Who Are The Elkhart 4

Blake Layman, Levi Sparks, Jose Quiroz, Anthony Sharp

The Elkhart 4

The Case of The Elkhart 4

In October 2012 four teens and one young adult from Elkhart County Indiana made a horrible decision that would change their lives forever.  Not in school they decided one afternoon to break into a house.  They knocked on doors and decided that one house was empty.  Jose Quiroz (age 16), Blake Layman (age 16), Anthony Sharp (Age 18) and Danzele Johnson (age 21) broke into the house.  Levi Sparks (age 17) waited on the porch of the house across the street.

DanzeleJohnson

Danzele Johnson

Sleeping in the house at the time was Rodney Scott, the homeowner.  Mr. Scott was awoken by the noise of the burglary.  He grabbed his gun and shot several times.  The bullets killed 21-year-old Danzele Johnson and wounded 16-year-old Blake Layman.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill made the decision to charge Blake, Jose, Levi and Anthony with felony murder for the death of Danzele Johnson.  All were charged as adults.  In some states felony murder is a law, which states that if someone dies during the commission of a felony everyone involved in the felony can be charged with first-degree murder.  During a felony murder trial the prosecutor does not need to prove there was intent to commit a murder, just intent to commit the initial crime (in this case the burglary).  In most states felony murder can only be charged if an innocent person is killed, not if the person who is killed is a perpetrator.  Things are a little less clear in Indiana (see FAQ for an explaination).

16 year old Jose Quiroz accepted a plea deal.   At sentencing Jose Quiroz said he wanted to withdrawal the deal.  Judge Terry Shewmaker denied this request and sentenced a sixteen-year-old boy to 45 years in prison for a murder he did not do.

Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp went to trial in August of 2013.  The trial lasted four days and was rushed.  On the final day of the trial the judge refused to let the jury leave until they had reached a verdict.  At 11:00 pm the jury returned with a guilty verdict.  On September 12, 2013 Judge Shewmaker sentenced Blake Layman and Anthony Sparks to 55 years in prison and Levi Sparks to 50 years in prison.  Again for a murder they did not do.

Northwestern University Professor Steve Drizin writing about The Elkhart 4 in the Huffington Post stated,

Felony murder statutes should not apply to children and adolescents. Such statutes rely on an assumption that an individual who takes part in a felony understands the risk that someone may get killed in the course of the felony. However, adolescent development and brain science research show that, compared with adults, children and teenagers are less able to perceive and assess risks. This research confirms what common sense tells us: adolescents are less capable decision-makers than adults — they are more impulsive, less risk-averse, and have difficulty assessing the consequences of their actions, often prioritizing short-term rewards over any potential long-term negative consequences. ( click here for the full article )

These boys did commit a crime in October of 2012 (burglary).  It is awful that a frightened Rodney Scott killed Danzele Johnson.   The behavior of Blake, Levi, Anthony and Jose cannot be condoned.  These boys must learn an important lesson.  A well functioning society can’t have people acting with such disregard to others . . . but, none of these boys murdered anyone . . . three of them were juveniles at the time . . . the person who died in this case was a friend.  A friend who they continue to mourn for.

Do the actions of these boys warrant 55 years in prison with the worst of the worst?  In our opinion this case demonstrates a huge overreach of the criminal justice system.  Any possibility of redemption has been abandoned and these boys are being thrown away to spend their lives in a failing and often brutal prison system.

Frequently Asked Questions

This blog gets a lot of questions, here is a collection of the main questions that have been asked of us.

These boys broke the law. Why all the fuss?

Yes these boys broke the law.  They committed a burglary.  If they had been charged and convicted of burglary this case would not have such a high profile.  The concern is the felony murder charge.

But the law is clear, they committed felony murder. Isn’t felony murder when someone dies during the commission of a felony?

The Elkhart 4 were tried in Indiana under that states felony murder law.  The felony murder statute in Indiana states:

A person who kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, child molesting, consumer product tampering, criminal deviate conduct, kidnapping, rape, robbery, human trafficking, promotion of human trafficking, sexual trafficking of a minor or carjacking . . . commits murder, a felony.

The Indiana law clearly states that felony murder occurs when a ‘person’ kills someone while committing a felony.  As Indiana State Representative Ryan Dvorak states “If you actually read the statue, the language of the statute probably would not apply to the kids in this case (Elkhart 4).”   This is because Blake Layman, Jose Quiroz, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp did not kill Danzele Johnson.  The homeowner killed Danzele Johnson, and the homeowner was not committing a felony.

You can read more about the Indiana felony murder law in our articles:

But don’t most states have felony murder laws?

Yes, the majority of states in the USA do have felony murder laws.  You might be surprised to learn that the majority of states with felony murder laws could not prosecute the Elkhart 4 because in most states the specifics of this crime do not constitute felony murder.  In fact the way the felony murder law was presented on the Dr. Phil is not correct.  We covered this in our article about the show.

You can read more about this in our article,

These are not boys, they are adults. Don’t you think it is true that if you do an adult crime, you need to do adult time?

At the time of the crime Blake was 16, Jose was 16 and Levi was 17.  They were adolescents.  Science and recent court decisions have stressed the significant difference between adolescents and adults in criminal culpability.  In Indiana you can’t vote, join the military or marry without parental consent until you are 18.  In Indiana you can’t drink alcohol until you are 21.  Blake, Jose and Levi were not adults at the time of this crime!  Northwestern Law Professor Steve Drizin covered the issue of juvenile justice in his article on the Elkhart 4 (click here).  The issue of juvenile justice in this case is a major aspect of the appeals.  You can read about this in our articles about the appeals.  We also cover this in the following articles,

Were there any other options or did the prosecution need to charge them with felony murder?

