Four teens charged with felony murder in botched home invasion

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Holding criminals accountable, that's the mantra being issued by the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office following an Elkhart home invasion gone sour.

The break-in happened Wednesday Oct. 3 in broad daylight in the 1900 block of Frances Ave., on the city’s south side. But as quickly as it began, it ended when the homeowner, Rodney Scott, 54, began firing his handgun.

One of the alleged thieves, Danzele Johnson, 21, of Goshen was shot and never made it out of Scott’s house alive.

On Tuesday, Prosecutor Curtis Hill Jr. filed Felony Murder charges not against Scott, but instead Johnson's four accomplices: Jose Quiroz, 16, Blake Layman, 16, Levi Sparks, 17, and Anthony Sharp, 18, all of Elkhart County.

“If you break into someone's home and you end up getting shot or injured, you can face some serious consequences. Whether you are breaking into homes when the homeowners are there or not, it has got to stop and we're going to use every available measure under the law to stop it,” Hill said during a media conference.

According to the investigation by the Elkhart Police Department’s Homicide Unit, Scott was asleep in an upstairs bedroom when he heard two loud “crashing” sounds and sprung out of bed.

Scott grabbed for his cell phone and dialed 911 in one hand; in the other he held a handgun. The 54-year-old then walked down a flight of stairs to the main level where he stumbled upon four of the five teens scurrying around his home.

"Upon making a determination there were folks armed with knives from the kitchen, roaming around his house with an unknown intention, he took action in what I determined to be reasonable force under the circumstances,” Hill added.

Outnumbered and fearing for his safety, Scott shot at the pack of intruders, killing Johnson and injuring Layman with a gunshot wound to the leg. Police say Sharp ran out a door and Quiroz jumped out a closed window as Sparks stood outside acting as a lookout.

Responding patrolmen caught and arrested Layman and Quiroz moments after the shooting. They later found and arrested Sparks on Oct. 8, but have yet to locate Sharp.

Although Hill would not release an exact motive for the break-in, one of the suspects lives on the same block as Scott. It’s believed the group thought no one was home at the time of the attempted robbery.

"One could suggest, ‘well it wasn't your intention to kill,’ but if you're committing a criminal act and someone dies as a result, there needs to be a consequence for that,” Hill remarked.

After all, Indiana state law grants prosecutors the ability to utilize Felony Murder against co-conspirators, in cases where the killer was merely protecting him or herself from physical harm during an unprovoked act of vengeance.

"We have a death here and someone is going to be accountable for that death and under the circumstances of the people who put this in motion, in this particular instance it would not be the homeowner,” Hill concluded.

Unlike lesser charges, Felony Murder automatically waives all underage defendants into adult court. Arraignment hearings are pending.