Friday, January 17, 2014 — Elkhart 4 are Featured on Dr. Phil: Episode Summary Published

On Friday January 17, 2014 the story of The Elkhart 4 (Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp, Levi Sparks and Jose Quiroz) will be featured nationally on the Dr. Phil Show.  Today the website for the Dr. Phil Show published the official summary of the program.  They wrote,

Elkhart 4: Justice or Overkill?

In October 2012, 21-year-old Danzele Johnson was shot and killed by an Elkhart, Indiana homeowner* while he and three friends broke into a home and another served as a lookout. Although they didn’t pull the trigger, Danzele’s friends, 16-year-olds Blake Layman and Jose Quiroz, 17-year-old Levi Sparks and 18-year-old Anthony Sharp — now known as the “Elkhart 4” — were charged with his murder and sentenced to 45 to 55 years in prison. Dr. Phil delves into Indiana’s felony murder law, which provides that if a killing occurs during the commission of a felony, the persons responsible for the felony can be charged with murder. The boys’ mothers are outraged and say their sons should not have to pay the price for a crime they did not commit — and many in the community agree. Speaking out for the first time, Blake, Levi and Anthony talk to Dr. Phil via satellite from behind bars. Hear firsthand what they say happened on that fateful day. And, hear from a juror on the case — does he feel the verdict was fair? Plus, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin weighs in. Should the felony murder law apply to adolescents? Tune in and decide for yourself: Should these teens have been charged with a lesser offense? — Click here for the official Dr. Phil Page

*for clarification Danzele Johnson was shot and killed by the homeowner.  Danzele Johnson was friends with Blake Layman, Anthony Sparks, Jose Quiroz who also broke into the house.  Levi Sparks was across the street when this happened.

This is the third time since September 2013 that the Elkhart 4 have been featured nationally and internationally.  For more information on the controversy surrounding the case of the Elkhart 4 you can check out this blog [ ].  You can also go to the following national and international publications which have covered this case:

The National Post of Canada — Teen would-be burglars convicted of felony murder receive ‘extreme’ 50-year sentences for ‘crimes they didn’t commit’ 

The Huffington Post — The Elkhart Four and the Unjust Application of the Felony Murder Rule on Teens

How to see the show:

Elkhart Area — UPDATED January 15

For those following this blog from the Elkhart Area the episode of Dr. Phil will air on WSBT (CBS) TV on Friday, January 17 at 3:00 pm.   It will air on again on SBT2 during prime time at 9:00.  Updated TV listings can be found here:

Rest of the USA

For people from other parts of the United States you can find out which station in your local area shows Dr. Phil by clicking here:


For people in Canada Dr. Phil is aired on CTV.  To find out when the episode will air in your area click here:

The United Kingdom

For readers in the UK Dr. Phil airs on CBS Reality [ SKY 146, Virgin 148, Freesat 135 ] however according to UK TV listings CBS reality will not air Dr. Phil on Friday.  We will try and find out if/when the episode will air in the UK.

Other Countries

We know there has been a lot of interest internationally in this case an many of our readers from outside North America want to know when they can see the Dr. Phil show.  We do not know when or if the Dr. Phil show will be airing around the world, but we will keep you updated.

In New Zealand Dr. Phil airs on TV 3 — More information can be found here.  We do not know when the Elkhart 4 episode will air.


  • Yes they should be charged with at least Manslaughter because the murder happened as a direct result of the crime they knowingly committed!!

    • We would agree with you that the Felony Murder charge is inappropriate, but where we disagree is that a murder/manslaughter charge is warranted. An effective justice system needs to charge people for their actions. The felony murder rule in Canada was ruled unconstitutional because there was a realisation was that a charge needed to reflect the intent of the person committing the crime. What happens in Canada is that judges have a wider range of sentencing options. So in this case they are guilty of burglary. The judge might select to impose a harsher sentence because of the fact a death occurred during the crime. Finally all of this does not negate the fact that Levi, Blake and Jose were juveniles at the time of the crime and should have gone through the juvenile justice system.

      • why is it that these kids cannot take the pushiment!??? they did the crime and one of their own got shot…good, come to my house and try to rob it! I will shot you also, I have to pity for these kids, if they would not have done it, they would not be in trouble!

      • Amanda, your comment was very nearly not published because it fails to live up to the comment guidelines for this site. We have decided to publish it to set a precedent. The comment you have made offers very little insight into this debate while unfortunately it reveals some insights into your questionable character. This entire situation was a tragedy . . . especially the death of Danzele. To be so cold and unfeeling and state satisfaction in this death as you did in your comment is wrong and you need to be held to account for that. This is a serious blog and we hope that those posting will have the decency to ask appropriate questions or provide well researched and well articulated arguments. Those questions and arguments don’t need to agree with us to be published, but they do need to add to, or create a debate. There is very little room for glib off the cuff remarks that celebrate and glorifies a death, which in reality was a real tragedy for everyone involved.

      • First I would like to say that parts of Elkhart Indiana are not exactly safe to live in, personally I wouldn’t move there with my family. Elkhart’s annual VIOLENTcrimes are aprox 307…property crimes 2,930 for a total of 3,237 ANNUALLY. Elkhart has 132 crimes per square mile. I have read about this case since it is in the state I live in…when you live in a crime filled area, you have to protect yourself, your family and your home. These boys did something horrific in that they broke into someone else’s home and didn’t care if they scared the occupants, they had nothing but disregard for that person or that person’s property. Their friend in turn lost his life because of THEIR actions. In this day and age we live in, there HAS TO BE laws put in place that protect the common citizen from people like these boys… Juvenile boys grow up to be men that are habitual offenders and end up in jail for far worse crimes. I think these boys were made to be examples of why you don’ t go out and commit crimes, so maybe others will learn from their mistake and think twice…I totally agree with the way they were punished. They need to sit behind bars for a very long time and think about what they have done. Maybe the next criminal will think twice in Elkhart. I hate to say it but adults are afraid of children now a days!! Look at all the children with guns! We need laws put in place to keep these criminals off the streets whether they are adults committing them or juveniles. I’m all for longer sentencing and harsher punishments.