What charges are laid is the responsibility of Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill.  Mr. Hill made the decision to charge these boys with felony murder.  He could have gone with burglary and he could have taken into account the ages of The Elkhart 4 (especially Blake, Levi and Jose).  He chose not to do that.  Prosecutors have the power to decide how to proceed in criminal cases.  Had Mr. Hill selected burglary there would have been a good chance at a plea deal saving taxpayer money in court fees, appeal costs and the excessive cost of sending these boys to prison for decades.

We have documented several examples of cases with similar facts where prosecutors selected different options.  Specifically read our article,

I believe in “Do the crime, do the time.” Don’t you?

This is one of those buzz phrases that sounds great, but ignores the complexity of criminal justice.  If “do the crime, do the time” effectively reduced crime then the USA would be the safest country in the world.  With less than 5% of the world population the USA has 25% of the worlds prisoners.  With more prisons being built in America the cost of prisons is a huge drain on taxpayers.  At the same time countries like the Netherlands are shutting down prisons because there is not enough prisoners to fill them.  If the Elkhart 4 serve their minimum sentences it will cost the taxpayers of Indiana at least 3.1 million dollars.  There are exciting things going on in legal systems around the world.  Programs that find alternatives to decades in prison and effectively reduce rates of re-offending.  Locking these boys up for a crime they did not commit and never dreamed of doing is not productive.  There is also another wonderful buzz phrase — ‘Let the punishment fit the crime’.  In this case the punishment did not fit the crime.

For more information you can read our articles,

I heard the Elkhart 4 had a gun. Is this true?

There was no gun!!!  If the Elkhart 4 had a gun then it would have been central at the trial.  A gun was not mentioned at all during the trial.  Early in the confusion after the incident the press and some members of the police force did mention a gun, but it was quickly determined that a gun was not involved in the crime.  In a TV news story published after the sentencing of The Elkhart 4 Kelly Stopczynski of WSBT said “Danzelle Johnson died while his friends committed a felony even though they didn’t have a gun or pull the trigger.”  Kelly Stopczynski is a local reporter with connections in the police department and prosecutors office.  Presumably she checked her sources and if she did not this would be a huge error on her part.  Even the state in its brief to the appeals court did not mention a gun. – Source — http://www.wsbt.com/news/local/justice-served-a-closer-look-at-the-law-that-made-3-elkhart-county-teens-murderers/-/21046398/22106168/-/128ny9x/-/index.html

I heard The Elkhart 4 had knives. Is this true?

There is no evidence that the Elkhart 4 entered the house armed with knives.  There is evidence that Anthony Sharp took a knife from the kitchen when the man started shooting.  This comes from the brief filed in the appeals by the state in the appeals for Blake and Levi.  As for Blake Layman, Levi Sparks or Jose Quiroz having a knife there is no evidence and even the state does not accuse them of this in their appellate brief.

Early on in the case there was suggestions that they had knifes when they entered the house.  This is not true and the local media has supported that claim.  Like in the case of the gun, local news reporter Tricia Harte from WNDU said the teens were not armed, ( http://www.wndu.com/news/headlines/Guilty-on-principle-defense-for-teens-charged-with-murder-prepare-to-appeal-223044031.html?ref=031 ).

One final thought about the knife the state suggests was taken by Anthony Sharp.  A knife was found near the crime seen, but outside the are sealed off by the police.  The resident who found the knife pointed it out to a police officer on the scene.  The police officer thought the knife was unimportant and left it be.  Later the police decided to have a look at the knife.  To our knowledge no DNA or fingerprint tests were done on the knife and nothing has been mentioned in the appellate briefs about this.

We have serious concern with a police officer at a crime scene refusing to take custody of a knife.  Even if that police officer does not think the knife is connected to the case being investigated do they not have an obligation to remove such an item from the streets?  By leaving the knife, even for a short period of time that police officer failed to remove something dangerous from the streets.

 

Why were these boys not at school?

We think this is a really silly question.  It does not matter why there were not at school.  What matters is why they decided to do such a stupid thing.  But for the record we have checked and know that at least two of the boys did not have classes that afternoon due to their schedule and early dismissal.

What is Next for The Elkhart 4?

Currently Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony are in prison.  You can find you where they are by clicking here.  From what we have been told they have the strong support of their families and a lot of the residents in the community.

We are at the beginning of the appeals process.  Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp have all filed appeals.  Jose Quiroz is apparently trying to file an appeal but things are more complex because of his plea deal.

The Elkhart 4 were featured on an episode of the Dr. Phil Show in January 2014.  Smoke and Apple Films is currently completing a documentary on the juvenile justice system in The United States.  This documentary will feature the case of The Elkhart 4.  This start of the documentary was featured at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in the UK  June 2013.  To watch the movie trailer click here.  Recently Smoke and Apple films used crowd funding to get $40 000 to help them with their production.  In July 2014 the story of the Elkhart 4 was featured on ABC Nightline Prime.

Over the next year lawyers for Indiana and The Elkhart 4 will file briefs with the court.  It should prove to be a very interesting appeal.  Whatever the outcome of the appeal this case will shape the Indiana Felony Murder law for years to come.

