A New Editorial in the Goshen News — Are they correcting errors they made during the trial?

A year ago today we wrote a blog post entitled “Does the Goshen News Favor Curtis Hill”. In this post we accused the Goshen News of taking a pro Curtis Hill slant in its coverage of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp’s trial. We concluded our article on the biased reporting by saying,

This case will continue with appeals but will also be documented by national and international media as an example of the youth justice system in the USA.  The record of this case will be studied in years to come and unfortunately the digital records of local papers will show what a poor job they did in their coverage.

We followed up with an article on November 23, 2013 accusing the Goshen News of ignoring facts in its August 18, 2013 editorial supporting the felony murder charges of Levi Sparks, Blake Layman and Anthony Sharp. (NOTE: the August 18, 2013 editorial has been removed from the Goshen News website)

We were correct that this case would continue and would gather the attention of national and international media. Since our post a year ago the case has been featured on Dr. Phil, Nightline, The Huffington Post, the National Post of Canada, ITV (UK TV station). The Guardian newspaper in the UK called the case of Blake Layman an “outrage”.

On Sunday September 14, 2014 the Goshen News published another editorial on the case entitled “Our View: ‘Elkhart 4’ case belongs in front of the Indiana Supreme Court.”

In this editorial the Goshen News has begun to backtrack on its earlier unequivocal support of the actions of Curtis Hill.

In the editorial the newspaper states that the case of the Elkhart 4 has received a lot of national attention. According to the Goshen News the reasoning for this attention is as follows,

This case is the topic of such shows because this punishment is polarizing and because the code in question that the prosecutor hung his hat on does leave some gray area in this instance. If this case was so cut and dry, why would the prosecution and defense agree to allow the jury of Sparks, Layman and Sharp to consider felony burglary convictions instead of murder convictions before deliberating?

The newspaper continues,

THE ONLY THING WE can think of is the prosecution had its doubts that the jury would in fact deliver murder convictions. And on Friday, one of the three Appellate judges — Judge Robert Kirsch — offered a dissenting opinion on Friday’s ruling, stating that “the defendants here were attempting to commit a non-violent crime when the unforeseeable tragedy giving rise to this case unfolded. … I respectfully dissent from my colleagues’ conclusion that Indiana Code section 35-42-1-1, the felony murder statute, was properly applied in this case.

The editorial board of the Goshen News is finally beginning to comprehend that this is a complex case which is not as cut and dry as they presented during the trial.

Where was the conversation about the possibility of such extensive sentences in last years editorial and news coverage? Where was the debate about the grey areas in the law during the trial last August?  What has changed in the past year?  The reality is that through external media coverage and the work of high profile juvenile legal scholars at the organizations like the Juvenile Law Center local media like The Goshen News is being exposed for the questionable job they did covering the trial last year.  Now, in the face of a new reality, the Goshen News is being forced to play catch up.

As interesting as the Sunday September 14, 2014 editorial is, they still missed the mark. The Goshen News failed to bring up the juvenile status of Levi Sparks, Blake Layman and Jose Quiroz. The newspaper talks about the dissenting opinion written by Justice Kirsch, but failed to mention the opinion written by Justice Melissa May who was very concerned about the age of Sparks and Layman.

Justice May upheld Levi Sparks and Blake Layman’s convictions not because she believed the convictions were just or right but because she knew she could not overturn case law established by the Indiana Supreme Court.

Justice May wrote (Layman/Sparks ruling — Court of Appeals Layman Sparks Ruling)

“Subjecting a juvenile who did not kill or intend to kill anyone to a murder prosecution in adult court based solely on the premise it was “foreseeable” to the juvenile that someone might be killed is problematic because juveniles do not “foresee” life adults do.”

There is little doubt that Justice May hopes that this case will end up before the Indiana Supreme Court given the content of her writing. She clearly articulated that she believes the Indiana Supreme Court should overthrow the felony murder of Layman and Sparks given their ages and the facts of this case.

The fact that two of the three judges explicitly wrote in the Laymen/Sparks opinions of their discomfort at how this case was handled is a powerful reminder of how much local media, including the Goshen News, failed to fully cover the complexities and controversial nature of this case last fall.

The Goshen News editorial concludes stating,

Do the “Elkhart 4” deserve murder convictions? Do they deserve burglary convictions? It would seem something between should be an option in Indiana statue. Certainly, though, we feel this case is worthy of the Indiana Supreme Court’s time.

For the first time we agree 100% with the Goshen News that this is a case “worthy of the Indiana Supreme Court’s time.”