Elkhart teens charged with felony murder will go to joint trial

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Three teenagers facing felony murder charges after a home invasion took a deadly turn on Oct. 2012 will go to trial Monday, Aug. 19.

Levi Sparks, 18, Blake Layman, 17 and Anthony Sharp Jr., 19, appeared in Elkhart County Circuit Court Thursday for a pre-trial status hearing. Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker denied the teens’ lawyers motions for individual trials, saying the three will have a joint trial.

On Oct. 3, 2012, 17-year-old Jose Quiroz, 21-year-old Danzele Johnson and the three teens allegedly attempted to break into a home in the 1900 block of Frances St. in Elkhart. The middle-aged homeowner was inside and the time of the home invasion and fired off shots, one of which killed Johnson.

Shortly thereafter, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill held a press conference to address the incident, saying: “people breaking into homes, whether they’re there or not there, it's got to stop. And from our measure we're going to use every part of the law to stop it.”

In the ten months since the burglary, families and friends of the teens have petitioned for reduced charges, lower sentencing and finally individual trials. However, the Prosecutor’s office has stayed adamant that the law will be fully enforced.

If a person—or in this case, group of people—commit a felony in Indiana, and someone dies during the course of their action, they may be charged with felony murder. So when 21-year-old Johnson was found dead, the remaining teens can be held responsible.

Quiroz pleaded guilty to felony murder in Nov., agreeing to a 55 year sentence in the Indiana Dept. of Corrections, 10 of which are to be served under probation. Sparks, Layman and Sharp could face similar punishments if they are found guilty at the end of their trial.

The joint trial will take place Monday at 8:30 a.m. in Circuit Court.