      • It is wonderful and comforting to believe that harsh long prison sentences for juveniles will act as a deterrent and prevent crime. The problem is that the vast data that has been collected about criminal justice does not support this idea. Harsh long sentences for juveniles often ignores restitution and rehabilitation. Instead those juveniles spend years exposed to the worst of the worst of adult society. Furthermore felony murder is not a very effective way to reduce criminal activities. Most people charged with the crime did not have intent for someone to die so they never really thought through the ramifications. When the Supreme Court of Canada ruled their felony murder rule unconstitutional there was not a huge increase in crime because people suddenly said “I can commit this crime and if it goes wrong I will not be charged with felony murder”

        If the sentiment you believe in worked then the streets of the USA and communities like Elkhart would be the safest in the world. In the western world the USA has the harshest sentences for adults and juveniles. But these harsh sentences has not made brought about the huge reduction in crime they were supposed to. Compare that to countries like the Netherlands which do not have felony murder, have shorter sentences which are focused on restitution and rehabilitation and a very pro-active juveniles justice system. What is happening in the Netherlands? They are in the process of shutting down prisons, because they don’t have enough prisoners to fill the cells. Now if there was any area of government that we should try slim down, it is the prison departments (not because we let the prisoners while they were still dangerous but because we are able to create a society where reducing crime and reducing reoffenders is a top priority and decisions are made with that goal in mind).

        Unfortunately some of the state governments in the USA that are the most supportive of your ideas are also the ones that have huge and ever increasing prison bills. These are also governments that have areas in their states, like Elkhart, which continue to have significant criminal activity that the authorities for whatever reason are unable to address effectively.

        The sentiment of harsh juvenile sentencing might feel good, but in practice it leads to failing policy, more criminality and kids (like Blake, Jose and Levi) who had did not intend for someone to die spending decades being taught the ways of the world but some of the most hardened criminals in the system. It is time we use our brains, the data and effective practices when we create our justice policy . . . not the sentiment that makes us feel safe, but in reality does not address the issues.

      • Answer to your reply….if they are in prison for the majority of their lives they will be released well into their 60’s it’s doubtful they will be thinking of ever doing another crime….not to mention, as long as they are in prison they won’t be robbing anyone else or causing another of their friends to be shot. THAT makes me feel safer.

      • What a awful decison to have to make, I thank God I am not on the jury I am crying and have mixed emotions just reading this, praying for all.

  • They should only be charged with the breaking and entering not the murder. Indiana’s law is old and needs to be changed. There is no consistency in how they sentence anyone in this area. One gets off while another gets jailed for life. Yet the crime was exactly the same circumstance. These are teens who did a stupid thing. Teens do stupid things, if they arrested every teen for being stupid the jails would be more full than they are. Charge them for what they actually did . Breaking and entering not murder.

  • Loretta Gary-Bingham

    I am a lover of police and court tv shows and I have found out that this is a law in MANY states. I personally know the homeowner involved in this and have known him for over 40 years and can tell you this: he is so hurt and broken behind this entire ordeal. This man would give you the shirt off his back. He is one of the kindest men I know. As his friend, I have to keep wondering if he had not had a weapon in the house, would he be alive today or would they have killed him in order to get away with it? As a mother, I don’t know WHAT kind of mercy I would want from the court had my son been involved in something like this, BUT, as the GOOD AND LONGTIME friend of the homeowner, I’m not sure what kind of JUSTICE that I want for him either. So you see, believe it or not, there are NO WINNERS in this situation. It’s just tragic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Thank you so much for commenting on your site. With all of the press this is getting and in fact with the work being done on this site we must remember the homeowner. There are no words that can express the emotion, feelings and stress that this situation has caused him. On this site several times we have stated that there is no place in a civilised society for people entering private property no matter the motive. This type of behaviour must be condemned and dealt with. That being said I agree with you that there are no winners in this case. Danzele lost his life, the homeowner has lost so much and the Elkhart 4 have are locked away. What concerns me is that there is no talk in Elkhart, especially by the political elite, about forgiveness and compassion. We have documented similar cases in Florida and Alabama where government officials were able to find a compromise that embraced compassion and forgiveness. This was not done by the authorities in Elkhart and that is why we are in the situation where there are no winners. Our thoughts continue to be with the homeowner. Thanks again for taking the time to comment on this blog.

    • One final thought. You are correct that Many states have felony murder laws but in fact most of those laws would not apply to The Elkhart 4 because of the specifics of their case. We wrote about this in the following article.

  • Events like this should serve as a warning for children and adults alike. Breaking into a house is one thing; being armed and showing the weapon in the process is another. Just to say that teens do “stupid things” does not justify them breaking the law. They knew they were doing wrong and their friend’s life was lost as a result of their actions. Who’s really responsible? The home owner protecting himself and his home or the people involved that didn’t say “let’s not do this”?

