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Indiana Supreme Court reverses murder convictions of 3 of the Elkhart Four

ELKHART COUNTY, Ind. - The Indiana Supreme Court has overturned the murder convictions of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp, three of the "Elkhart Four."

The Supreme Court found all three guilty of burglary and the defendants will be resentenced on that charge.

Background

Layman, Sparks, Sharp, Jose Quiroz and Danzele Johnson entered a home they believed was unoccupied in order to burglarize the house on October 3, 2012.

The homeowner, who was asleep upstairs, interrupted the burglary and shot and killed Johnson.

Layman, Sparks, Sharp and Quiroz were all charged with murder in the perpetration of a burglary.

At the time Layman, Sparks and Quiroz were juveniles.

Quiroz pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 55 years in prison and testified against Layman, Sparks and Sharp.

Layman, Sparks and Sharp were all convicted of murder. Layman and Sharp were sentenced to 55 years and Sparks was sentenced to 50 years.

Initial appeal

Layman and Sparks appealed because they believed the felony murder statute was improperly applied and their sentences were inappropriate.

Sparks separately appealed his conviction of the murder charge arguing he wasn't in the house when Johnson was killed.

On appeal, the court upheld the convictions, but ten years of Layman's sentence was suspended to probation.

Sparks' sentence was modified to an executed term of 45 years, the same number Quiroz received.

Also on appeal, Judge Bailey declined to address the constitutional claims the murder charge was inappropriately applied because it was not brought up at trial and the claim was forfeited.

Judge May addressed some aspects of the constitutional claims concluding they had not been forfeited.

Judge Kirsch concluded the felony murder statute was not properly applied.

Supreme Court reverses conviction

In Friday's court ruling, the Supreme Court granted a transfer and vacated the Court of Appeals' opinion.

The court overturned the murder conviction because for the felony murder charge to apply, the defendant had to have the ability to forsee the possibility the victim might resist or law enforcement would respond, which that created a risk of death to the perpetrators.

In previous cases where a defendant was charged with a co-conspirators death, the cases were substantially different. The defendants were armed or engaged in violent or threatening conduct.

In this case, the suspects were unarmed and none of the defendants engaged in violent or threatening conduct. There was nothing in their conduct that would "clearly the mediate or immediate cause" of Johnson's death, according to the court.

Because of this, the court found there was sufficient evidence to maintain a conviction on burglary charges, but not on the murder charge.

The murder charge was reversed for Layman, Sparks and Sharp.

The way the verdict form was written, the appellate court entered verdicts of guilty to burglary as a class B felony.

The Elkhart County Prosecutor's Office released the following statement.

The prosecutor’s office is in the process of fully considering the recent opinion of the Indiana Supreme Court. Further information will be forthcoming.

Families react

Sharp's family says they have been waiting for years to hear he would not longer be a convicted killer.

Quiroz' mother says the overturned ruling doesn't apply to her son, but she will continue to fight for him.

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