For more information on the appeals continue checking this blog.  You can start by reading our article,

We have man more articles not he appeals.  Check them out at http://www.freetheelkhart4.com.

What can I do to help?

  1. Spread the word – tell your friends about this blog
  2. Sign the petitions set up by the families (click here) asking for a change in the law.
  3. Write the Governor of Indiana, local state representatives or Curtis Hill expressing your concern ( for contact information click here )
  4. Remember that this is one of many examples of juvenile issues being ignored.  Get involved in your local community and ask what happens to youth in the justice system
  5. Be critical citizens.  Read this blog, your newspapers, and websites with a critical eye.  Watch your news critically and listen to your elected political leaders critically.
  6. Let us know your thoughts.  Post a comment on the blog (please remember to read our comment guidelines, we will not post offensive comments, but we will post comments that disagree with our point of view).
  7. Remember there are two sides to every story.  Do your research and listen to all viewpoints.

 

95 comments

  • unbelievable…..devastating. Can they not appeal?

    • Blake, Levi and Anthony are currently appealing. Things are a little more difficult with Jose because of the plea deal. We will keep you updated as the appeals progress.

    • I am from The Netherlands and am in shock about the law in the US.
      These are kids let them go home right now.
      This law is not good. You should spent your money on schools and a good education.
      And stop capital punishment.
      You system is raising criminals not emphatic people.
      I feel so sorry for these Kids.

  • Iam sorry,But I believe that these boys got what they deserve,What would of happened to these boys if they had of killed the homeowner?Probably would not have gotten such a stiff sentence,Iam sorry for the families of these boys,And Iam sure the homeowner feels pretty bad about having to shoot these young boys,But all these boys sealed their fates,As they entered that home!!!!

    • But they had no intent of killing anybody!!! They were young stupid kids looking to rob somebody, without them being home, omg, that is ridiculous, they do not deserve what they got, they deserve breaking and entering charges! Wtf is wrong with the system! (it would be totally different if they were armed and tried to hurt the homeowner)

      • I’ve had my home broken into twice and as a result I feel violated and can no longer sleep or relax in my own home. I can’t sleep and jump everytime I hear the slightest strange noise. How would you like to live that way Jenna? We don’t know that these so called boys, who were as big in size as grown men, would not have killed the homeowner had Mr. Scott not been armed when he was awakened by their kicking in his door. Look at the statistics of home invasions that have resulted in the homeowners being murdered in their own homes by people who said that their intent was only to “rob”.

      • It is a very sad story. The saddest thing is that an innocent man was put in the position of having to defend himself with a gun when the boys broke into his home. He will have to live with that the rest of his life and he wasn’t to blame. Someone has to take responsibility for the loss of life. These young men are responsible for the death of their friend, therefore they should grieve. They should also go to prison because a person died due to their actions. Remorse doesn’t quite cut it.

    • They should be charged for home invasion, period!! Had they killed the homeowner then the sentence would be justified. The boy that died also chose to go in the house, they are not responsible for his actions, only their own.

    • Debbie, I’m sorry that you have no common sense. They are NOT murderers and therefore did not get what they deserve. They deserve punishment for burglary but not murder. How can you or anyone be so blind as not to see that?

    • mtmmdavis@yahoo.com

      It doesn’t really matter what you think because burglary is NOT murder. They are being charged as an example to potential other burglars. 50 years really!? Have YOU never done anything stupid or broke any law??? Maybe you should serve 50 years in prison.

      • Yet it matters what you think?
        Everyone has done something stupid and probably broken a law even if it is just driving too fast. However, the vast majority of people have not been so crassly stupid as to make a mistake that ends in a death. How would you have felt as the homeowner – waking up, coming downstairs to find four men in your house roaming around? He has to live with a situation forced upon him forever. Your last sentence is just no argument at all.

    • Debbie I say kudos for sharing your opinion since on this page it is in the minority. As for Rebecca and mtmmdavis…that is very mature of you two to be so disrespectful to someone for sharing their opinion. She never said anything demeaning about these young men in her post nor did she attack anyone else. She is entitled to her opinion and Rebecca before you call someone else out for lack of common sense take a minute to reflect…common sense generally dictates if someone isn’t rude and disrespectful to you, you don’t automatically be rude and disrespectful to them as for mtmmdavis…your right that burglary is not murder…but Felony Murder and Murder are defined and listed on the law books as 2 separate entities for a reason..because the requirements for each to be applicable are different…and plenty of people do stupid things…not all those things violate the law…and a lot of people stupid choices that DO break the law rarely are classified as felonies and rarely put peoples lives in danger…so since I think it doesn’t matter what you think or think that you don’t understand things should I insult you and say you should be in prison? It’s sad people can’t share their thoughts one way or another without people coming out of the woodwork to hurl insults and in some cases on other sites, threats and attacks at them for sharing said thoughts…It doesn’t take much to make a mature, intelligent and well thought out argument without the petty insults and disrespect…If people want real change then they need to realize that…insults and petty little attacks on people won’t get you anywhere

