2 Cases, Similar Facts, Different Outcomes
Summer Moody and Danzele Johnson were both killed by a gun in 2012. Summer Moody and Danzele Johnson were both participating in a burglary when they were killed. Summer Moody and Danzele Johnson’s friends did not kill them. Summer Moody and Danzele Johnson’s friends were charged with felony murder in connection to their deaths. Two 2012 cases from two different states in the USA. Two sets of teens charged with felony murder. Two very different outcomes!
One case which is the case we call The Elkhart 4 (click here for details) The other case is from Baldwin County Alabama. Here are the details of the Baldwin case.
At 4:00am on the morning of April 15, 2012 four 17 year olds, Summer Moody, Juvenile 1*, Juvenile 2* and Juvenile 3* were breaking into fish camps on Granvine Island in Alabama. According to reports they were armed with a weapon. At the same time, three men, William Hearn, Lonnie Davison and Larry Duncan were staying at a fish camp on the island. Hearing noise created by the burglaries Hearn, Davison and Duncan grabbed their guns and fired what they thought were warning shots. Unfortunately for all involved one of the warning shots hit Summer Moody in the head fatally injuring her (Summer died on April 25, 2012).
Police arrested Juvenile 1*, Juvenile 2* and Juvenile 3* and charged them with first-degree burglary. They were charged as adults because they were in possession a weapon. Police determined that it was Larry Duncan who fired the fatal shot. Mr. Duncan is a convicted felon. Under federal law convicted felons can not be in possession of a gun. To date no charges have been laid against Larry Duncan, Lonnie Davison or William Hearn.
In November of 2012, 7 months after the death of Summer Moody, a Grand Jury charged Juvenile 1*, Juvenile 2* and Juvenile 3* with the felony murder of Summer Moody. Announcing the charges Baldwin County District Attorney Hallie Dixon said “essentially, but for the actions of these young men that night, Summer Moody would still be with us and still be alive.”
Lawyer Robert Stankoski who represents the family of Summer Moody said “I can’t really figure out why you chose to punish one set of the offenders and not the other ones.” He continued “how can you find that the shooter in this case committed an accidental shooting and then charge the boys with murder? It’s completely inconsistent.”
The three teens were re-arrested and sent back to county jail. They were now facing felony murder and 1st degree burglary charges. This meant that the three teens would be facing decades in prison if convicted, just like the teens involved in the Elkhart 4 case.
The case never went to trial . . . what happened? Well on February 20, Juvenile 1* and Juvenile 2* were granted youthful offender status. During a press conference District Attorney Hallie Dixon said:
“Because Youthful Offender status was granted for Juvenile 1* and Juvenile 2*, we are prohibited from disclosing details of the resolution of those cases. However, we can say that our office worked closely with Summer Moody’s family and law enforcement to arrive at what we could agree was the just and right thing. We are all satisfied with the results in both cases.
We hope something good can come of this tragedy. Burglaries – especially those committed by young people – are rampant in Baldwin County, and we hope that our young people will recognize the dangers inherent in such crimes, not only to the victims of burglaries but to the perpetrators, as well.”
The same day a lawyer for Juvenile 1* said “the case is over” implying that a plea bargain was reached. The maximum sentence a youthful offender can get in Alabama is 3 years and to protect the offender the media can no longer report specifics of the case. We can find no reference to the status of the charges against Juvenile 3*. We do know he applied for youthful offender status. We can find no mention of him in either local or state lockup or any reference to an upcoming trial . . . if anyone knows his status please let us know.
The way this case was handed has given these boys a second chance. It seems like the judge and the prosecution understood the unique facts in the case and understood the life changing consequences that a felony murder conviction would have. The boys did not get away with anything, but their age and the facts of the case were taken into account by the local political establishment.
Recently the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that before sentencing someone under 18 to life without parole a judge must take into account “the mitigating qualities of youth”. In her opinion Justice Kagan states that it is important that judges remember that juveniles can have a “lessened culpability” and increased “capacity for change.” Although this ruling does not apply to the Elkhart 4, because life without parole was not considered in their punishment, it sets the moral imperative of juvenile justice.
Hallie Dixon and the legal system in Baldwin County managed to find the compromise that took into account the age and the nature of the crime while still ensuring that the youth accepted responsibility. It is hard to see how Curtis Hill gave any consideration to the fact that 3 of the Elkhart 4 were under the age of 18. We know that there are different justice systems in Indiana and Alabama, but what is not different is the fact that the prosecutor decides how to charge and if to accept plea deals.
It is shocking that in the same country two cases with such similar facts can come to such different conclusions. Both Hallie Dixon and Curtis Hill are Republicans who come from very conservative parts of the nation and yet their moral compass brought them to such different conclusions when handling cases with very similar circumstances. The end result Juvenile 1* and Juvenile 2* get a maximum of 3 years in a youth offender program. Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp, Levi Sparks and Jose Quiroz get between 45 and 55 years in an adult prison. Given the similar facts of these two cases how is this equal justice?
* http://www.FreeTheElkhart4.com does not believe in naming or posting pictures of people charged as juveniles. We have made a decision not to name the juveniles involved in the Baldwin case because of their legal status. The sites we link to do name the boys. We feel it is important for our readers to be able to examine our source material so we have included the links.