ELKHART — As four teens sit behind bars in Wabash Correctional Facility with the charge of felony murder, their mothers are active in Elkhart, rallying for appeals for the ‘Elkhart 4.’
The story of these men, charged with the felony murder of their friend Danzele Johnson during an attempted burglary in October 2012, was featured on ABC’s “Nightline Prime” on Saturday night, July 26.
Blake Layman, who was 16 years old and a sophomore in high school at the time, told “Nightline” interviewer Juju Chang he and a group of friends were “hanging out” and looking for an empty house to get “quick money.”
The five friends — Blake Layman, Jose Quiroz, Levi Sparks, Anthony Sharp and Danzele Johnson — attempted to break into Rodney Scott’s home at 1919 Frances Ave. in Elkhart. According to the “Nightline” interview and Scott’s statement, he was taking a nap in his home.
"There was a boom and the whole house shook," Scott said, according to “Nightline.”
Scott grabbed his gun to defend himself. Layman was shot in the leg while trying to enter a closet in an effort to hide. Upon entering the closet, Layman looked down to see Johnson “slumped next to him.”
"I screamed, ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry!’ over and over again," Layman told Chang during the interview.
When Chang asked Layman where things went wrong, Layman stooped his head. After a moment of silence, he replied “Oh man. I couldn’t — I guess just the bad ... not being, not being ... being a follower, not a leader, I think.”
Indiana law states an individual committing a felony can be charged with felony murder if another individual dies while the crime is being committed.
"I didn’t really comprehend it,” Sparks told Chang during the show. “I didn’t put my mind around what I was about to go through.”
Though Layman, Sparks and Sharp were all teenagers at the time, they were tried as adults, according to court documents.
Former prosecutor and television host Nancy Grace told "Nightline" it was, in fact, perceivable that a homeowner might shoot an intruder during an attempted burglary.
While sitting behind bars, Sparks has a very different perception.
"We all should be charged for what we done that day, but nobody committed murder. So why should we be charged with it?”
Steve Drizen, a law professor at Northwestern University, echoed Sparks’ thoughts, telling Chang “I think it’s insane. I think it’s overkill and I think it’s unjust and it needs to be remedied.”
While this particular case has yet to reach the United States Supreme Court, the high court has already set precedent, ruling juveniles should not face the death penalty or life without parole, as their brains are not fully formed, according to “Nightline.”
Quiroz pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Layman and Sharp were given a 55-year sentence, while Sparks was sentenced to 50 years.
Life behind bars
Layman’s 18th birthday was spent at Wabash Correctional Facility and he even told “Nightline” he had special plans for a birthday treat made out of layered Honey Buns. However, turning 18 meant Layman had to leave the juvenile facility at Wabash and turn over to the adult side of prison.
"I was asleep and they come and told me ‘pack your stuff,’" Layman said.
Meanwhile, he is studying for his GED.
Sparks faces 50 years behind bars and has a tattoo — which he was given illicitly in prison, according to "Nightline" — bearing his time to be served. There’s a broken hourglass "to show wasted time" on his arm with a small number 50 at the bottom, to represent his sentence.