      • You know: the same way you say that “Debbie” is entitled to her opinion, these two are also entitled to their opinions, aren’t they? Isn’t it a bit hypocritical -on your part- to criticize them for criticizing another person on this site? And when you ask “should I [...] say you should be in prison?” to mtmmdavis, you do NOT have a point, here. I don’t mean to be rude, but mtmmdavis is suggesting that Debbie get a taste of her own medicine, since she thinks it’s a good idea. What is YOUR argument, Dan?
        Also, nobody insulted anyone. :) Telling someone that they’re “so blind” to something is not an insult, it’s a critic or a negative response, however you want to look at it. (Believe it or not, even calling someone “ignorant” is not an actual insult either. If you look it up, it really means something along the lines of “Someone who lacks information about something.”
        Obviously, the law is very flawed, it is NOT always fair and just, but people ARE too blind to ever question it. If you want a good example, think about the time before women could vote. I’m sure that if a female had voted in the 1920’s, she would have been committing some sort of misdemeanor/felony or whatever (according to the law). Was that fair, too? because the law said so?
        I won’t go into details, but obviously, the reason there’s so much frustration and so much conversation about the Elkhart 4 is that they do NOT deserve to be in jail for that long, but we have people in this community who can’t see something so obvious. Some people who actually commit murder get less than that.

      • Totally agree with you. There is no need to be belittling, telling people they “have no common sense” or that they are “blind” just for having a different opinion. Saying that someone should be in prison for each and every mistake is also a non-argument. We aren’t talking about coming home late or even fare-dodging, we are talking about taking away a homeowner’s sense of safety in his own home, frightening him half to death when he wakes up to see people wandering around and then in his blind panic, shooting. He has to live with what happened forever.
        He didn’t choose to change his life forever, those five did that for him.

    • Do you see how absurd your comment is? You ask: what would have happened (not “would of”, btw, learn to spell, Debbie) if they had killed the homeowner, and then you add that they wouldn’t have gotten such a stiff sentence… So, from YOUR logic, it makes sense to get a harsher sentence if one of your friends get killed and you almost get killed by a homeowner than if you actually killed them? No offense, but something is wrong with that way of thinking.

    • Jeez Debbie, what kind of a human being are you??! these boys were just that, boys!. Thank god I live in Australia, where Felony murder doesn’t exist, I pray to god that justice is eventually served properly, there is no way these kids should be in jail for 55 years! What the hell is wrong with America??!

    • Give me a break! Debbie, were you ever young? I can’t believe your belief system! Yes, they committed a crime and should be held accountable but this is so unjust! Walk in my shoes for one day as one who counsels teenagers and then tell me what you think. I’m sorry but people like you annoy me. You act as though you walked a perfect road. You are judging without knowing…I’m tired of people like you! You people always are so quick to judge until something bad happens to you or your family members! Get Jesus, would you? Because right now you are being judged for your own pathetic judgment!

      Does anybody know how to contact the family? I would like to help them?

  • WE SHOULD START A PROTEST ?!! WHO IS WITH ME????

    • The parents have already held a number of protests. They have petitions which we link to on this site. Right now the best hope is the Indiana Appeals Court.

    • I am for sure with you. Just was looking around to see if there was a petition..

    • Does anybody know how to contact the family? I would like to help in any way that I can. I am a therapist who works with teenagers and I want to get this system changed for the betterment of our youth! I just saw this story last night!

  • That’s horrible. I’m watching now on Dr. Phil I hAve a kid and It would kill me to see my son go through something Like this. Total INJUSTICE. PRAY TO GOD THEY’VE LEARNED THEIR LESSON AND THAT SOON THEY CAN BE REUNITED WITH THEIR FAMILIES!

  • This is disgusting. Danzelle made a choice to enter that home, he was not being held captive or being forced to commit a crime. Indiana has used these boys to make an example plain and simple and that’s BS. 50yrs?! Outrageous! Should they serve time? Yes. 50yrs? NO!

  • La Shaundrea K Harris

    This is so sad. Yes…these boys were wrong and should pay for the burglary crime they committed but it is not right that they should be convicted of murder. Unfortunately, that is the problem with our criminal justice system. We’ve become so focused on retribution and so called “just desserts” that we have begun throwing even our babies in the trash of the system not valuing their lives enough to count them worthy of even an attempt at rehabilitation. Is it not possible that these babies might learn from the mistake of this crime with proper guidance?

  • We have first hand shooters, cold blooded intentional murderers walking away with 25yrs. 50yrs is excessive and absurd!

    • I agree. They need to serve time but 50 yrs combined would’ve been better.

    • I have seen murderers get way less then this sentence, and the person stalked and murder the victim. I’ve seen drunk drivers kill the other driver they walked away with less than 5 yrs ….

  • I am confused and feel bad even thinking this but why are these boys in prison for committing a crime with an adult who died while committing a crime

    • I think we need to remember that Danzele made a choice and he did decide to go into the house. He was the oldest and should have know better. That being said what happened to him is a real tragedy.

      • *known better you meant. Hopefully. I think they should all get like ten years and serve five years with five suspended so they have to prove they learned their lesson when they parole out. All that said, i didn’t like how on Dr. Phil the moms paint them to be little innocent angels when one of them is in aa gang and they’re all hanging with him and the 21 yr old thug too. The one kid blake talked like he had a fourth grade vocabulary and couldnt articulate anything he was trying to say, so obviously he wasnt a schoolboy. All wannabe gangsters who were on the wrong path. But levi should be freed immediately if it is true that he didn’t enter the home unless he was the ringleader who set it all up

      • Thanks for the spelling correction. Editing has never been my strong point and I have so many of these comments to go through.

    • I believe the “system” is setting an example with these boys. I completely agree they need to receive punishment for breaking and entering but 45+ years each is way too harsh.

