The Indiana Supreme Court today held oral arguments on a controversial case out of Elkhart County.
The case involves three teenagers who took part in a burglary in October of 2012, but were convicted of felony murder.
“If the court decides to reverse the conviction here, what happens?” asked Justice Brent E. Dickson. The justices not only seemed willing to entertain all possibilities, but they also pushed the legal arguments at hand to their outer limits.
“Anytime anyone dies in and around the act, these acts, let’s say somebody falls down, one of the co-defendants falls down the stairs of the house and dies,” asked Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush, “Would that be felony murder?”
Another justice quickly changed the scenario to ask what would happen if someone were killed by a falling piano during the commission of a crime.
“Technically yes, if a piano fell on a homeowner while there was a felony going on, why wouldn’t a felon be convicted of felony murder,” said Cara Schaefer Wieneke, attorney for Blake Layman.
In October of 2012, Layman and four accomplices committed a burglary at an Elkhart home. One of the accomplices died when he was shot by the homeowner. When the dust settled the four surviving boys faced felony murder counts.
Those who believe the charging decision was a legal stretch have told their story to local media, to a documentary filmmaking crew from the U.K. and to the likes of TV talk show host Dr. Phil. But today brought the chance they’d hoped for all along: a chance to speak face to face with the five justices who have the power to do something about it.
“I’m just happy we're here, happy, very, finally here and hopefully we can get something different, a change,” said Angie Johnson, mother of Blake Layman. “The boys don't deserve murder charges they're not murderers.”
It was argued today that the boys went out of their way to try and find a home they thought was unoccupied. When it turned out the homeowner was asleep and woke up during the burglary, the boys ran away instead of confronting the homeowner or responding with violence.
Attorneys could find just two previous cases involving felony murder counts for the death of a co-conspirator during the commission of a crime.
In both those cases, the criminals were armed and initiated confrontation with the victim.
“You know kids, teenagers, they don't think through what they do all the time they don't think about themselves being able to be hurt or killed,” said Wieneke.
Blake Layman, Levi Sparks, and Anthony Sharp were all sentenced to 45 years behind bars. If their convictions are overturned they would likely go back to Elkhart County to face burglary charges in juvenile court.