Elkhart teenagers charged with felony murder will go to trial

Three teenagers charged with felony murder for an attempted home invasion October 2012 will go to trial.
Posted on Aug. 15, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 15, 2013 at 5:51 p.m.

GOSHEN — Three teenagers charged with felony murder as a result of a deadly attempted home invasion October 2012 will go to trial Monday, Aug. 19.

Blake Layman, 17; Levi Sparks, 18; and Anthony Sharp Jr., 19, appeared for their trial status hearing Thursday, Aug. 15 at Elkhart’s Circuit Court.

The teens will participate in a joint trial, meaning all three defendants will appear together for the duration of the trial. The trial will be held Monday at 8:30 a.m. in Circuit Court.

On Wednesday, Layman’s attorney, Mark Doty, filed a motion requesting a separate trial for his client.

Doty argued that Layman would not have a fair trial if Sharp and Sparks had defenses that may be antagonistic to one another. Doty also voiced his concern about the fact that all three defendants had to share 10 peremptory challenges when selecting the jury. According to Indiana’s jury rule number 18, the defendant and the prosecution can each dismiss up to 10 jurors without stating a reason. In a joint trial, the defendants must join their challenges.

During the Thursday hearing, Sparks’ and Sharp’s attorneys, Vincent Campiti and Jeffrey Majerek, joined in the motion with Doty asking for a separate trial for their clients.

Chief deputy prosecutor Vicki Becker challenged Doty’s arguments, saying the law has already made it possible for a court to accommodate a joint trial for the sake of judicial economy. She said the same facts will be presented against the defendants, whether the court decided to hold a joint trial or three separate trials.

Becker also pointed out that this is not the first joint trial the court has dealt with.

“We have been able to successfully navigate through statements where we had the exact same problems that we had here.”

Judge Terry Shewmaker denied the defendants’ request for a separate trial. He said, after hearing from Doty, Campiti and Majerek, that the defense arguments the attorneys are using are consistent with one another, and therefore not antagonistic.

“Everything every lawyer has to say is the same,” he said. “You are denying that an offense was committed, and if an offense was committed, the charge of felony murder is not appropriate.”

The parties talked about accommodations in the court room for the joint trial.

Layman, Sparks, Sharp and Jose Quiroz, 17, were a in a group of five people who allegedly attempted to break into 1919 Frances Ave. Oct. 3, 2012.

The homeowner, Rodney Scott, was sleeping in the second floor of his residence when he heard sounds in the first floor and ran downstairs and fired shots.

Danzele Johnson, 21, who was part of the group attempting to break into the residence, was shot and died at the scene.

Under Indiana law, a person committing a felony can be charged with felony murder if another person dies during the commission of the crime.

Quiroz pleaded guilty to felony murder in November, agreeing to a sentence of 45 years in prison and 10 years on probation. He was sentenced in December.

During his plea hearing, Quiroz told the court Layman, Sparks and himself identified and targeted some houses in the neighborhood to burglarize.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill previously determined that the homeowner acted reasonably and in self-defense.

Standing outside the courtroom Thursday, Angie Johnson, Layman’s mother, said she was disappointed to hear that her son will be in a joint trial, but the family would continue to pray for her son and the two other teens that will be joining him in trial.

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