      • Curtis Hill the Elkhart Country Prosecutor has implied that he is making an example of these boys.

      • Bob dole, stick with the issue..the issue here is the sentence not the fact that you think the two black kids were in a gang….to bring lack of an education into this is absurd…

      • Is it really too harsh, I would like to know what the parents of the dead boy have to say , you enter my house , you will die, I won’t miss a single one of the supposed burglars

      • I may have completely missed the boat, but last time I checked “making an example of…” isn’t justice.

  • Clearly an overreach by the justice system by a prosecutor hoping to make a name for himself. There is a 15 year old boy in my city that was sentenced to 6 life terms plus 188 years for a home invasion where no one was hurt and nothing was taken The others involved took a deal that gave them 10 years in prison. This boy was punished for taking his chances at trial. A freedom which is suppose to give us our day in court. Clearly, these boys must be punished for doing this stupid thing but throwing them away like yesterday’s trash is not the answer. First, we are too lenient on young lawbreakers, then we are way too tough. And let’s not talk about the kid who got drunk, took a vehicle and killed 4 people and permanently maimed 2 people and got probation. We are all over the map on punishment. Anyone under the age of 25 should be given a second chance to be released unless he has a pattern of violent behavior and have been given a chance already. And how can an act already deemed self defense by one side of your mouth be called murder out of the other side of the same mouth?? I am a true hardass when it comes to handing down punishment for lawbreakers but studies have shown that brain development in people under the age of 25 does not recognize criminal behavior consequences and this must be taken into account when sentencing.

    • Cheryl you brought up a good point about the teen that killed 4 people…his sentence is like a lot of drunk drivers sentence..a few years and probation. That’s why this case upsets me. All we are doing by sending these 3 kids to jail for 50 yrs is creating 3 grown men who will get out when they are 65 + and they will not be upstanding citizens most likely…

  • You must go put up a Facebook page for this right now! If already up, I couldn’t find it. If not up, you’re missing a prime opportunity! This case is outrageously wrong!!

    • Hi, we tried the Facebook thing, but it was too much keeping both up and this platform was better for writing articles. That being said there are support Facebook Pages. We link to Jose’s families page under Links in our top menu. There are also support pages for Blake and Levi.

      • I understand that this is easier, but the exposure on FB is huge. The Free Ryan Ferguson wall developed a huge following and led to his finally being released. Individual pages won’t have as much impact as the group story. I highly recommend you reconsider. You only have to post updates now and then. If there was a link to it on Dr. Phil’s wall right now, it would be getting seen by a lot of people.

  • This is absurd! I don’t believe that they’ll pull all of that time, maybe 20 years, which is to long, I have a son and I wouldn’t want to live if this were to happen to him.

  • Really? They should definitely be punished. Too harsh is 55 years, though. Why did they break into the home in the first place? How frightening it would be to encounter someone in my own home. The homeowner had every right to defend himself. I’m watching Dr. Phil right now. Where are the fathers of these felons? Typical

  • I just finished watching the doctor phil show on this. it is absolutely outrageous to put them in jail for 55 years!!! is there some type of petition people can sign about this? these boys did wrong but they are not hardened criminals…. The are justice system seems to let the really bad guys go and then punished these guys way Over the top!!! I am angry…where is the common sense??

  • Im disgusted to see how out “justice” system is working for the people. They were being dumb kids…. they never could have felt that there was eminent danger…. they’re kids doing something dumb. They put effort into finding a house with no one home and one of the boys chose to not even enter!
    They’re entire life has been taken away for something that they did at 16. Its so sad and i hope they can appeal this. Its so sad that someone died but can we be more reasonable human being while still taking the law into consideration? Some people are so strict about the law that they forget that these laws affect real people. each situation is different and should be treated as such.
    I wish these kids would have taken the stand.

  • Is there anyway we can send mail to these boys?

    • Not possible to email the boys. In our links page we have links to their specific prisons. You can write them messages there. You can also contact their families by finding their Facebook pages.

    • YES. Look up inmates at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, IN. for Jose Quiroz, Blake Layman and Levi Sparks. For Anthony P. Sharp, It’s I.D.O.C. Indiana State Prison, Michigan City, IN. You can get their full addresses and ID # there!

  • I agree in a protest as well.

  • Why is the homeowner not charged with murder? Seriously, America is so messed up with there gun laws. I’m from Canada and here you can only use the same amount of force as the perpetrator to defend yourself. These kids had no weapons, yet they were shot dead???

    • Most states in the USA have the castle law which allow a homeowner to protect their houses. This is clearly reflected in Indiana law. Another poster copied out the law and it is very clear. I agree with you that this case is not fair, but I strongly caution passing that onto the homeowner. Personally I cannot imagine what it would be like waking up in that situation. I don’t know what I would think or how I would act. Truthfully I hope never to know because I hope never to be in that situation. Curtis Hill the prosecutor for Elkhart Country cleared the homeowner and that was the right decision. I only have the deepest compassion for the homeowner. The situation these boys put him in is unacceptable. I may advocate for them, but I have always said they have responsibility in all of this. I hope the homeowner has been able to move past this and can find happiness and joy in his life and for years to come.

    • Although this is a major miscarriage of justice. If your home is invaded, you should always have a right to take action. I couldn’t imagine having my home broken into, and only be able to stand there and wait for what’s next.

