ELKHART — Three Elkhart teens convicted of felony murder spoke out for the first time on “Dr. Phil” on Friday afternoon, Jan. 17.
Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp appeared on the show via satellite from jail, wearing bright orange prison uniforms.
Three of the mothers of the “Elkhart Four” teens also joined Dr. Phil McGraw in the studio.
All three teens said they feel they should have been charged with burglary, not murder, in the events of Oct. 3, 2012.
A jury found all three teens guilty of felony murder in the death of their accomplice Danzele Johnson on Aug. 22, 2013. Johnson was shot and killed by the owner of a home the group attempted to burglarize.
They were sentenced Sept. 12. Layman and Sharp were sentenced to 55 years in jail. Sparks received a 50-year sentence.
The fourth teen, Jose Quiroz, accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 45 years in jail.
“I feel like we committed a burglary,” Layman said. “We didn't kill anyone.”
“We didn't pull the trigger or kill nobody,” Sharp said.
The mothers of Layman, Sparks and Quiroz at times struggled to hold back tears, agreed and said their sons' ages should have been taken into account when they were charged.
One of the jurors in the trial, identified only as Walter on the show, said the decision to convict the teens was difficult.
“When we came up with the verdict, we all held hands and said a prayer for the boys and their families,” Walter said.
He also apologized to the mothers.
“I'm sorry it ended up the way it did,” he said. “We did the best we could with what we had.”
Walter said the jury was instructed to consider four things in reaching their verdict: Was a felony committed? Were all the boys involved? Was someone killed? Did the boys know there was imminent danger when they decided to commit the burglary?
“The imminent danger was a real sticking point for us,” he said. “It took a while for us to get past that.”
CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said the case was a classic example of felony murder and that the law did apply to the teens' case.
“I don't think we would all be here talking about this if the homeowner died,” Hostin said. “It is no different because one of the burglars dies. His blood is on their hands.”
At the end of the show, McGraw polled his studio audience to see how they felt about the teens' conviction and sentence.
The overwhelming majority of the audience raised their hands when he asked how many felt there had been a “miscarriage of justice.”
For his part, McGraw said he thinks the law was applied correctly in the case of the “Elkhart Four,” but it was “a sentencing that has gone crazy.”
The teens should have been given a lesser sentence, he said, because at their age their brains are not fully developed and they are not as good at anticipating consequences as adults.
“I believe that the jury system works,” he said. “I am big on accountability.”