Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Local News

August 16, 2013

Murder trial of teens starts Monday

GOSHEN — Three teens charged in connection with a burglary that turned deadly will stand trial next week in Elkhart Circuit Court.

Elkhart County prosecutors have charged Levi Sparks, 18, and Blake Layman, 17, Elkhart, and Anthony Perez Sharp Jr., 19, Goshen, with felony murder. Jury selection will begin Monday morning in the Goshen court.

Prosecutors allege that on Oct. 3 last year, Sharp, Layman, Jose Quiroz of Elkhart and Danzele Johnson of Goshen broke into the home at 1919 Frances Ave., Elkhart. Sparks reportedly waited outside as a lookout.  

Homeowner Rodney Scott was asleep upstairs when he was awakened by the noise of the break-in, according to investigators. Prosecutors said Scott grabbed a handgun and went downstairs, confronting the burglars. He fired five shots, killing Johnson, 21. Layman had a minor leg wound.

At a press conference shortly after the shooting, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis T. Hill Jr. alleged that one or two of the burglars armed themselves with knives they found in the house.

The teens allegedly involved in the break-in were 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.

Quiroz, 17, entered a plea deal with Elkhart County prosecutors late last year. He received a 45-year sentence to the Department of Correction, plus 10 years on probation.

Sparks, Layman and Sharp appeared in Circuit Court Thursday with their attorneys. The defense lawyers argued for separate trials for their clients. However, Judge Terry Shewmaker denied the request. As such, the youths will be tried together as co-defendants.

Family and supporters of the defendants have staged rallies, arguing the teens shouldn’t be charged with felony murder. On Thursday, Judge Shewmaker discussed the clothing of spectators attending the trial. He indicated to prosecution and defense attorneys that the jury should make a decision based on evidence, not on information printed on a T-shirt.

“Let’s deal with that before it becomes a problem,” Shewmaker said.

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