    • Jenna, four large men broke the door down and were robbing a man’s home. He woke to a nightmare. Of course he has the right to protect himself. How do you know they would not have hurt him if he hadn’t shot them first? The shooting was justified.
      The only thing that is not right to me is the length of the sentences. I think they needed jail time, they deserved to be punished for the crime.
      The length of the sentence is disturbing to me. Too long to be justice.

  • Just saw this on Dr. Phil and my mouth hit the floor! Sentence them for the dumb mistake they made as children – NOT AS MURDERERS!! Prayers to the boys and families.

  • A home invasion? Are you kidding me? Perhaps maybe the people that are stating they got what they deserve should indeed here all the details of the crime – these 16 year old boys who don’t have a record knocked on doors to make sure people weren’t home BECAUSE THEY WEREN’T LOOKING TO HARM ANYONE – Yes they committed b & e – punishishment should fit the crime not be handed out to make an example of.

    • In Australia the boys would have been charged with breaking & entering & the homeowner would have been charged with murder!!

  • HORRIBLE! I am praying for true justice for these boys. Yes, the Law is the law, but seriously, this is a horrific misgiving and the law needs to be changed. They will get out-keep your heads up. May God’s peace surround you!

  • Saw this on Dr Phil. I think the time is overkill. What they did was wrong by breaking in the house, but 45 to 55 years considering they have no criminal history is unjust. So sorry for the loss of their friend, and so sorry to the families and friends of these young men who are currently incarcerated. I hope something good comes of this.

  • Most of us have done wrong things, but stop undermining the seriousness if this crime. It is not stealing candy from a store. It is trespassing and going into someone else’s home. We want to protect our children. I get it. But what do you think is the appropriate sentence? What is their backstory? Why would they/did they choose such a serious crime? Where are the kids fathers? Didn’t see any if them on the show or have heard about them at all. All these things are factors.

  • in paragraph 1 you cite one of the people to be named “Anthony Sharp (Age 18)” but in paragraph 5 you say his name is “Anthony Sparks”

  • The injustice of the ruling still leaves me outraged and confused. These boys should absolutely be held accountable for their actions, meaning the breaking and entering(burglary). These boys should not be accountable for serving this much jail time for a crime of murder that they did not commit. This system is very flawed, and the injustice of this law in regards to these boys. I pray for their reduced sentancing and for a charge that is rightfully suited for the crime they did commit. These boys had no previous criminal history and the sentancing was insane. My heart goes out to their mothers and families, and I pray justice will be done.

  • Chantelle Tilley

    Think this whole case is a load of BS…IN no way shape or form should they have been charged with felony murder!!! Thinking of those boys and their families all the way from Australia

  • So glad this kind of injustice can’t happen in Aus our reasonable force laws mean home owners can only protect their home with the same amount of force used by intruders. If an intruder is unarmed then so must be the home owner.

    • We have a bunch of ignorant Politicians making our laws in America and they don’t have any common sense at all. They can’t just look at what is FAIR when it comes to our laws instead they go overboard and then our laws are unjust. Once convicted it is extremely hard to get justice when you have been wrongly convicted or the charges are out of line. America’s Justice System is in terrible shape and it is getting worse by the day. You can go to Federal Prison for marijuana in this Country for 50 years without parole to life in this Country. It’s one size fits all, there is no time fits the crime, so someone dealing large quantities compared to someone selling small quantities gets the same time. So if the FBI is involved you are screwed and yes the FBI is always right. They don’t make mistakes because they will always get away with some kind of charge or they will threaten to make things really bad for you unless you confess to something. In the Federal Courts all I have to do is tell them you did something and they will indict you with the crime I said you committed with no prove, just my statement. They will charge with anything and everything they can and you will go to prison because THEY DON’T MAKE MISTAKES AND THEY ARE NEVER WRONG. They will find something to charge you with and then at trial jurors are ignorant enough to believe if the FBI said they did it then they are guilty.

  • Hi, I’m from Australia and the thing is as a human my instinct to hearing noise would be to lock your door to whichever room you may be in, and call the police straight away, these boys were generally pumping with fright and adrenalin, as a teenage boy they would not be thinking anything of a truck in the backyard, wallet and watch, the only thing they would be thinking is they scored something, then for them to see someone with a gun and looking at them,there first instinct is proceeding to run which is an obvious statement that they are scared and frightened, to open fire at them and then doing it yet again proves this home owner wanted to kill! Frighten or not the home owner killed a man and injured a boy! For him to then get a slap on the wrist then shows everyone else that you are aloud to open fire at someone if they are uninvited in your home. Yes the boys should pay for there crime, but 50+ years should not be aloud! The biggest thing that disgusts me is that Levi did not take part at all and yet got 50 years! You can not tell me that if you were in Levi’s situation you would call the police and dob in your friends! I think the boys sentence needs to be changed to the sentence of burglary for that was all they did. I just saw the Dr.Phil episode of them and it was in no way the boys fault that there friend died! They went in there will full knowledge of what could happen, which is obvious why Levi didn’t go in! To the people defending the homeowner saying it’s not his fault, it is, most lawyers defending him weren’t there! Blake faced a traumatic experience of his friend dying in his arms! These boys need to be sentenced with burglary not murder it’s inhuman. The law has now given every person permission to open fire at anyone in there home.

  • And another thing! These are BOYS the one who passed away was an adult but the law is very one sided to charge them as adults! I would be looking into home invasions cases were someone died to see how long they got in prison because this to me is completely inhuman.

