GOSHEN — Things took a dramatic turn on the third day of a felony murder trial for three Elkhart teens when one of the witnesses became uncooperative during his testimony.
Wednesday, Aug. 21, was the third day of a joint trial for Blake Layman, 17; Levi Sparks, 18; and Anthony Sharp, 19.
The three teens are accused of being responsible for the death of Danzele Johnson, 21, who was shot during a deadly attempted burglary at 1919 Frances Ave.
Jose Quiroz, who pleaded guilty to felony murder in November for his involvement in the attempted burglary, was called to testify.
Quiroz, 17, was sentenced in December to 45 years in prison and 10 years on probation as an agreement for his plea.
During his plea hearing he told the court that Layman, Sparks and himself were sitting outside his house Oct. 3, 2012, identifying potential houses to break into.
Quiroz specifically said Sparks knocked on a few doors along Frances Avenue before deciding to break into 1919 Frances Ave. and that Sparks later acted as a lookout for the others.
Quiroz also said the three called Johnson and Sharp for assistance in getting into the house.
But he gave very different statements in court Wednesday. When chief prosecuting attorney Vicki Becker began examination, Quiroz took the Fifth Amendment on several questions.
Three minutes into testimony, and seeing that Quiroz would continue to be uncooperative, Judge Terry Shewmaker sent the jury out on recess.
The court had to hear testimony while the jury was gone to ensure nothing that would compromise the trial was mentioned in front of them.
When the jury came back, Becker requested Quiroz be treated as a hostile witness. When a witness is declared hostile, the prosecuting attorney is allowed to ask more specific questions leading to an answer.
Quiroz claimed he did not recall giving any statements during his plea hearing.
Becker introduced Quiroz’s plea bargain and the transcript from the plea hearing as evidence.
Quiroz then said he lied to police when he was initially interrogated and that he lied again to gain a plea bargain.
He added that he was under the influence of several narcotics the day he was arrested.
The defense attorneys encouraged Quiroz’s answers.
“You were the prosecutors’ star witness but you lied to them, didn’t you?” asked Vincent Campiti, Sparks’ attorney.
Quiroz gave a vague account of what happened the afternoon of Oct. 3. He told the court he was the one who knocked on several doors down the street before breaking into 1919 Frances Ave.
Quiroz also said he kicked in the door of the residence and that the only other memories he had of that day were seeing Johnson die in his arms inside 1919 Frances Ave. and being chased by two police officers.
He said Sparks and Sharp were not involved in the incident.
When asked by Campiti, Quiroz told the jury he was threatened by his attorney at the time, Peter Todd, as well as Becker, into pleading guilty to felony murder. He said Todd threatened him with a longer sentence if Quiroz did not cooperate.
After Quiroz testified, Becker called for Todd as a witness.
Todd was asked if he threatened Quiroz with a longer sentence if Quiroz didn’t cooperate. Todd told the jury he talked with Quiroz and gave him the range of penalties he could face. Quiroz had immediately told Todd he didn’t want to go to trial. In talking with Becker, Todd said they had reached a deal, and that he immediately notified Quiroz of the opportunity to get a plea bargain.
“I never threaten any of my clients,” Todd said. “I never even tell my clients what to do.”
Todd said he never let his client talk with a prosecuting attorney alone and that Becker and himself both met with Quiroz twice: Once when they talked about the potential plea bargain, and then again during Quiroz’s plea hearing.
When Campiti questioned Todd’s honesty the judge interfered. Campiti apologized to Todd before moving on with the testimony.
Quiroz and Todd’s testimony took up most of the day, but other witnesses were called to testify.
Among them were Carol Black, a school bus driver who was driving around the area of Frances Ave. the afternoon of Oct. 3, and April McKeown, a teacher affiliated with Concord High School who knew Sharp at the time of the attempted burglary.
Detective Rich Brewton, Capt. Kris Seymore and Detective John Mohan also testified Wednesday with more information about their investigation.
Testimony will continue Thursday at 9 a.m., and will include Lt. Peter Svetanoff, a paramedic from the Elkhart Fire Department, and Rodney Scott, the homeowner who shot Johnson.
Blake Layman, 17; Levi Sparks, 18; and Anthony Sharp, 19, are charged with felony murder and face a sentence of up to 65 years in prison if convicted.
On Oct. 3, 2012, a group of five people attempted to burglarize a residence at 1919 Frances Ave. The homeowner shot and killed 21-year-old Danzele Johnson, one of the members of the group.
The fifth person of the group, Jose Quiroz, pleaded guilty to felony murder and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
Layman is represented by Mark Doty, private counsel, of Elkhart; Sparks, by Vincent Campiti, private counsel, of South Bend; and Sharp, by Jeff Majerek, of the public defender’s office of Elkhart County.