Day two of the felony murder trial for three Elkhart teen began Tuesday morning after a prolonged jury selection that ran until midnight the night before. Tuesday’s trial day featured opening statements by both the prosecution and each of the three defending attorneys, as well as witness testimony from a handful of individuals—both law enforcement and civilian.
Prosecution’s Opening and Witness Testimony
“On October 3rd 2012, there were so many lives that were impacted, impacted in a way that I’m sure was not thought about, was not cared about when they all got up that morning. But on October 3rd a decision was made…to break the law. And as a consequence of that, we are here.”
That’s how Chief Deputy Prosecutor, Vicki Becker kicked off the trial in her opening statement. She went on to detail how the day progressed, painting a vivid picture for everyone in the courthouse of what the defendants were doing before they broke into the home.
“Five individuals” the prosecutor explained, “came together and they were just hanging on the porch of Jose Quiroz.” Quiroz lives directly across the street from 1919 Frances, the home hit by the break-in. The prosecutor stated the teens discussed ‘robbing’ the guy across the street and planned how it was going to happen.
“Robbery” later became a term of contention referenced by Blake Layman’s attorney, Mark Doty. According to Doty, “robbery” incorrectly implies that the teens intentionally applied force to take possessions from Rodney Scott, the homeowner at 1919 Frances, as opposed to burglarizing a supposedly empty home.
Prosecution continued establishing the scene by explaining how one of the five perpetrators, Levi Sparks, stayed behind with a cell phone to look out in case something might happen. Then, the prosecutor said the remaining teens knocked on the door of Scott’s home before going around back to an area that was “a little more secluded” for the break-in.
“It was at that point,” said the prosecutor, “that Danzele Johnson used significant effort—he was a big guy” and kicked in the back door and an interior door of Scott’s home. Leading the way Johnson and the three others went inside and proceeded to rummage through Scott’s possessions. Referencing Jose Quiroz’s testimony before and during his plea agreement, the prosecutor told the courtroom the defendants actively searched and tore through the rooms and drawers “because Mr. Scott was old school” and kept his money inside his house.
As the four intruders were downstairs, Scott awakened from a nap, “felt a ‘boom’ and it startled him.’” When Scott heard a second loud noise, the prosecutor stated he grabbed not just his cell phone but a hand gun as well.
“It wasn’t his first thought, but it was enough to provoke him to get his handgun,” explained the prosecutor. She said it isn’t one of Scott’s “fond” possessions but rather a “what if” possession.
The details of what happened next, we may never fully know explained the prosecutor. Scott said he loudly made his way down the stairs, armed with a pistol, and saw two individuals standing in the doorway to his spare bedroom, one in his kitchen and another in front of him. She said that at that point in time all Scott remembers is firing his gun.
“We will not know how Danzele Johnson was struck with a bullet right above his sternum,” Becker added.
The prosecution went on to state how Johnson was one of the two individuals standing in the doorway, and once shots were fired the two made their way into a closet with Jose Quiroz.
“While they were in that closet they were hiding as Rodney Scott was holding them at gunpoint as he called police…no other shots were fired,” Becker claimed. It was then, prosecution argued, that Sparks came over to aid his friends. Becker stated Quiroz dialed the cell phone that was left behind with Sparks while he was inside the closet, and asked Sparks to create a distraction.
Sparks saw Scott inside the home with a gun and took off, stated the prosecutor. After calling police, she noted how Scott recognized Quiroz as his neighbor from across the street. Quiroz denied the familiarity and, in a “desperate attempt” to get out of there, the prosecutor explained that he knocked over an entertainment center and dove through a window into the alleyway.
Witness statements from later on in the trial covered the chase and arrest of Quiroz in greater detail, and the prosecution refocused its attention on wrapping up its account of the day’s events.
“When you break into somebody’s home, you violate their sanctity and security,” the prosecutor added before turning over to the defense.
Defense Opening Statement
Mark Doty, representing Blake Layman was the first of the three defense attorneys to make opening remarks.
