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"Elkhart Four" Ask Indiana Supreme Court To Hear Their Case

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Indiana Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in the case of the so-called "Elkhart Four," in which three young men were sentenced to long prison terms for murder, in the death of a friend who was shot by a homeowner while they were burglarizing his home.

Blake Layman,18, Levi Sparks, 20, and Anthony Sharp, 20, were convicted of murder in the death of 21-year-old Danzele Johnson. Sharp and Layman were sentenced to 55 years in prison. Sparks got 50 years.

The fourth member of the so-called "Elkhart Four," 19-year-old Jose Quiroz, pleaded guilty to murder charges, so cannot be part of the appeal. He is serving a 45-year sentence.

All four defendants were teenagers when they broke into a home in 2012. They were unarmed, and said they thought the home was vacant.

It wasn't, and the homeowner was inside at the time, and he shot Johnson.

"The issue is whether these defendants possessed a reasonable amount of ability to foresee the consequences of their actions; and to know the difference between right and wrong, and control themselves. The legislature makes that decision," deputy attorney general Ian McLean argued before the state's high court on Thursday.


Defense attorney Cara Wieneke argued the three could not have foreseen what happened in the house, because they thought it was empty.

She said they should not have been charged with felony murder for Johnson's death, in part because the language of Indiana's felony murder law states it applies to someone who actually kills another person.

"Other states have found ways to craft their statutes to cover non-participants killing," she said.

McLean argued the defendants' actions caused Johnson's death.

"It matters that he was killed wrongfully, it matters that his co-defendants led him to his death, and someone has to – if they're culpable – has to pay for that. The defendants caused that death," he said.

An appeals court upheld the convictions, and the defense was hoping the Indiana Supreme Court will agree to consider an appeal of that ruling.


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