Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 22, 2013

Teen trio’s fate in jury’s hands


— GOSHEN — At 2:30 p.m. Oct. 3, 2012, Rodney Scott woke up from a nap at his Elkhart home. Then his life changed.

Three young men are on trial due to the shooting death of Danzele Johnson. Scott pulled the trigger, and jurors in Elkhart Circuit Court Thursday heard Scott’s side of the story.

Later that day, the jury began deliberations in the case. After hearing final instructions from Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker, the group left the courtroom at 6:18 p.m. to begin its work.

Scott fired several shots after intruders broke into his home Oct. 3. Johnson, a 21-year-old Goshen resident, was killed. Blake Layman, 17, Elkhart, was shot in the leg.

Prosecutors say Anthony Perez Sharp Jr., 19, Goshen, Jose Quiroz, 17, and Layman also entered the home while Levi Sparks, 18, Elkhart, served as a lookout outside. The three have been charged with felony murder. Under Indiana law, if someone dies during the commission of a felony, those who were engaged in the underlying felony can be charged in the person’s death.

Jurors were also told Thursday they had the option of finding the youths guilty of burglary, a lesser charge.

Quiroz, who lived across the street from Scott, late last year entered a guilty plea in the case. He received a 45-year sentence to the Indiana Department of Correction.

Elkhart County prosecutors did not charge Scott in connection with the shooting.

The break-in

Scott testified Thursday that on the day of the break-in, he woke up from a nap in his upstairs bedroom at 2:30 p.m.

“As soon as I sat up on the side of the bed, there was this ‘boom!’ and my whole house just shook,” he said. A second or two later Scott heard the noise again, and then heard it a third time.

“And I said, ‘My goodness,’” Scott recalled.

Scott told the jury his next-door neighbor’s home had been broken into a week or two prior. Scott picked up his cell phone when he heard the noises in his home. He also loaded his .9mm handgun — which he testified he’d never fired before — and went downstairs.

Scott walked quietly at first, then ran down the last set of steps to make noise. Downstairs, he saw someone run from the kitchen. He also saw two people — later determined to be Johnson and Quiroz — in the doorway of the bedroom.

“You see all these people in your house, you don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” Scott said in court.

Scott testified that he fired the handgun in the direction of the bedroom doorway. He said his goal had been to trap the intruders in the bedroom. Johnson and Quiroz ran into the bedroom, and into a closet. Scott dialed 911 and waited for police.

“I would shout at them ‘Keep the (closet) door closed,’” he said of the intruders. Scott said Quiroz told him his companion had been shot.

“I said, ‘What?” Scott recalled.

Scott said he didn’t see any weapons on the intruders, and they never directly threatened him. However, he indicated he felt threatened by the break-in itself.

“Anytime someone kicks in your door and enters your house, you feel threatened,” Scott said. He said during questioning that his memory of how many shots were fired and where they were fired is unclear.

On the witness stand, Scott said he had no intention of shooting anyone. He also talked about Johnson’s death.  

“I feel horrible about that because I don’t understand how it happened,” he said.

Closing arguments

After prosecutors rested their case, none of the three defendants testified. Defense attorneys called no witnesses.

During closing arguments, Deputy Prosecutor Peter Britton said a home is “one of the few places on Earth where we can feel safe and protected,” and people have a right to defend their homes by force. He said what happened Oct. 3 was a tragedy for Scott, the defendants and Johnson.

“But for the actions of all five (accused) individuals including the three defendants on trial today, Danzele Johnson would still be alive,” Britton said.

Defense attorney Mark Doty, representing Layman, said his client is guilty of burglary. He also said that none of the defendants are guilty of felony murder.

“They didn’t pull the trigger,” Doty said. “They didn’t kill Danzele Johnson.”

Doty also took a swipe at the prosecution for charging the defendants with felony murder in the first place and not burglary.

“They wanted to force you to go over the top and crush the youth of these kids,” he told jurors. Prosecutors objected to the Doty’s statement, and Judge Shewmaker ordered the jury to disregard it.

Defense attorneys have contended that the youths believed nobody was home at the time of the break-in.