The Elkhart Truth Article: A good start, but 353 days late!

Late yesterday afternoon (Sept. 21/13) The Elkhart Truth published an article entitled “Age of defendants could be part of appeal for Elkhart teens convicted of felony murder”.  Written by Sharon Hernandez this article looks into possible legal issues that might be argued in the upcoming appeals of the Elkhart 4.

This article in The Elkhart Truth is the first article we can find, in the 353  days since this case started, where The Elkhart Truth attempts to frame the debate that this community has been having over the use of the felony murder rule against the Elkhart 4.  In our opinion the article is a good start, but it was needed months ago.

On September 5, 2013 this blog published an post entitled “Did The Elkhart Truth Live Up To Its Own Standards When Reporting on the Elkhart 4”.  In our article we were very critical of the quality of reporting on this case by The Elkhart Truth.  We asked in our posting:

“Where is the article discussing with lawyers the pros and cons of the felony murder law?   Where are the interviews with legal scholars on how the law is implemented in Indiana?  Where are the articles discussing the pros and cons of the removal of the ‘intent to kill’ idea when convicting someone charged with felony murder?  Where is the interview with Curtis Hill (an elected official the paper claims to hold to account) having him explain his decision to move forward with these charges, especially in the case of the 3 juveniles?  Where is the discussion on juvenile justice issues that this case brings up (even though being ignored by many)?  Where is the discussion on mandatory minimum sentences and the costs long prison sentences will have not only on the convicted but also on the Indiana taxpayers?  Where are the articles on the effectiveness or failures of prisons?”

In many ways the The Elkhart Truth article published on September 21 attempts to answer some of these questions.   In the article Sharon Hernandez interviewed Joel Schumm from the Robert H. McKinny School of Law at Indiana University.  Mr. Schumm believes that there are important issues this case brings up that could make the appeals interesting.  Included in the issues brought up by Mr. Schumm are:

  • multiple defendants
  • the fact “that it’s one of the defendants, not the victim, who died during the commission of a crime, and that it was the homeowner — the victim — who fired the shots.”
  • Three of the boys were juveniles at the time (Levi, Blake and Jose)

The thoughts of Mr. Schumm were interesting, but the article did not go into enough detail to really help define the debate that is currently going on.  Mr. Schumm had a lot to offer and are more in-depth interview would have been appreciated.  Perhaps this article was too ambitious by attempting to answer too many questions.  This led to a significant lack of detail which left the reader needing more information.   An example of this lack of detail can be found in the following section from Hernandez’s article:

“Over the last several years there has been discussion about how juveniles assess situations differently from adults,” Schumm said.


“I assume the argument could be made in appeal that whether this is foreseeable or not should be different because a juvenile’s involved,” he said.


“Maybe an adult would or should foresee that but a juvenile, if they talked about breaking into someone’s house to take something, it’s probably not as foreseeable to them that someone might end up getting shot as a result.”

It would be nice to know what those “discussions about how juveniles assess situations differently from adults” look like.   How are they changing the way states deal with juvenile defendants?  The research is vast and in many ways overwhelming.  The research has caused significant shifts in how some states address juvenile justice issues.  Research on the development of adolescents has been central in three landmark Supreme Court Rulings over the past 10 years (2005 – end of death penalty for under 18, 2010 – end of life without parole (LWOP) for non homicide offences for under 18, 2012 – end of mandatory LWOP sentences.  How and are these new developments being addressed in Indiana?  Is Mr. Hill engaged in this debate on the local, state or national scene?

Hernandez did include several quotes from Elkhart County Prosecutor Cutis Hill.  From our research these quotes come from the few times Mr. Hill has spoken publically about this case.  We will be asking Ms. Hernandez on Twitter if she interviewed Mr. Hill for this article.  If she did not interview him we will be asking if she requested an interview.  We will post her reply on this site if and when we get it.  (Thanks Ms. Hernandez for the prompt answer)

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We are specifically concerned with the following quote from Mr. Hill “But the greater reality is that the law has been applied in an appropriate manner, in a fair manner. The fact that these particular individuals were of younger years occurs, and the court takes that into consideration”.  Was Mr. Hill challenged by anyone when he made this statement?  We would like to know from Mr. Hill how the court took the age of Blake Layman, Jose Quiroz and Levi Sparks into account? It needs to be placed on record how the Elkhart Prosecutors Office and the Courts took age into account because from our viewpoint we can see no tangible evidence that this was done.

Hernandez’s article was a good first step and we commend her and The Elkhart Truth for this start.   Perhaps they could have gone into more detail, if they were not playing catchup.  Had their articles written before the trial been more detailed,  they would have had the ability to go into more depth in this one.  In our opinion this has been a missed opportunity.

We have a feeling that this case is not going away soon.  Currently a documentary is being made by Smoke and Apple Films which will be presented at The Sheffield Doc Fest which is one of the largest documentary film festivals in the world.  As people around the country and world wide hear about this case there is a huge amount of interest.  The record of this case will be studied and examined over the next few years.  Included in that record will be how the local media reported on the case.  Up until now that record has not been impressive.  In a previous article on The Goshen News we stated:

I know that I have a bias; in fact I wear my bias proudly.  I accept that others have opposing biases and would love to debate with them, but there have been no real attempts to articulate in great detail the other side.  Instead we have fluffy reporting from the Elkhart Truth and even worse reports, which hides facts, appearing in The Goshen News.”

We commend The Elkhart Truth for moving away from “fluffy” reporting in this article.  It is good to read.

We know that we have a huge bias on this blog.  We can’t and don’t expect The Elkhart Truth to support our bias . . . . what we do ask is that they continue to do investigative journalism into the justice system in Elkhart County.  We ask that they continue to present all sides of the issue while providing the background and contextual information from experts like Joel Schumm.  This is the information we believe will help to frame this debate and debates in the future.  We look forward to reading more articles like the one published yesterday.

The Elkhart Truth Article

http://www.elkharttruth.com/article/20130921/NEWS05/709219924

Information on Joel Schumm from the Robert H. McKinny School of Law Website

http://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/faculty-staff/profile.cfm?Id=59