ELKHART — Four Elkhart teens have been held at the Elkhart County Corrections Center for six months, facing charges of felony murder.
Family and friends gathered at Civic Plaza in downtown Elkhart Wednesday afternoon, April 3, to protest the charges and ask Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill to charge the teens with lesser crimes.
“The goal is to have them charged with what they did,” said Angela Johnson of Elkhart. “We know they did something wrong.”
Johnson is the mother of Blake Layman, 16, who was one of a group of five young men involved in an attempted home invasion last year.
Layman, along with Jose Quiroz, 17, Levi Sparks, 17, and Anthony Sharp, 18, 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 a 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 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.
According to probable cause affidavits filed in open court on Oct. 23, 2012, Quiroz testified that he and Layman armed themselves with knives from the home’s kitchen and Sharp was armed with a gun.
Angela Johnson said her son was a good kid with no juvenile record and should be charged with a lesser crime.
“(Danzele Johnson) was their friend,” she said. “It was sad, just terrible.”
Layman’s girlfriend, Katherine Huskey, 17, stood along Main Street holding a neon sign that said, “My boyfriend is not a murderer.”
“It was crazy,” she said of the aftermath of the burglary. “I never got to talk to him. They said he was shot. I thought he was dead.”
Layman had been shot in the leg.
Now she never misses a visit with Layman, visiting him at the corrections center every day except Mondays.
“He’s doing good, just scared,” she said.
“We want them to drop the charges,” Huskey said. “I know they need to be in trouble, but murder is not it.”
Rececca Cook said her brother, Levi Sparks, should be facing charges less serious than the other three teens.
“My brother was only a lookout,” she said. “He didn’t kill nobody.”
“Curtis Hill is wrong,” she added.
Angela Johnson has started an online petition calling for reduced charges for the teens. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had 1,717 signatures.
Editor's note: The initial version of this story misspelled the name of Frances Street. This version is correct.