    • This site has never suggested that these boys do not need to take responsibility for their actions . . . also their parents have always said that their sons need to take responsibility for their actions. This blog also does not place any of the responsibility onto the homeowner. In fact we have great sympathy for him and are angered that Blake, Jose, Anthony and Danzele put him in that position (Levi was not even in the house so we have a different view on his responsibility). All this being said there are many important social and legal issues that this case brings up. Had the state charged the boys with burglary I don’t feel there would have been much opposition. In fact I suspect you would have had guilty pleas and saved significant taxpayer dollars. The issue is with felony murder and intent. These boys did not enter the house looking to kill someone. Murder and death were not the reason they did this. In a recent article we posted on intent we commented on a Indiana man who kidnapped and assaulted his ex-girlfriend knocking her out and almost killing her. He received less jail time than these boys he failed to kill her but he tried to. These boys did not try to kill anyone. This is a problem. The second concerning issue is the fact that the juvenile status of Blake, Jose and Levi was ignored by the state. This goes against most of the recent research on human development as well as recent rulings of the US Supreme Court (again documented on this site).

      Finally you commented that this event should be used as a warning. In an ideal world this would be true, but that really is not how society works. If harsh long sentences really worked at reducing crime the USA would be the safest country in the world. With a little less than 5% of the global population the USA has about 25% of the words prisoners. No society in the history of humanity has imprisoned as many of its citizens as the USA does today . . even with all this the USA still has a much higher crime rate than other western countries. The Netherlands is in the process of shutting down jails because they do not have the need for them. Toronto Canada with 2.7 million people had 57 murders in 2013. Indianapolis with only 900 000 people had well over 100. Something different needs to be done. Sending these boys to prison for 1/2 a century accomplishes very little and costs taxpayers millions. It is time to begin talking about other options. What happened here is an injustice, destroys more lives and does nothing to make the streets of Elkhart safer.

  • Good grief! Shoe on the other foot we would all certainly protect ourselves in same situation. They were in HIS home.
    These boys should be Punished in some way for their actions, but not MURDER! The homeowner will suffer a long time. He had no way of knowing if he would be shot!
    A no win situation for all.
    I pray ( yes PRAY ) all you in control of this mess DO THE RIGHT THING , and get it straightened out.
    Yes some people BELONG in jail, and THROW away the key’s, BUT not these boy’s for half of their lives.
    Free them NO! Serve some kind of time Yes! They went there to take what was NOT theirs. A problem today in some young minds, and older mind’s too. WHY?
    I hope they will have learned a lesson in the end, and make something of their lives!

  • I feel the same way as most of the people I know. These boys committed a CRIME!! They sat and I am sure discussed and picked a house to break into with the intent to steal what did not belong to them. Their mistake was made by not making sure the homeowner was indeed not home. Oh well, their bad. The homeowner was defending himself against intruders. They were unwelcome and not invited. They made this decision to commit this crime on their own. They were not forced to do it. They could have been doing a large amount of things that didn’t involve them being inside someones home. Their friend got shot and killed cause of their bad decision making skills. They should be convicted of the murder. They should be serving their time without any special circumstances. They chose to be adults that day. They could have been in school, or at the mall, playing video games, playing basketball somewhere. They chose to be criminals that day without thinking of the consequences. I have no pity for these kids…who make grown bad decisions. I think they got what they deserve. If it would have been my house they broke into and I would have been home alone or my husband would have been. There would have been no trial, none of this would matter. There would have just been more funerals. I am a good shot and I would have done the same thing. I would have protected myself and my home. If the people that are for these boys getting a lesser sentence think this is cold and heartless. That is your opinion and this is mine. I am a Mother. I raised my 20 year old son to respect others and their home and property. My son shakes adults hands when he meets them. He says “sir” and please and thank you. I did not force my child to be like this. He learned this on his own cause he can think for himself and not be part of a hoodlum group that thinks that they shouldn’t get what they deserve cause they are disrespectful thugs. Just think and ponder this…If this is what they chose to do that day….what if they would have got away with it? What would have been their next crime? Rob a bank? Rape? Get some guns next time? Think about it.

    • We must run in very different circles . . . most people I know are appalled at the actions of these boys but also think that a more appropriate outcome was needed. I agree that everyone has the right to feel safe in their own house and I can’t imagine how the homeowner thought and felt at the time and how he feels today. This incident was not of his making and it will haunt him for the rest of his life. All this being said science has proven and courts (including the Supreme Court of the USA) have stated that there is a significant difference in the actions of youth and the actions of adults. That is why governments have drinking ages, driving ages, voting ages, military ages and age of consent laws. There is an understanding the adolescents are different. These boys did a horrible thing, but they did not go in the house intending to kill anyone. Even Curtis Hill can’t make that argument. Recently there was a 21 year old man in Northern Indiana who kidnapped his ex-girlfirend assaulted her, shaved her head, wrapped an electric chord around her throat and chocked her until she lost consciousness. Luckily he failed in his attempt to kill her. But he did all of that intentionally. Each one of those actions he thought through. This was after he had already got one conviction for assault against the same girlfriend. This man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for that crime. Levi Sparks (a juvenile) stood on the porch of the house across the street and got 50 years. This does not calculate with us. We are not demanding the immediate release of these boys. We want them to be charged and punished for what they did, burglary. We are also asking for the status as juveniles to be taken into account. As it stands Indiana is going to spend at least 3.5 million dollars over the next few decades housing and feeding these boys when we know there from evidence gathered from around the globe that there are better ways to deal with juveniles like these boys who have made such a horrendous and horrid decision. This is not an easy case and much thought and debate needs to go into it. The result we have now does not help the victim, the perpetrators or the taxpayers. There needs to be another way.

  • I wouldn’t consider them children. I fully support the sentence and would hope the parole process in Indiana would consider the circumstances and reintroduce them to society before the end of what appears to be a lengthy but deserved verdict.

