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Testimony begins in Elkhart felony murder case

Testimony begins Tuesday in joint trial for three teens facing felony murder charges.
Posted on Aug. 20, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Aug. 20, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

GOSHEN — Testimony will begin this morning in a joint trial for three teenagers charged with felony murder.

The trial started Monday, Aug. 19, and will likely continue throughout this week.

Blake Layman, 17; Levi Sparks, 18; and Anthony Sharp, 19, face up to 65 years in prison if convicted.

Layman, Sparks, Sharp and Jose Quiroz, 17, were in a group of five people who allegedly attempted to break into a residence at 1919 Frances Ave. Oct. 3, 2012. The homeowner, Rodney Scott, was home at the time, and fired shots toward the intruders, killing 21-year-old Danzele Johnson.

Under Indiana law, a person committing a felony can be charged with felony murder if another person dies during the commission of the crime.

Quiroz pleaded guilty to felony murder November 2012 and was sentenced a month later to 45 years in prison.

The last alternate juror was selected 11:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19. Attorneys spent about 12 hours questioning jury candidates, starting shortly after 8:30 a.m. By 4 p.m. only three out of the 12 jurors had been selected. Testimony is set to begin at 10 a.m.

Jeff Majerek, Layman’s attorney, told the court he could not remember when was the last time he saw jury selection continue into the night.

Several candidates were dismissed when they raised concerns about their view of the felony murder law.

In the selection process, candidates were asked if they had any problem with concepts like the felony murder law, the right to use deadly force to defend one’s home and accessory liability.

Around 9:15 p.m., Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker requested the jury selection be continued on Tuesday. The defendants’ counsel joined in Becker’s request.

Attorneys argued the candidates were fatigued and that they needed rest to meet their full mental capacities.

Judge Terry Shewmaker, however, did not agree with the arguments.

“You all make assumptions that do not bore to fact,” he said. “You say (the candidates) are tired, you say they’re not focused. Each of you asked them if they could still pay attention to what you were saying and they said yes.”

Nonetheless, the bailiff asked the candidates if they wanted to proceed, and the majority voted to finish the jury selection process Monday night.

When the selection process was completed, Shewmaker gave the jurors final instructions for the day before asking them to be back at the courthouse by 9:45 a.m.




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