Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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October 9, 2012

Suspects to face murder charges

Note: This is an expanded version of a story posted earlier Tuesday, Oct. 9

ELKHART — An Elkhart homeowner was justified in shooting and killing a Goshen man who was burglarizing his home on Oct. 3, according to the county prosecutor.

Prosecutor Curtis T. Hill Jr. called the media to his office Tuesday morning to explain why he will not be charging Rodney Scott, 54, in the shooting and why he has charged four surviving burglary suspects with murder.

“Intruders had arrived at the homeowner’s house at approximately 2:30 in the afternoon while the homeowner was asleep upstairs and he heard a loud crash that was later determined to be two doors that had been busted open by assailants,” Hill said. “The homeowner grabbed a pistol and cell phone and proceeded to go downstairs where he found intruders in his home scurrying about. The homeowner fired shots and after the situation was subdued, was able to contact the police and advise them to bring medics and the police arrived shortly thereafter.”

Hill said Jose Quiroz, 16, Elkhart, Blake Layman, 16, Elkhart, Anthony Sharp, 18, Goshen and Danzele Johnson, 21, Goshen, allegedly broke into the Scott home. Hill said Levi Sparks, 17, Elkhart, allegedly waited outside as a lookout. After breaking through two doors to gain entrance, Hill said one or two of the burglars armed themselves with knives they found in the house.

Scott came downstairs and fired five shots from a handgun and shot Johnson. A bullet grazed Layman, according to Hill. Three of the burglary suspects then fled to a downstairs bedroom and one ran out a door. One of the suspects cornered in the bedroom broke a window and jumped out of the house, but was quickly captured by Elkhart police.

While the intruders were in the bedroom, Hill said Scott called police and asked them to bring an ambulance to the home. He said Scott took no further action against the intruders.

Quiroz, Layman and Sparks are in custody. Hill said a warrant for murder has been issued for Sharp, who has not been found. Prosecutor’s investigator Ed Windbigler said Sharp is believed to still be in the Goshen area and is being sought by police.

A right to defend

Hill said Scott had a right to defend himself in his own home.

“I have determined that Mr. Scott acted reasonably with regards to these events,” Hill said. “Mr. Scott was at home in his own home when four individuals broke in. Upon making a determination that there were folks roaming around his home with unknown intentions, he took actions to defend himself and took what I have determined, reasonable force under the circumstances.”

Asked if the burglars charged Scott, Hill said he did not take that into consideration. He said Scott was in fear for his life.

“He did what I think was reasonable under the circumstances,” Hill said.

Some of the suspects may have been familiar with Scott and his home and may have thought no one was home. Two of the suspects lived in the same neighborhood as Scott, Hill said, but he did not know them on a personal basis but may have had casual knowledge of them. According to Elkhart County Jail records, Quiroz and Layman lived on Frances Avenue.

Also, the investigation is continuing into if the suspects were part of a criminal gang, according to Hill.

Felony murder

Three of the suspects are juveniles under Indiana law, but Hill said he can charge juveniles directly with felony murder. That means they will not have hearings in juvenile court first. Hill expects the suspects will have initial hearings on the murder charges in Elkhart Circuit Court sometime in the next 10 days.

He said this is not the first time he has charged criminal suspects with murder when one of their accomplices has been killed during the commission of a felony.

“I think what you can glean from that is, if you break into someone’s home and you end up getting shot or injured, you can face some serious consequences... People breaking into homes, whether someone is home or someone is not there, it has got to stop,” Hill said. “From our standpoint we are going to use every available measure under the law to stop it... I would like to say we could prevent it, hopefully someone will look at this and say its not worth it. So, we cannot necessarily prevent it, but we can certainly take care of these things when they occur on a case by case basis.”

The prosecutor said his decision in the Scott case is not a blanket ruling for property owners to kill criminal suspects.

“There’s no green light that says this is OK behavior,” Hill said of Scott’s actions. “We look at the circumstances involved.”

He also put the burden for the crime and resulting death on the burglary suspects.

“People need to be held accountable,” he said. “We have a death here, and someone is going to be accountable for that death. And under the circumstances of the people who put this in motion, in this particular instance it is not going to be the homeowner.”

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