Happy 2014 and the Dangers of Ignoring Intent
Happy New Years! 2014 should be a very interesting year in the case of the Elkhart 4. It is the year that the appeals will progress and hopefully be heard. Unfortunately the appeals process often is very long and drawn out. We strongly believe that there are many interesting points raised by this case and we hope the judges and lawyers in the appeals court process will dedicate their time and expertise to fully examine the many important issues the case of the Elkhart 4 brings up.
2014 will also be a year where there will be more focus on the case of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks, Anthony Sharp and Jose Quiroz. We are awaiting the broadcast of the Dr. Phil episode focused on this case. We will also continue to maintain this blog covering the appeals and raising the issues this case brings up.
One issue we have not spent a lot of time discussing is the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. This is the idea of the government placing a minimum sentence to be handed out by judges upon any conviction for certain crimes. For example in Pennsylvania anyone convicted of first or second-degree murder automatically receives a sentence of life with no parole. In Indiana anyone convicted of murder receives a sentence of 45 – 65 years in prison.
The idea of mandatory minimums is very popular amongst most people. It is the basic idea that “if you do this you will get this consequence”. Mandatory minimums have become more popular as daily media reports highlighting the violence that humans can inflict on others causes us to demand consequences. It is easy for many of us to understand that if you shoot someone in a mall you need to be put away. It is the hope of the political class that mandatory minimums will help to convince people not to commit crime.
In Indiana a charge and conviction of felony murder is treated the same as first-degree murder. The differences between murder and felony murder is that intent is taken out of the picture when charged with felony murder. When Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp and Levi Sparks were convicted of felony murder in August 2013 they were sentenced for murder in a system that demanded a 45 – 65 year punishment. But unlike the man who decides to shoot someone in a mall these boys did not intend to have someone die during their burglary. In fact they were not the ones who did the killing. But they were treated the same as a murderer who acted with intent.
A good way to illustrate this concern over mandatory minimums for felony murder is to compare the case of the Elkhart 4 with another case from Northern Indiana that was resolved in 2013. There are many examples, but we have decided to focus on the case of 22-year-old Chase Anglemyer.
In January of 2013 Mr. Anglemyer broke into his former girlfriends house. He already had a conviction of domestic abuse against this former girlfriend. In the January break in Mr. Anglemyer dragged his former girlfriend to another house, hit her several times until she was almost unconscious. He shaved her head and tied an electric cord around her neck and chocked her until she lost consciousness. When local police investigating the disappearance of the former girlfriend approached Mr. Anglemyer he informed them that she was dead.
Mr. Anglemyer pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years on probation.
Compare this to the case of the Elkhart 4. Five teens/young adults decide to break into a house. They knock on doors looking for an empty house. When they think they found one they break in only to be confronted with a homeowner who shoots at them. They run away, but one of the five is killed and another is wounded.
When you look at intent there is no doubt that the Elkhart 4 had intent to break into a house. This is a horrid crime and the deserve consequences for their actions. But the facts of the case make it impossible to argue that they had intent to kill their friend.
In the other case Mr. Anglemyer performed many cruel and calculated acts that inflicted horrible physical, psychological and emotional abuse on his ex-girlfriend. Each one of those acts was performed with intent. Hitting her with a screwdriver, shaving her head, strangling her with an electrical cord and telling the police she was dead. Luckily the one thing that Mr. Anglemyer failed at is that he did not kill his former girlfriend (although I can’t begin to imagine the emotional scars he has left her with). Had he killed her he most certainly been convicted of murder and sentenced to a long and quite justified prison sentence.
Although both Mr. Anglemyer and The Elkhart 4 committed crimes their intentions when committing those crimes differentiates the crimes significantly. If there were no mandatory minimums a very good argument could be made that Mr. Anglemyer, given his adult age and the intense violence of his crime, deserved a much harsher sentence than the juveniles (Layman, Quiroz and Sparks) in the Elkhart 4 case.
We have never met any of the members of the Elkhart 4 or their families. We can’t know their thoughts as they entered that house in October 2012. I strongly suspect that if they knew that their friend was about to be killed they would have changed their plans drastically. There is no room in Indiana law for this to be considered during trail and sentencing. It is for this reason that governments need to be very cautious when passing laws that contain hash mandatory minimums while ignoring the intent of the charged individuals. This creates legal systems that ignore the specifics of a case. Legal systems that make it legal for courts to ignore such relevant and important facts forces those courts to commit injustices, like the injustice that has happened in Elkhart to Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp, Levi Sparks and Jose Quiroz.
Finally . . .
Happy New Years – 2014 will be a tough one the Elkhart 4, their families and for all of us who support them, but there is hope. We need to continue to pressure, continue to talk and continue to tell the world this story.
On a final note, we know that this blog has been silent for a while. The day – to –day reality of work and daily life takes over and some things need to go on the back burner. This is what Mr. Hill wants . . . life to continue and us to forget what has happened. We want Mr. Hill to know that we have not forgot and we will continue to shine a light on his actions and the injustice that has resulted. 2014 is also an election year and Mr. Hill is up for re-election. Although he has a strong political machine and much support in the community he needs to understand that there are many people who view his actions in this case with contempt and who understand he is a member of the political elite who has no understanding of the day-to-day reality of the community he claims to serve. There will be many voters who will oppose him and will remind him that through his actions he is responsible for a great injustice. We encourage everyone who is angered by his actions in this case to write him, let him know your concerns and demand that he respond to your concerns. Remember he works for you . . . remind him of this fact, because he needs a reminder.