johnson, but the homeowner as well. He asked for forgiveness and said he accepts responsibility for his actions.
Considering all the factors, those presented by both sides, Layman’s statement and letters submitted to the court, Judge Shewmaker recognized the apology and one letter in particular that caught his attention.
“Blake needed us to be there for him,” the judge read from the letter, “however we didn’t see his outcry for help. As a family we should’ve been there for Blake to support and guide him and we have failed at this.” Given the circumstances, the facts of the case and case law the judge handed out the 55 year sentence.
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