He began, like the prosecution, by laying out a timeline of events for the day.
“There was discussion that involved breaking into the house across the street,” the attorney emphasized, “a burglary, not a robbery.” The defense noted the distinction between burglary and robbery, stating how robbery implies forcibly taking someone’s property, wheras burglary involves breaking in.
Turning to the break-in itself, the defense focused on how the homeowner did not call the police right away. Instead, they claim, he took his 9 mm handgun, walked down the stairs and encountered four intruders inside and began firing.
When Layman and Johnson ran into the bedroom, the defense stated that the homeowner couldn’t recall how or when he shot Johnson, and claimed he fired into the closet while the boys were inside of it—a statement the prosecution contradicted in its opening.
The account of both Johnson and Layman having been shot overlaps, but the defense once again reiterated that the defendants couldn’t have “reasonably foreseen” something like that happening.
Next to open was Jeff Majerek, representing Anthony Sharp Jr. Rather than hash up the account of the day he offered a brief statement that focused on the differentiation between burglary and robbery.
The final opening was left to Levi Spark’s attorney. He spent his time pointing out Spark’s unique role, or lack thereof, in the burglary and shooting. He explained that Sparks was the only one who stayed behind, claimed he never made a phone call to warn the boys and called into question earlier testimony of Quiroz which implicated Sparks in the crime.
However, Spark’s defendant acknowledged that Sparks was involved in some capacity.
“When a call came from Mr. Quiroz, he did answer it,” said the defender, “if that phone call never came would he still be on trial? At that point two people had already been shot.”
The defense rested as the witnesses were called to offer key testimony to help jurors piece together the crime.
Witnesses ranged from officers responding to the scene and investigators examining bullet fragments and holes, to neighbors and the mother of Jose Quiroz.
According to prosecutors, Sgt. Wargo of the Elkhart City Police Dept. arrived at 1919 Frances unsure of what exactly the threat was Oct. 3. All he knew was that there had been a shooting, the shooter was Rodney Scott and he was still armed with a weapon and treated as a suspect.
Wargo was the second witness called. He described the moment where Rodney Scott was called out of the home—still on the phone with dispatchers.
“We have to assume he’s not the homeowner” for the safety of those around, “this is still a dynamic scene,” by dynamic Wargo means a lot of moving parts: children getting off a school bus, officers surrounding, and a homeowner exiting the residence. Wargo ordered Scott to back down the steps with his arms out toward several officers at the corner of the house.
Wargo then entered the home, uncertain of the situation that awaited him inside.
“I heard somebody screaming that ‘I’m shot, I’m shot.’” Sgt. Wargo was able to determine that that screaming voice was coming from the bedroom; he added that he could hear the voice say “I’m sorry.” That man was later identified as Blake Layman.
Layman was asked to lay on the bed, was handcuffed and taken into custody Wargo then detailed how there was a second individual in the room—a deceased Danzele Johnson. Detectives came in and searched the remainder of the house.
Outside a broken window, detectives found a cell phone which was gathered up and taken into evidence. As of this point in the trial no further explanation was given regarding that cell phone and its role, if any, in the break in.
The prosecution’s first witness, Corporal James Ballard provided testimonial insight starting from the dispatchers call about a shooting and ending with the pursuit and capture of Jose Quiroz.
“I was on routine patrol…near Richmond St. when I heard tones go out that there was a shooting on Frances Street,” said Ballard. He himself was not dispatched to that location, but responded because he was in close proximity of the home. Ballard explained he wanted to go because the dispatcher announced something unusual, namely two people had been shot inside the home. That dispatch call came in at 2:33 p.m.
Much of the following witness testimony focused on placing responders on the timeline, highlighting a quick turn of events between the shooting, the call to police and emergency response.
Neighbors and crime scene investigators provided additional insight into locations and their relation to the teens both before and after the crime.
Stay with Newscenter 16 as we continue to update you on this ongoing trial.