Family plans to fight for change in law, light sentence on teens unusual murder conviction
Posted: 09/02/2013 at 5:54 pm
By: Justin Leighty
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Levi Sparks ¬ 10/9/2012 ¬ (Photo Supplied)
Anthony Perez Sharp ¬ 10/12/2012 ¬ (Photo Supplied)
Jose Quiroz ¬ 10/5/2012 ¬ (Photo Supplied)
Angie Johnson (center) talks about her son Blake’s involvement in the home invasion that resulted in the death of Danzele Johnson last month. Blake’s great aunt (right) is wearing a sweatshirt that states: “Blake Layman at 16 made a bad choice, but it was not murder.” Layman and the others involved were charged with felony murder by the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s office. ¬ (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard) ¬ ¬ ¬
Blake Layman ¬ 10/4/2012 ¬ (Photo Supplied)
Layman’s family doesn’t know if they can do much good for Blake, 17, who was convicted last month of murder during the commission of a felony, but they hope at the very least they can get the Indiana law changed.
“Our fight’s not over. It’s just getting started,” said Tammy Dovel Adams, Blake’s great-aunt.
Angie Johnson, Blake’s mother, said, “This is not right, it’s not fair. It’s injustice.”
To be clear, Blake’s family thinks he, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sparks should be punished for a crime, but for one they committed, not one they didn’t commit.
“Now they’re convicted murderers and they never hurt anybody,” said Angie Johnson.
The case is an unusual mix of unusual circumstances in Indiana law. Layman, Sharp, Sparks, Danzele Johnson and Jose Quiroz all broke into a home in Elkhart on Oct. 3, 2012. The homeowner opened fire on the group, which is justified under Indiana’s “castle doctrine,” which treats defending your home as the same as self defense.
Danzele Johnson died in the shooting, according to testimony at the trial last month. The surviving boys were charged with murder during the commission of a felony, in this case, burglary.
The so-called felony murder statute is designed to hold accountable everyone who helps commit a felony if that felony results in somebody’s death. For instance, if a security guard or bystander is shot and killed during a bank robbery, then not only the shooter but the getaway driver could be charged with murder.
In this case, though, the boys were unarmed, according to Blake’s family. “It’s a very old law,” one that’s been abolished in other states, said Angie Johnson.
Kim Raymond, Blake’s step-grandmother, said, “I just hope the judge will consider these boys’ ages and give them rehabilitation and not so much time. I agree he committed a crime, but it wasn’t murder.”
The jury has spoken, and Layman, Sharp and Sparks face from 45 to 65 years in prison at their sentencing Sept. 12. Quiroz pleaded guilty and received a 45-year sentence.
While the bad decision to break into a home has led to drastic consequences for the boys, Angie Johnson said, “if this is what it took to change the law and keep it from happening to somebody else’s kids,” well, her son is strong. Debbie McQueen, Blake’s grandmother, said, “Throwing these boys away for 65 years is not going to solve anything.
“We’re going to continue to fight,” McQueen said.