    • Would you be OK with a 16 year old voting? Are you fine with a 16 year old legally drinking alcohol? How about a 16 year old running for president? All of this things have age rules because years of scientific study has shown that 16 year olds are different than adults. Their brains are different. This is why the Supreme Court of the USA banned the execution of who committed a crime under the age of 18. This is why the Supreme Court of the USA banned the punishment of life without parole for anyone under the age of 18 who committed a non-homicide offence. This is why the supreme court banned automatic life without parole sentences for any person under the age of 18. In the USA legal adult status is 18, but a person needs to be 21 to drink. Blake, Jose and Levi were not adults. I am glad you agree that they should return to society. On that we agree.

      • you state that “a person needs to be 21 to drink.”… should we amend all the laws: driving, voting, signing contracts and smoking to 21 ? and should you the parent be legally responsible for the debts & civil actions of those under 21 ?

      • I don’t think so. I think that throughout adolescence there needs to be a gradual release of responsibility as we prepare our teens for adulthood. I think those responsibilities need to be checked when a teen crosses the line — for example driving privileges could be suspended for a period of time if a 16 year old is caught underage drinking. I do think eventually we need to state someone is an adult. For most things that is 18. I do think that we need to closely examine the science and the latest research and use that information to inform us as we create laws.

      • Then what your saying is there are age limits on drinking, voting, driving, being president….maybe they should put an age limit on committing crimes too then? Just because there are age limits does not mean that these limits won’t be broken…At 16 years old you know right from wrong…these boys didn’t get life and they didn’t get the death penalty either, they just got a really long time to think about what they did.

      • The science does not back you up on this one. There is significant differences between adult brains and adolescent brains that plays a significant role in criminal activity. Check out the Huffington Post article on the Elkhart 4 and the links to the scientific research. There are reasons that society for the past few centuries have placed age limits on risky activities because there is an inherent understanding that teenagers are different. Science has now been able to explain that that difference is biological and it is drastically changing the way we approach juvenile justice. Already this science has resulted in three massively significant Supreme Court decisions that are changing the ways states are dealing with juvenile offenders. As for your final line — the death penalty could never be an option for this crime for Blake, Jose and Levi not just because it is hugely inappropriate in this case, but also because it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has banned the execution of juveniles because the science says they are less culpable in their criminal responsibility.

      • I have a question…if an 18-25 year olds brain is not fully developed according to you and your “data” and “science,” then how do you account for all the millions of 18- 25 year olds that are up standing citizens that DON’T go around committing criminal acts, have jobs, homes and live decent lives? So their brains must be undeveloped and need more data and science too….These boys made a bad CHOICE and not do to undeveloped brains…they knew right from wrong and they picked the wrong house to rob…period!

      • Science has a lot to say on this issue. So much so that it has impacted recent Supreme Court decisions. The Huffington Post does a good job detaining this here and we wrote and article on this here.

  • Sorry.. but if they would not have been breaking the law in the first place, this would not have happened. I feel the punishment is just.

    • How is giving them the same sentence as a first degree murderer who plans to kill someone just?

    • Totally agree. Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Sorry, but little angels don’t break into peoples’ homes. I’m no angel but I was 16 once, too, and never, ever entertained such a ridiculous plan. I got a job in a supermarket for spending cash. I never tried to forcibly take it from another person because that devious plan has consequences if you get caught doing something criminal.

      • One of the reasons the USA is spending more taxpayers money on the overly expensive criminal justice system is because there are lots of people who justify long prison terms with the statement “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.” It is a wonderful statement, and if it worked then I might be able to support it. But in reality it does not work. In reality countries that have much shorter prison sentences, more effective juvenile justice programs and more effective ways to prevent re-offending have lower prison costs and lower crime rates. Recently the Government of the Netherlands announced that they were closing several prison facilities because they no longer needed the beds. This does not mean there is no crime in Netherlands. They still have a need for some prisoners, but their rates of crime is lower that in the US and is falling, they have a more proactive approach to stopping re-offending and they have built a system that does not need to invest in sending 16 year olds to jail for decades for murder when they had no intention of committing such a crime.

  • We are not to judge because there is only one true Judge. He loves these boys and He is listening to all of our prayers. We all sin and we are all loved. Empathy is a trait that pleases God. He is the only one that knows their hearts. Just pray!!!

  • I live in Atlanta and we just had a 14 year old murder a neighbor who was out for a walk the day after xmas. Would you say because he is 14 that he is not old enough to be punished? Age is increasingly a non-factor as people procreate but fail to prperly teach right from wrong. I agree it is a sad situation but these so called children cannot be allowed in society without putting the rest of us in danger. They need to serve more than a standard charge for B&E. As I said, I hope the parole system takes the circumstances into consideration but enough is enough.

    • No one is advocating not punishing these boys. I don’t know the case of the 14 year old in Georgia but yes there needs to be consequences. This type of behaviour cannot be tolerated in our society. There are better ways to provide the consequences then the currently decades in prison. As for your idea that age is “increasingly a non-factor” I am afraid the courts and scientists disagree. Recently scientists have discovered significant differences in brain functioning of teenagers when compared to adults. Courts (including the Supreme Court) have used this evidence to begin a radical transformation in the way people under the age of 18 are dealt with by the court systems. Finally other countries (Canada and Europe) have drastically different ways in dealing with juvenile criminals. Trough effective treatment, education and other advances they have been able to reduce rates of re-offending and make it possible for young offenders to return to normal society. We know from experience and research that locking a 16 old in adult prison for 25 years with the worst of the worst does not teach them to be positive members of society. Instead they are taught the ways of the criminal class. So there is a good chance that the taxpayers of Indiana are about to invest at least 3.1 million dollars to jail these boys for murder when they had no intent to murder. In the end decades from now we risk having to re-incarcerate them. If we learned from science, took what is working successfully around the world we might be able to make the streets safer and rehabilitate these juveniles. Seems like a more worthwhile investment than the current failing money pit that is the American prison complex. There are no perfect justice systems in the world. But there are many systems that are working way better than the American one. We just don’t bother to examine what they are doing in those countries.

