GOSHEN — Testimony began Tuesday morning, Aug. 20, in a joint trial for three teenagers charged with felony murder.
But before the jury got to listen from the first witness presented so far, the prosecuting and defense attorneys gave their opening statements.
The defendants, Blake Layman, 17; Levi Sparks, 18; and Anthony Sharp, 19, face up to 65 years in prison if they are convicted.
Vicki Becker, chief deputy prosecutor, gave the jury a first glimpse of the story of what happened the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2012, at 1919 Frances Ave.
Becker told the jury Layman, Sparks and Jose Quiroz, 17, were at Quiroz’s house talking about potentially burglarizing a house. Becker said the teens knocked on a couple houses before choosing 1919 Frances Ave.
“One decision collectively made by a group of friends who were just ‘hanging out’ and that resulted in a person’s death,” she said.
She told the jury about Rodney Scott, the homeowner, who had been sleeping in the second floor of his house, and he had just woken up when he heard a loud “boom” downstairs.
Becker said Scott grabbed his phone and a gun he had possessed for many years but had not used, and walked down the stairs as loud as possible as a way to tell the intruders there was someone home.
When he reached the bottom of the stairs he saw people and started shooting. Scott hit Danzele Johnson, 21, in the sternum, Becker told the jury.
Johnson had broken into the house and he was inside with Layman and Quiroz. Layman was shot in the leg when Scott opened fire.
The three entered a closet in Scott’s house, but by then Johnson and Layman had already been shot. Johnson died inside the closet.
By then, Scott had already called police, and he told the intruders in his closet to come out. He recognized Quiroz as his neighbor, but Quiroz denied living in the neighborhood.
Quiroz then jumped out the window from Scott’s house and ran down the street. Two officers who had just arrived on scene chase Quiroz until the teen gave up.
Scott was taken into custody and treated as a suspect at the beginning of the investigation, while police attempted to piece together the facts of the incident.
Mark Doty, Jeffrey Majerek and Vincent Campiti, the defendants’ attorney, each took turns to address the jury in their opening statements.
The three defense attorneys pointed to the fact that their clients were intending to break into an unoccupied house, and that it is possible that if they knocked on Scott’s house, he couldn’t have heard because he had been sleeping.
They also told the jury about the decisions Scott took when defending himself. Doty, Layman’s attorney, said Scott made no attempt to yell or let the teens that he was home. Scott also did not call police until after he had fired the shots at the teens, Doty said.
Initially Scott told police that he fired three shots. But during the investigation police found out that he had actually fired at least seven shots.
Cpl. James Ballard of the Elkhart Police Department was the first witness to testify.
Ballard told the jury he was the second responding officer at the scene, and one of the two officers that ran after Quiroz while the teen attempted to escape.
The officer said that when he got to Quiroz he saw the teen soaked in blood. Ballard did not return to the scene at 1919 Frances Ave., but instead went back through the route Quiroz took in his attempt to escape to see if the teen had dropped any evidence.
The jury will hear from other witnesses Tuesday afternoon that include other responding officers. Becker told the jury they will also hear at some point in the trial from Quiroz and Scott.