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‘Elkhart Four’ ruling stands

December 2, 2015

The Indiana Supreme Court has denied the state’s petition for a rehearing in the "Elkhart Four" felony murder case.

In September, the five justices overturned the convictions of the three northern Indiana teenagers, Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp and Levi Sparks. The trio was found guilty of felony murder in the death of their friend Danzele Johnson.
 
Layman, Sharp and Sparks, along with Johnson and Jose Quiroz, broke into an Elkhart home in October 2012. The homeowner confronted the teens and shot and killed Johnson. After the teens were arrested, Quiroz pleaded guilty.

In February 2015, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the companion cases of Blake Layman & Levi Sparks v. State of Indiana, and Anthony Sharp, Jr. v. State of Indiana.  

The Supreme Court found that the Elkhart case differed from other felony murder cases, in particular, Palmer v State, 704 N.E.2d 124 (Ind. 1999). In the Elkhart case, the justices held the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction because the young men were not armed when they broke into the residence and they did not act in a violent or threatening manner.  

Petitioning for a rehearing, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office argued the jury’s verdict was supported by the reasoning of the felony murder statute and Indiana case law. The attorney general called the “new standard” set by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Elkhart case as “contrary” to the reasoning behind the felony murder statute, “internally flawed” and a decision that will lead to “inconsistent, even quixotic results.”

 

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