Three of the 'Elkhart 4' awaiting court's decision on appeals of convictions, sentences

Attorneys for Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp argue that the teens’ youth and the nature of the incident should have altered how their cases were handled. The fourth person in the “Elkhart 4” is prohibited from appealing.

Posted on June 12, 2014 at 2:11 p.m.

Three of the four Elkhart teens convicted of felony murder last year in the death of a co-conspirator during a burglary have appealed their convictions and sentences and are now awaiting a decision from the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp and Levi Sparks have all filed appeals with the Indiana Court of Appeals, asking that their convictions be thrown out or their sentences reduced. Jose Quiroz, who pleaded guilty to felony murder in November 2012 and was sentenced to 45 years in prison in December 2012, cannot appeal his conviction or sentence under the terms of the plea agreement.

Layman and Sparks began the appeals process in October 2013. The court condensed their appeals into one case. Sharp’s appeal remains separate

According to a brief filed on behalf of Layman by his attorneys, Cara Schaefer Wieneke and Joel C. Wieneke, the felony murder conviction should be thrown out for one of the following reasons:

  • Layman’s 14th Amendment right to due process was violated because he was charged in adult court instead of juvenile court without a waiver hearing.
  • The felony murder statute does not apply to this case because it only applies when one of the conspirators in the felony is the killer. In this case, it was the victim of the burglary who killed one of the conspirators.

If the court does not void the felony murder convictions, the attorneys argue that the sentences should be reduced for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The state’s mandatory minimum sentence of 45 years is cruel and unusual punishment for someone of the defendants’ age.
  • The state’s sentencing range of 45 to 65 years is not proportional to the crime the defendants committed.
  • The sentences imposed on the defendants were inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the defendants.

The state’s rebuttal of the defendants arguments, filed in a brief by the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, argues that both the convictions and sentences handed down in the case by Elkhart Circuit Court are legal and valid.

In addition to briefs from the attorneys, several other parties have filed amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” briefs on behalf of the defendants in the Layman/Sparks appeal.

This kind of brief is a statement presented to the court by a person or organization not directly connected to the case, but wish to express a legal opinion on the case to the court.

The Juvenile Law Center and Indiana Public Defender Council have filed amicus curiae briefs for the Layman/Sparks appeal.

Now that all of the the briefs in the case have been filed, the Court of Appeals could issue a ruling based on the briefs or schedule oral arguments, in which the attorneys for both sides would argue their case in front of a panel of three appellate judges, according to Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s office.

No oral arguments have been scheduled yet, Corbin said in an email.

No amicus curaie briefs were filed in the Sharp case, which has also been fully briefed, according to court records.

Layman’s mother, Angie Johnson, said they are eagerly awaiting a decision from the court, but “everything seems to take so long in the court process.”

Layman, Sparks and Quiroz are incarcerated at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle. Sharp is incarcerated at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Johnson said Layman, who recently turned 18, has earned his GED while incarcerated and is filing paperwork to be moved from the juvenile section of the facility to the adult section, where he will have more privacy, more free time and more things to do.

"They have a work program he’d like to get into,” she said.

Johnson said she’s optimistic that the court will rule in her son’s favor.

"I still think that something will change, that justice will be served,“ Johnson said. 

You can read the full briefs filed by the state and Layman’s attorneys below.

Appeals brief filed on behalf of Blake Layman

State Brief for Layman/Sparks Appeal


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