  • I would also suggest you review the case last year in Brunswick Georgia where an 18 year old shot and killed a baby in a stroller while the mother was out for a walk. Should age be a factor in considering punishment?

    • 18 years of age is the age of adulthood. There needs to be an age that differentiates adolescents and adulthood society has selected 18. I did hear about that specific crime in Georgia and it was horrific and must be punished. The thought process that man went through of having a gun, going up to a baby and mom out for a walk and shooting that baby is cold, calculated and awful. Much different than the situation the Elkhart 4 are in. In the first case the man acted with intent and killed the baby. There was no intent to commit murder by The Elkhart 4. That is one of many significant differences in these cases.

    • This kids did not had a gun can’t compare it to cases were the killer pull the trigger

  • I have a few questions here:
    1) the top comment/description of the incident says “the boys mothers are…” well, where are the fathers ? and grandfathers and uncles ?
    2) was this their first arrest? have they been in trouble before ? did they abuse drugs ?
    3) were they in school and did any teachers speak up for them as character witnesses ?
    4) where they offered plea deals ?
    5) did they work after school ?
    Now you are part of this group seem to be saying ‘punish my child….but not too much….and I understand that you do not like the law; but why should they receive a lesser sentence ? ( note: I understand that other countries have different rules….I don’t need a re-hash…..) I would like to know what positive things these people did to mitigate the sentences they received. AND PLEASE NOTE: if they were offered plea deals but did not accept them, you have lost my concern for them; on the other hand, if they were not offered plea deals I have moderately more sympathy

    • In interest of fairness I need to let you know that I have never met any of the family or the boys. You have asked some very valid and very good questions, but also very intimate questions. I will do my best to answer based on what I know. I know that some of the families read the blog and if I have anything wrong they can let me know and I will change.

      1. I think this is key . . I am not sure for all but I know that for some of the boys the biological father is no longer in the picture. I can’t comment on other males relatives in their lives.
      2. It was the first arrest for 3 of the boys. The forth had an earlier arrest for drug possession (weed).
      3. This is a common question — they were in school — it is my understanding that the day of this incident it was an early dismissal at the local school.
      4. Jose accepted a plea deal which saw him plead guilty to felony murder at get 45 years in prison and 10 years probation. I do not know if the others were offered a plea deal, but suspect had they been offered a lesser charge we would not be in this situation. Levi, Blake, Anthony and their families do not believe that a first degree murder conviction was appropriate given the facts of this case. We agree.
      5. I know that Blake worked at Wendy’s and his boss at Wendy’s had very positive things to say about him as an employee. I don’t know the employment status of the others.

      We are not saying punish these boys, but not to much. We are saying punish these boys for what they did. We are saying punish these boys but take their age and brain development into account. In the recent supreme court decision banning mandatory life without parole for juveniles it was declared that in order to give a juvenile life without parole there needed to be a long and detailed sentencing hearing (much like what is done for those facing the death penalty). Since these boys were not facing life without parole they were invited to submit a written package to mitigate their sentences. They gathered letters from supporters from around the community (and there are lots of supporters) and from people who can speak to their character and their lives. A good example of this is discussion about Blake having to deal with the serious implications of his younger sister being very sick. In the end sentencing took place over one morning and the judge had little room based upon Indiana sentencing guidelines.

      Finally and I appreciate that you have spent some time and read the site it is important that I stress the importance of many of the points made on this site and without “re-hashing” them they need to be considered when looking at this case.

      Thanks so much for your detailed questions. It really is wonderful interacting with someone who has spent some time reading the site and has some well thought out questions.

  • I have also read and understand the decision making function of the brain is not fully developed until 25. But would you advocate for removing freedoms until then? Certainly with freedom comes reponsibility regardless of age. You make good points but the trends of juvenile crime and punishment run against the grain of the brain studies. No doubt it’s a tough situation and I’m not sure if there is a one size fits all solution.

    • I think think there needs to be a clearly defined juvenile justice system that is used for the vast majority of offenders under the age of 18. I think that all juveniles (under 18) should be dealt with in that system. I think that the vast majority of juvenile cases should have a punishment which is combined with effective treatment to hopefully make the offender a positive contributing member of society upon release. I think there are a tiny number of extreme cases (thinking about Lee Boyd Malvo the teen accomplice of the DC sniper) where after a trial judges need to have the flexibility to give harsher sentences because of the extreme nature of the crime. For those 18 – 25 there is a lot of evidence to suggest their brains are not fully developed. I would not advocate removing freedoms. Instead I would give judges the a wide range of sentencing options to prevent some of the most horrific injustices we see today. I am thinking of someone like Ryan Holle from Florida who at the age of 21 lent the keys to his car to his roommate and then went to sleep. The roommate drove to a drug dealers house and ended up killing an 18 year old girl. Prosecutors charged and successfully prosecuted Ryan Holle with felony murder and he is now serving a mandatory life without parole sentence. I truly doubt that any judge given the facts of such a case would find life without parole to be an acceptable punishment for Ryan Holle. The system we currently have with mandatory minimums is a one-size fits all situation and this leads to people like Ryan Holle and The ELkhart 4 spending far to long in prison given the facts of their cases.

