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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Group prays for teens charged with felony murder

Friends and family of three teens facing trial for felony murder gathered Friday for a prayer rally.

Posted on Aug. 9, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — Three Elkhart teens will go to trial later this month facing felony murder charges after their accomplice was killed during an October 2012 home invasion.

Their family and friends have been lobbying Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill to drop the felony murder charges against the teens, arguing that although the teens may be guilty of burglary, they are not murderers.

More than 50 friends and relatives of the teens gathered Friday evening at Elkhart’s Civic Plaza to pray for them and all those involved in the upcoming trial.

Many of the attendees wore shirts with a photo of Blake Layman, now 17, and the message, “At 16 made a bad choice but it was not murder.”

Layman’s father, Rick Layman, who himself has served time in jail, opened the prayer rally.

“There is power in prayer,” he said. “My life is changed completely because of my faith.”

In addition to praying for the teens, attendees also prayed for wisdom and protection for the prosecutor, attorneys and judge in the trial.

Layman, 17-year-old Jose Quiroz, 17-year-old Levi Sparks and 19-year-old Anthony Sharp were arrested following an attempted home invasion on Oct. 3, 2012, at 1919 Frances Ave. During the invasion, 21-year-old Danzele Johnson, who was also part of the group that broke in, was shot and killed by the homeowner.

Under Indiana law, if someone dies during the commission of a felony, everyone committing the felony can be charged with murder, even if it’s a co-conspirator who dies.

Quiroz pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 45 years in prison and 10 years on reporting probation on Dec. 13, 2012.

Family and friends took turns speaking about the teens, all of whom they agreed were “good kids who made a bad choice” and are facing charges more serious than the crime they committed.

In spite of the stress of the upcoming trial, the teens have high spirits, said Katherine Huskey, Layman’s girlfriend.

Huskey said she visits Layman regularly and he is “keeping his head up the best he can.”

Layman, Sparks and Sharp will be tried together and will appear in Elkhart Circuit Court for a pretrial status conference on Thursday, Aug. 15. The trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 19.

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