Indiana high court to hear accomplice death appeal

The Indiana Supreme Court will hear the appeal of three Elkhart men convicted of murder after an accomplice was fatally shot by a homeowner during a break-in.

The Indiana Court of Appeals in September upheld the murder convictions of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp, but ordered their sentences be reduced. Arguments before the Indiana Supreme Court are scheduled for Jan. 21.

"We're all very excited," said Angie Johnson, Layman's mother, told The Elkhart Truth. "This is big. This is great news."

Layman and Sparks, who were juveniles at the time, and Sharp were convicted of felony murder in the 2012 death of 21-year-old Danzele Johnson even though Johnson was fatally shot by the man who owned the house they broke into. Indiana law allows murder charges to be filed if someone is killed during the commission of another felony offense.

In upholding the conviction of Sparks, the Court of Appeals found "it was reasonably foreseeable that the victim's acts of self-defense or defense of his dwelling were likely to create a situation leading to the death of one of the co-perpetrators."

Lawyers for Layman and Sparks argue that as juveniles, the two suspects were incapable of seeing all the potential outcomes of their actions. Sharp's attorneys say the three were unarmed and thought they were burglarizing a residence where no one was home, because they were trying to avoid confrontation and tried to flee when they were confronted.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled the sentences for Layman, Sparks and Sharp were too harsh, saying 10 years of Layman's and Sharp's sentences and five years of Sparks' sentence should be suspended to probation, giving each of them 45-year sentences.

Another accomplice, Jose Quiroz, cannot appeal his conviction or sentence because he pleaded guilty to the charges against him. He has filed for post-conviction relief, an action similar to appeal. A hearing on his motion is scheduled for Feb. 12 in Elkhart Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison and 10 years on probation.

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