  • This is just sad.. I went to school with one of the boys. This is such a hard debate.. Yes, they should be in jail/prison.. but for murder?! I also went to school with Danzele… such a tragedy. If the homeowner wasn’t armed.. would he be dead?! I am excited to watch the Dr. Phil show and see what he thinks. They did do a crime, which yes resulted in a murder… but they didn’t pull the trigger. I hope that maybe the jail time will do them good and that maybe a judge can see through the murder and see that these young men need guidance not a concrete bed and a cell for half of their lives. Prayers to all of the families involved. That would be devastating.. especially to be the parent of the one who didn’t even enter the home.

    • You are correct that this is a very complicated debate that does bring up some very hard questions. We are hoping that the appeals judge will change the course of this situation. On a personal level I also agree that 50 years for Levi is one of the saddest aspects of this case.

  • This is the exact thing I expected when I heard about Dr. Phil featuring this show. The ridiculousness of the comments defending these “boys” is ridiculous. I am NOT buying the argument that their brains are not fully developed yet, etc. They made the decision, excecuted a plan, complete with a look out and targeted a home for burglary. The homeowner defended himself and his property and one of the teens lost his life. Tell me, how are you going to fight to “Free” the 5th teen who is dead. He paid with his life, while the other 4 have the ability and breath to fight for their freedom. The homeowner not only had his private, personal space invaded, he is also devastated by taking another persons life and being drug through the PR nightmare over and over because he was targeted by these teens. Is our legal system skewed in many areas? Yes. In this case. NO! I’ve yet to see any remorse by the teens or families for the family of the teen who was killed. This is another fine example of bad behavior being blamed on everyone and everything else but the people who made the decision to execute the well planned bad behavior. How many other victims would be left in their path if they hadn’t been caught this time. It clearly was not their first burglary and wouldn’t have been their last. Except, they now have deemed themselves, along with the assistance of others, as self-imposed victims. They didn’t care about the consequences when they planned it and didn’t care about the trauma they were inflicting on an innocent homeowner by violating his personal space. They are still projecting the same poor me, no remorse, selfish behavior they did when planning the crime. Its a slap in the face that one teen paid for his crime with his life and these 4 get to wake up everyday and garner sympathy to gain their life back. The teen who is buried 6 feet under has no chance at gaining his life back, whatsoever, nor does his family get to hear his voice or see him, even though it may have been through plate glass. They get to visit a headstone.

    • Not sure it is wise to easily dismiss scientific research that has been backed up by many different assessments and used across the country to change laws. It might be a nice comforting thought, but it is a dangerous precedent to ignore research. As for remorse there has been a lot both from the teens and their parents. None of the families nor this blog have ever suggested that there do not need to be consequences for their actions, but the consequences in this case are to the extreme. It is time for states like Indiana not to react on gut feelings but to actually look and see what works when juveniles commit crimes to help them make restitution to their victims and society and to help them have the potential to lead productive lives.

    • Jenn. I loved your comments. And technicslly dr phil is right, from a biological standpoint. However, these boys were old enough to know it was wrong and illegal, which is why they were sneaky and had a lookout. I loved sunny when she came on, she ripped those kids and their ridiculous mothers. They were also smart enough to appreciate the risks of breaking in.

  • Look sunny said they were charged right but yet 55 years was wrong but wait doesn’t that contradict it self yes the charge was right well the charge holds 55 years so no the charge was wrong and how can you be a mother and say its these boys fault that there friend is dead hell no no no no these are little boys and the man that died was a man how is it a boys fault that they went in with a man and the home owner kills the man and we charge the lil boys what isn’t it bad enough the boys have to deal with a death of a friend but they have to be told its there fault there friends dead no it Is not there fault there friend is dead !!! They were board sitting around and made a bad choice wile in the middle of looking a house with the home owner gone again with the home owner gone!!!! They ended up in a house with the home owner there ok lets look at it like this if the 21year old would have survived sorry to say it would have been blamed on him as in he was a grown up and they were kids so instead of this happening the only again the only adult there died ok I swear to it these boys did not by any mean think for one sec that any of them were going to die well I swear when they saw there friend dieing these young boys were terrified and did not try to hert the home owner or had no wepons of mass destruction (lol) to even think plot or plain to use at all there for it is very out in the open that these boys were not trying plaining or thinking of any sort that any one was going to be hert better yet dead!!!!
    Ok what it amounts to is our system is getting more and more corrupt these towns are running these court rooms as if it was daddy’s little sports shop they have no care for the law they are braking just to punish you for a law you’ve broke they enore the laws they are suppose to follow that’s why I can steal a car and not even walk in the court room cause of my money lawyer and the next man can steal a car and because the wrong person doesn’t like the way they look how they dress ex…they end up with 55 years ???
    Any way the law isn’t how they use to be it use to be protected and serve now its lock up as many as possible write as many tickets as possible so the town can look a little nicer and have more money !!! Towns having money issues well tell the boys in blue to just go a little harder!!! Sorry for this being so long I could write a book on all the laws being broke and wrong being done!!