  • So Zimmerman purposely followed and killed an unarmed teen, the girl in Florida little girl went missing but they are both free? These boys had no business breaking in someone’s home and should be punished for that. But they were unarmed and each one made their own decisions to enter the home. The boy that was killed was 21 and really should have known better. I’m sorry for the boys families, especially the one that lost his life, but the sentencing was way to harsh.

  • time for a new prosecutor one that has common sense and a heart

    • Actually, its time for parents to teach their children to respect other people and other people’s possessions! I don’t know that 50 years is the right sentence but they should serve some serious time. They are common thieves and deserve to be punished for violating the privacy of another person’s home. This is probably not the first time either of them have stolen or broken into another person’s home.

      • We agree that there needs to be consequences. We also agree in the importance of parents teaching their children right from wrong. However current research into brain development suggests that teenagers have different ways of processing issues than adults. This is why cases like this need to be dealt with in the juvenile system. We remind you that in the US you are innocent until proven guilty and statements like “This is probably not the first time either of them have stolen or broken into another person’s home.” when you have no proof is concerning in a public forum and against the posting policy of this site.

      • This is my first time hearing about the “Elkhart 4″ and it really shocked me that they got such a harsh sentence. After going back and reading up on the story I do agree they should be punished but 50+ years is a bit extreme. I think that all of them were just as much at fault as the person who was killed. They made the decision to commit a crime that day. They could have stayed at home, go to the movies or go to the mall. They decide to go around checking houses to find one to burglarize. Someone asked “What sentence would they have gotten if no one had gotten killed? My question is what would have happened if the home owner had not had a gun? Would they have killed him (the home owner) in the heat of the moment of surprise? Yes they deserve punishment but 50 + years no. I am a single mom with two daughters and our home has been burglarized three times. It left us feeling validated. The last time they sat down and had a meal. They cooked hotdogs, popped popcorn, made Kool-aid and ate ice cream, then they went through each dresser drawer and careful removed the clothes and laid them neatly folded to the side. There was never an arrest made even though the police knew who they were because people had told them who was trying to sell the merchandise. I found out later that the chief of police’s own sister had bought most so the merchandise and refused to turn it over to the police. Sad story. One of the guys who broke in moved in with my neighbors right in front of my house. I was leaving for work one morning and he was pacing back and forth up and down the street. I went to the police department and told them what he was doing and I drove back home he was still there. When the police arrived they told me there was nothing they could do because he lived there. I told them right in front of him, fine but if he even put on e toe on my property I was going to take care of him myself since you all can’t. I never saw hi on my street again and my house has not been broken into again. I often wonder what if we were there? What if one of my girls had walked in on them or they on my girls? I now keep a gun under my but before I wanted nothing to do with guns. In order to protect the life of my children and myself I know I would not hesitate to use that gun if someone entered my home.

        I think the judges decision should be over ruled and a lesser sentence imposed. I am all for justice but that sentence is a bit extreme.

  • I don’t understand at all how a jury or at least one of the jurors could have voted to convict these kids of such an inapplicable charge. I don’t know how many of the jury would have been needed for a hung jury, but I find it incomprehensible that a prosecutor and a jury could come to believe that these four young petty criminals deserve these sentences for the death of one of their group. And for the one across the street, how can any reasonable person place him into the crime scene? Let’s say I went to lunch with friends and they commit a crime while I’m in the restroom washing my hands. How can anyone possibly prove I had anything to do with the crime. I would only be guilty of being with my friends when THEY did something I in which I DID NOT participate. Whether I knew or not that they were committing a crime cannot possibly link me to committing it myself. Maybe there’s some crazy law that says that if you have knowledge that a crime is being or will soon be committed that you are culpable too.

    The prosecutor chose all or nothing. Any reasonable juror would have decided it was the wrong charge. Perhaps a better way to find justice would be to call for incompetence on the defense council. Then a new trial could be conducted with applicable charges.

    • The felony murder law is a very controversial law, but it is popular amongst many people. Here is an example . . . .say two people go into a bank to rob the bank. One pulls out a gun and shoots and kills someone in the bank. The felony murder law allows for both people in the bank to be charged with the murder. This is the simplest form of the law. The problem is that the law has slowly expanded in Indiana. If you look at the law as it was originally written it would not appear to apply in this case, but slowly court cases have been used to expand the law. That is why this is such an important case in Indiana. If the courts let this conviction stand they will be further expanding the law. If they do not let the convictions stand then they will be liming the felony murder law. As they said on Nightline this probably will end up at the Indiana Supreme Court and perhaps even at the US Supreme Court.

