Levi Sparks released from prison
Levi Sparks was released from the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility Thursday morning.
After he walked out of the gate he hugged his mother, then hugged the other family members and friends gathered in the parking lot.
Sparks' murder sentence was overturned by the Indiana Supreme Court in September 2015 and was convicted of burglary, along with his co-defendants Blake Layman and Anthony Sharp.
Sparks was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this month. He is getting out early due to good behavior and other programs while incarcerated.
Sparks took a few minutes away from greeting his family to speak with Brandon Pope from ABC57.
Brandon Pope: How does it feel to be out?
Levi Sparks: It feels great! I'm just ready to get home and get my life together. Finally away from this place
Pope: What was it like in there
Sparks: It sucks. Sucks. It's a bad mental battle you have to face every single day, but you know I no longer have to worry about that so. I'm happy.
Pope: Did you learn anything in there?
Sparks: Absolutely! You can go out, you can have fun without doing illegal stuff, you know. You can get your life together and sometimes you just need to grow up and do the right thing so that's what I plan on doing.
Pope: Second chance?
Sparks: Second Chance.
Pope: What do you plan on doing with it?
Sparks: I plan on going out and getting a job and pursing a college education. Just see where life takes me from there but I just know it will be on a positive road I know I can do right
Pope: Seeing the family again, what kind of feelings does that bring?
Sparks: It's great. It's great. To know I never have to go back inside that place, to be able to look back to see them walk out the door and I can't. It's a sucky feeling but it's no longer like that so, it's over.
Pope: Do you have any regrets?
Sparks: Regrets as for this whole situation? Yes, absolutely. Someone lost their life, a lot of people got affected by it, our families, their loved ones, the community. It was a tragic mistake that was on our part, but I no longer have to do , it's not going to happen anymore
Pope: You've turned over a new leaf and there's a good chance…
Sparks: I'm going to get my life together. Some people perceive me to be the same person I was out there and I can sit here and speak here all day about how I'm going to change but my actions will show it, my words to speak it
Pope: Do you feel in any part responsible for what happened to Danzele?
Sparks: Yeah. I take responsibility for my actions and I'm sorry to his family and I'm sorry to everyone that was affected by it. And with that I would like to get back to my family and I appreciate you guys coming
Sharp and Layman were each sentenced to ten years in prison. Sharp is scheduled for release in 2018. Layman is scheduled to be released later this year.
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 in August 2013 during a jury trial. Layman and Sharp were sentenced to 55 years and Sparks was sentenced to 50 years.
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.
In September 2014, the appellate 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.
Indiana Supreme Court reverses conviction
In September 2015, the Indiana 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.