Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 18, 2013

Murder charge is appropriate for home invasion death


— Indiana legislators often tweak laws pertaining to criminality in the state. During their last session in the Statehouse they passed a law that will erase some non-violent offenses from an offender’s record if they stay out of trouble for years. We think that is a good idea, because at some point the offender has paid enough for their misdeeds and deserves a chance to make a better life. Having to report that crime on every job application reduces the opportunities for former offenders to move on and better themselves.

Our state, in this instance, was improved by lessening the social stigma of past misdeeds for those who have gone “straight.” But there are very few instances when our state’s criminal code can be improved by lessening the penalty for a crime. The section of the code we are specifically talking about is IC 35-42-1-1. That’s the bureaucratic number given to the offense of murder in Indiana.

IC 35-42-1-1 will be in play in Elkhart Circuit Court Monday when three teenage men go on trial for murder. They were arrested and charged after four men broke into a home in Elkhart. A fifth teen allegedly served as a lookout. The homeowner responded to the intrusion by firing five shots from a handgun, killing Danzele Johnson of Goshen and wounding one of the suspects.

One of the defendants has already entered a plea and was sentenced. We have no idea if these remaining three men are guilty or not. The facts of the case are not yet before the public. A jury will hear versions of the crime from county prosecutors and defense attorneys will counter the accusations. Then a jury will have to decide the fates of the defendants.

But the defendants’ families are worried about losing them to the criminal justice system for a long time. Earlier this month, those families held a prayer rally in Elkhart. Those attending believe that the felony murder law in Indiana is too harsh, that the teens should have never been charged with murder, just burglary, and the law for felony murder should be dropped from Indiana code. We disagree.

In Indiana, if someone dies during the commission of a felony, including burglary, those suspected of originating the crime can be charged with murder. This charging option is sound law and sound philosophy. Without the originating criminal activity, the deceased person would not have died. Therefore, the death becomes a homicide, which by definition is an unnatural death caused by the actions of another human being.

The felony murder charge is an important tool for prosecuting people who violate the norms of society and who want to victimize Hoosiers with their criminal activity. Just because a criminal’s poorly-executed scheme goes awry and someone dies is no reason to charge them with a lesser crime based on their original plot. When a death is the result of criminal activity, even the death of a criminal involved, those culpable should be charged with murder. IC 35-42-1-1 is a sound law and should remain as is.