  • We need laws but they need to make sense. I would hate to have a jury make decisions in regard to my life because people are concerned with their emotional opinions instead of using intelligence to make a sound decision. There are so many innocent people in prison and it takes them years to get out. There were jurors who got it all wrong and prosecutors who are only concerned with getting a win in court instead of getting the real guilty party convicted. Until we get politics out of the Justice System we will continue to have problems. We have to get people who have the intelligence to interpret the laws and question the charges as to the appropriateness for the allegations. We are letting politicians with degrees in law make decisions that affect lives and politicians have a hidden agenda, It’s not Justice! Justice and Politics do not belong together! We need to put people in the Justice System based on qualifications not on political BS then continue with the BS because an election is coming up. Do you really feel good about Politicians interpreting the laws of this Country? I do not! You have to look at each case and be realistic about what the charges should be or anything a person does can be turned into a crime. The fact that you can be charge with a State crime and then the Government can charge you at the Federal level for the same crime is crazy. There is just too much slack and gray area in our Justice System.and too many Politicians. I would feel much better with Law Professors from around the Country coming together on a panel to interpret, change and pass laws. They would have no political agenda and it would be based on pure knowledge and educated decisions. (with common sense as well)

  • Home invasion robberies are becoming more prevalent all across the USA. The invasion of a family’s home by robbers is one of the most despicable and terrifying crimes a family can endure. A family should feel SAFE from the evils of the world inside their own home, but home invasion robbers completely destroy a family’s sense of well being – probably for the rest of their lives. The four survivng robbers of this crime should simply feel LUCKY they too weren’t shot dead. If these four are already performing home invasion robberies at age 16, what will they be doing at 17 ? At 21 ? If they had gotten away with this crime, they would certainly be out committing MORE home invasion robberies. It is unfortunate so many lives have been adversely affected by this horrible event, but the lesson in all this is DON’T commit home invasion robberies ! Hopefully the long jail terms given to these young criminals will deter other young people from committing more home invasion robberies.

    • We agree 100% that home invasion is a horrific crime. We also agree that there must be consequences. But we also support a logical evidence based conversation about crime not one based on emotion and fear. If you are correct that home invasions are increasing in the USA (you have not provided any statistics) then we need to ask this question — Why are crimes like home invasions increasing in the USA? One in 100 Americans are currently incarcerated. The USA has 5% of the worlds population and 25% of the worlds inmates. Crime is falling in countries that have less harsh sentences and believe in restorative practices (we examine much of the statistics on this website, especially in our early articles comparing Canada to the USA). At the end of the day long sentences don’t work. These sentences which have been widely criticised really are not making society safer. They make people happy, they make political leaders popular, but they go against all the current research.

  • For 12 years I was President of The Cleveland Township Association. Our organization was present and represented at an Elkhart City Council meeting where members of a local church brought reformed ‘children at risk’ to talk about the Gun Buy back program.

    I was impressed by the sincerity of the beliefs held by these children; especially the young man who rose and said “We never wanted to hurt anyone, we just wanted to steal your stuff to get enough money to buy drugs.” Many of the audience were homeowners like myself – who had worked hard to put food on the table, clothes on our backs and a roof over the heads of our families. Imagine OUR outrage at the statement…that some youngster would think so little of our lives as to put us in danger for a cheap drug rush. I am by no means stating that that was the intent of the youths in Elkhart, however it has the same sad ring to it.

    Those in the room that night, who were not church members or affiliated with the gun buy back program made it perfectly clear that we would defend our homes, family and property with deadly force if we were threatened or our houses were broken into.

    While it is sad that the sentences were harsh they all might have been dead as a result of their youthful stupidity. I will say without question or regret that had they broken into my house none would be alive today.

    While I wish you luck in reducing the sentences, you should remember that you can visit your children, albeit in prison, one mother will forever put flowers on a grave

    John Horwitz

  • Question if these were black kids would we be talking about the sentence probably not

    • We do not know why ABC News selected to just focus on Blake and Levi. It could be perhaps that they are currently appealing their sentence. Anthony is also appealing his sentence, but he was 18 at the time of the crime and he can’t claim juvenile status in his appeals. ABC News was focusing on juvenile justice. Jose has a plea deal, even though he was a juvenile. This site supports all four of the Elkhart 4 who represent many different races.

  • Once again society won’t take responsibility for it’s own actions. I remember being 16 and I knew right from wrong, I never would have thought to break into a house! I’m shocked how casual some of those posting comments on here treat a HOME INVASION! Let’s say they find this families life savings and get away with it… is the crime still only a casual HOME INVASION now… Let’s say it’s your house. Society is being brought down by the lack of personal responsibility. 5 people break into someones house and now they are the victims? I find all this talk about brain development ironic, just how many of you out there thought about committing a HOME INVASION when you were 16?

    • I don’t think this site or any of the families are arguing that the boys were wrong and that a crime was not committed. I think the notion that the punishment should fit the crime is the issue here and even Nancy Grace agreed with this in the episode. As for the brain research on teenagers, this is changing how society and the courts are viewing juvenile justice in the country and needs to be considered. We need to be careful to not ignore new insights into human development just because we like the idea of revenge.

  • It sounds like a misreading of the law to charge them with felony murder in these circumstances. Has this law been used before to charge people committing a non-murder felony where the killing is committed by someone other than the felons?

    And what about the boy standing on the porch across the street, not participating- what is the basis for charging him with any crime? Was he a lookout or was he wisely choosing not to commit a crime?

    The charges need to be reduced to time served.

  • This makes me angry. Yes, those boys committed a crime (burglary) and should be punished for that alone. They made a huge, stupid mistake. But they didn’t go with the intention of killing anyone. They had no weapons. Their friend was killed by the homeowner. They should not be held responsible for that. I just think this is all wrong. I hope they somehow get an appeal.

  • America should be ashamed of itsself. These boys did something stupid, but these sentences are insain. Alex from The Netherlands.

  • Pingback: Kids Behind Bars- An Incredibly Unjust Case | one swallow makes a summer

  • There are people in prison who have shorter sentences and have killed people so I don’t think these boys should be in prison for that many years. The system is so screwed up. Hope something can be done to help them and that they learned their lesson.

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