Tuesday, September 16, 2014



Elkhart police officers talk about investigation at murder trial
Posted on Aug. 20, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

GOSHEN — The second day of jury trial for three teenagers charged with felony murder continued Tuesday with opening statements and testimony.

During the second day of joint trial of Blake Layman, 17; Levi Sparks, 18; and Anthony Sharp, 19, the jury heard from eight witnesses. Among them were four officers from the Elkhart Police Department and four people who live near the home that was the target of a home invasion Oct. 3, 2012.

The teens face up to 65 years in prison if convicted.

Early on Tuesday, the jury heard opening statements from the attorneys, who began to lay out the facts of what happened Oct. 3, 2012, at 1919 Frances Ave.

Vicki Becker, chief deputy prosecutor, said the teens talked about targeting different houses before breaking into Rodney Scott’s residence.

She also told the jury that Scott was on the second floor of his home when he heard noises downstairs. He took his gun and when he got to the bottom of the stairs he saw someone and fired shots, hitting Layman and Danzele Johnson, 21.

Layman, Johnson and Jose Quiroz, 17, ran into a closet in one of the bedrooms of the house. Johnson died in the closet.

Cpl. James Ballard of the Elkhart Police Department told the jury he was the second responding officer at the scene, and one of the two officers who ran after Quiroz when the teen attempted to escape.

The officer said that when he got to Quiroz, the teen was 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.

Detective John Mohan and Bill Wargo, who was a patrol supervisor at the time, also testified.

Sgt. Denise Houser, who works as a criminal investigation detective technician at the police department, gave a walkthrough of Scott’s residence, telling the jury about the evidence she collected at the scene.

She said technicians found five bullets in the house. Houser told the jury police found a cell phone outside near the residence.

She also said Scott called the police department Oct. 15. The homeowner had found a wallet inside the closet in which Johnson, Layman and Quiroz hid — an item the evidence technicians failed to see on the night of the incident, Houser said.

One of the neighbors, Peter Campiti, told the jury he found a knife the night of Oct. 3 when he took his trash out. He took the knife to police officers who were out on the scene at 1919 Frances Ave.

At first, Campiti said, police told him he could keep it, but after talking with a detective, the officer took the knife from Campiti for examination.

It was later determined the knife matched a set in Scott’s kitchen.

Rebecca McKnight, Quiroz’s mother, also testified.

McKnight told the jury Sparks had stayed at her house a few times and confirmed that on Oct. 3 her son, Sparks and Layman were outside her house talking.

That afternoon, McKnight had gone out to have lunch with a friend when she got a call. She heard there were police officers out in front of her house.

“I assumed something was wrong,” she said.

Eventually McKnight went to the police department, and heard some of the information her son was giving police. She said she could not remember what her son said or what she talked about with Sparks when she saw him in the police station later that night.

“Do you not remember or do you not want to say?” asked Becker.

McKnight responded that she simply could not remember, but that she knew she did not talk about any facts with Sparks the day of the incident.

The trial continues Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. with testimony. The jury will hear from Scott and Quiroz among other witnesses.

BACKGROUND

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.