  • The prosecutor and the judge are the ones who should be impeached and jailed for intentionally and knowingly, undermining and perverting the course of justice. Prior to the passage of the ‘felony murder’ laws all across the country, there were simply too many instances where a ‘gang’ would kill a bank teller, store clerk, kidnap victim, etc., and the police and prosecutors were faced with the unreasonable necessity of proving which of them actually ‘pulled the trigger’. So the laws were passed to hold every individual who participated in the commission of a felony equally responsible for such deaths. And this was the intent of the writers and legislators who passed the laws. It was not intended to cover the death of any perpetrator (who by electing to participate in the felony was himself responsible for whatever befell him)– whether killed by a bank guard, a merchant or individual acting in self defense, or by police officers. Applying the law as done in this case, and the concurrent instructions to the jury, is nothing less than a subverting of justice and the intent of the law. And the judge and the prosecutors both knew it. It was a question of “can we convince a jury to go along with it?”.

  • Dr. Phil’s show never addressed the issue of why Levi Sparks, across the street, was charged with this crime. It was briefly suggested that he made the personal decision to not participate, claiming he was not even a “look-out”. At best, he could have been charged with “aiding and abetting” or “failure to report a crime in progress”. At the least, he was guilty of “choosing the wrong friends.”
    The other four were certainly old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. The Catholic Church claims age 12 as being the age of accountability – taking responsibility for the decisions one makes. Unfortunately “being stupid in the first place” is not a viable defense. As for the sentence, I agree that it is excessive.

  • While I completely agree that these boys were handed a harsh sentence secondary to being convicted of felony murder, it’s difficult to align with a petition campaigning as FREEtheelkhart4. Perhaps changing the name will allow others to understand that these teens do accept responsibility for their actions as well as endangering their own lives and the life of an innocent homeowner with the outcome of death to their friend, and pain and suffering for all those involved. It seems the law does need some revision and sentences can’t be so black and white, especially when it deals with our youth, who can be rehabilitated and allowed to contribute something positive to the world. Throwing away the key after locking them up for half a century certainly is not the answer, but stirring up even more negative judgement with a website promoting their freedom implies an utter lack of remorse.

    • Hi Andrea, a fair and good suggestion. On our blog we have never once said that these boys are blameless and we have stated categorically that there needs to be consequences and this type of behaviour can’t be condoned in a civilised society. The idea of “free” comes from the notion that juveniles are different and they need to be treated differently. There needs to be hope for them that one day they can re-join society. If that hope is taken away by these crazy long prison sentences then they will become students of the worst of the worst an if they ever get freedom we will not like who they are. Freedom is about giving them the tools so they can make amends for their crime and become members of society who will not slip back into criminality. Locking them up and throwing away the key accomplished nothing.

      • A kid is dead. Somebody needs to be held responsible. Who is it? It cant be the owner of the home so who is left?

      • It is a tragedy that Danzele is dead. This entire situation is a tragedy, that being said Danzele was the oldest of the five. He made a decision to enter that house (as did the others). If he had survived and the one of the others had been killed he would be facing the consequences now, except it would be hard to argue the juvenile aspect because he was 21. As an adult he made this decision to enter that house.

    • I’ve just seen the Dr Phil show. I’m sad to say that I saw no sign of remorse on the part of the mothers or the young men. However, I do think that they will ( sadly ) be released on appeal. I say sadly, because they have not reformed, nor will their moms help them reform, and they will commit additional crimes. Also, keep in mind that IF they do retry this on appeal, the charge of felony burglary is min ( or max,sorry I can’t remember) of 20 years. Which of course means possibility of parole after 10 years. Now ( to the moderator ) is 10 years too much ?

      • What you saw on Dr. Phil was three boys taking responsibility for the crime they committed, burglary. I hope you are correct that they will win on appeal, I know you hope you are not correct. I think their mothers and the boys have been consistently very remorseful for their actions. Not once has any of the parents or any of the boys said that they do not deserve to have consequences, they have said that they have concerns with the original charge. If you were expecting these boys to say that they murdered their friend then I think you will never get that. They will never say it because they don’t believe it, and frankly neither do I.

        Finally I don’t know if 10 years is too much. I think that each case needs to be examined independently and an appropriate consequence found. As we wait for the appeals what happens if hypothetically one of the boys goes out gets his GED, starts working in the prison kitchen, mentors other inmates and has a perfect discipline record while another joins a prison gang and causes problems for the institution. Perhaps that should be taken into account. There are so many factors that I think thinks need to be carefully considered. What I do know is that 55 years exposed to the worst of the worst for a murder you did not commit is not justice.

  • I think the sentence was harsh given their age, but at the same time, the law is designed to protect the innocent in our country. Suppose the old man hadn’t heard the boys and lay sleeping there — would the crime of the group of boys have escalated and resulted in the old man getting seriously beat up or killed? We don’t know. Or suppose the old man’s young granddaughter had been there alone when the break-in happened? Would the crime of the group have escalated then? We don’t know, of course, because the home owner happened to hear them and stop any possible escalation. The crime is, in fact, a home invasion, and justice demands that they be punished, though as I said above, I think 50+ years harsh. However, perhaps the sentence is so high because with good behavior, they can get out in half that time. If so, then I think it’s still sad, but fair.

    • That is the problem with felony murder it takes away intent. Recently in Northern Indiana there was a case where a 22 year old man who had already been convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend went and kidnapped her. He knocked her unconscious, shaved her head, beat her up. When she woke up he tied an electrical chord around her neck and chocked her. Luckily she survived. This man was sentenced to 25 years in prison. 1/2 the time of Levi and 30 years less than Blake and Anthony. Think of the complex thought process that went through that mans mind as he decided to kidnap, chock, shave, beat up and tie a chord around her neck. Each action pre-meditated, violent and calculated. He got 25 years. Levi got 50 for standing across the street refusing to go into the house with his friends. The others got huge sentences when they had no intent to kill. Strange and horrific situation.

  • Comment removed because it failed to live up to the comment policy on this site.

  • Yes. This is a tragedy all the way around! I am feeling for the homeowner!!!!!! He was undoubtedly scared and terrified! He was invaded and outnumbered! Now he has to live with the fact that he has taken a life, let alone, a young life. He was simply at home in HIS OWN HOME, and was invaded!. Sorry, but I think the sympathy here is misguided.

    • Like you we have a lot of sympathy for the homeowner, but we also have a lot of sympathy for Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony. We think that there could have been a much better outcome that respected the homeowner while dealt with the boys in a more fair way. We detailed a case in Florida on our site that managed to do this.

  • This is a comment from Jennifer a reader who send an email and asked for us to post this for her.

    I recently saw this story and to be frank– I did NOT need to hear the details to know that charging these boys with Felony Murder with 45-55 year sentences is totally uncalled for, disgusting and it leaves me speechless and I’m a writer…and also a proud American but in this case–justice was not served, it was WAY over-cooked. They were stupid teenagers that did a stupid thing but they are NOT liable for their friends death. WHO THE H E double hockey sticks put this witch hunt in motion. I am so absolutely disgusted, I’m at a loss for words.

    Did the home owner have a right to protect his house? YES But how do you turn a murder conviction around on his friends? The Jury– if any of you are reading this– SHAME ON YOU. You are all disgusting people for allowing this to happen…. what? Were you in a hurry to get out of there and be released from Jury Duty? (Forget the fact that you have a bunch of TEENAGERS that will either die in prison or be released when they are 50-70 years old.)

    These boys needed to be punished but this murder charge is ludicrous.

    Sick to my stomach.


  • As a mother, I am horrified by this verdict. Yes these teens deserved to be punished for their crime, but to give them 45-55 years for murder?! That is ridiculous. I am disgusted by a system that would do this to teenage boys! These poor stupid boys also lost their lives that night.

  • Great Grandma Ginny

    What a tragedy, all the way around. In my 7 decades of life I can only feel that our culture is to blame for the people we produce on a whole. Just the idea of the boys wanting to “go rob” someone speaks volumes to what they have been exposed to all their lives. Even perfect parents have less time to influence their kids than any other factor upon them. Even an ideal parent is still “hog tied” by the fruit of our current culture, which is, violence wins, life is cheap, lie, cheat, steal, “if it feels good, do it.”

    Our kids are learning that there is no black & white, right & wrong… only grey.. i.e.: if no one is home we can rob them and no one gets hurt, right? “WRONG”.. “NO” … Words teens seldom hear today. But even if they do at home it has little impact as the rest of culture says it is all grey… it depends… only if…. yea maybe… sort of…

    I also feel the prosecutor is dead wrong. However, she/he too is a product of the same culture, which also says, got to get ahead, make my mark, show who’s boss in “my” town, got to punish, got to set an example…etc.

    Then there is the “law” it’s self. The law the prosecutor has evoked was passed when men and women KNEW from childhood that there ARE consequences to inappropriate behavior. When honor, truth, helpfulness, respect, honesty, kindness were not only part of our lexicon but the very fabric of our culture.

    How can we dish out such severe punishment onto kids who WE RAISED IN WHAT HAS BECOME OUR GREY CULTURE. As if grey is not bad enough, now we are not capable of mercy, grace, making the punishment appropriate as in show some humanity. Now we are as inhumane as the “enforcers” we have fought wars to stop. How is this case any less inhumane than what goes on in North Korea or China every day. What part of this sentence is fair? What part of this sentence will help channel these young men into being contributors to society. What part of this sentence is not our so called justice system not cutting off it’s nose to spite it’s face??

    These kids are just that boys, underage, with minds not fully developed… and for the first mistake of their young lives our “system” takes away their entire life. We have indeed become symptomatic of a compassion-less, desensitized, hard-boiled, punitive culture. Seems to me we may not have won the cold war because we are rotting from the inside out. How different from our enemies are we really?

    These kids deserve some punishment but not the death sentence. Yes, their entire lives spent in prison is a death sentence.

  • Elkhart Gun toting Republican

    I am probably one of Elkhart’s most conservative citizens and I love the logic and spirit of the law. However, this ruling was not in the spirit of the law, nor did it have anything closely resembling logic, but was to the letter of the law, which is very, very different. The Elkhart homeowner has my condolences. He’s left with a scar he must bear for the rest of his life. I believe the young men have been used as pawns in an attempt for political gain. (Shame on you Curtis) The prosecutor had his choice of charges, but wanted to set an example—or make a name–you take your pick. Had the 21 year old induced the minor to make drugs, sell drugs, take drugs, drink alcohol…etc and someone died,
    “B) the consumption, ingestion, or use of the alcoholic beverage, controlled substance, or drug is the proximate cause of the death of any person;”
    “(2) if the person committing the offense knowingly or intentionally encourages, aids, induces, or causes a person less than eighteen (18) years of age to commit an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult under any of the following:”
    Someone did die in this case, but not from alcohol or drugs, from stupidity. Had the situation been different and the 21 year old induced the younger boys to take drugs, then they killed someone, the law states the 21 year old would receive a class C felony charge—NOT MORE THAN 60 days.
    Unfortunately for these young men, they were not over 21, they were minors and death did not occur because of alcohol or drugs, but stupidity. When someone dies because of an illegal act an individual participated in or encouraged, it shouldn’t matter whether alcohol or drugs were involved. The punishment should be similar.

    One last question for anyone who knows. It is my understanding that Levi Sparks lived across the street and was waiting on his porch, choosing not to participate. Why in God’s name was he charged with anything? He made a good decision not to be involved, but still received punishment?????