Why We Support the Elkhart 4

It has been a few months since the Elkhart 4 hearing at the Indiana Supreme Court. All involved on both sides of the debate are eagerly waiting for the ruling from the Court.

One of the most common questions we get is “why do you spend all this time supporting the Elkhart 4?” We decided to spend a few moments today to discuss why we have put all this work into this case, and these boys.

DEBATE IS GOOD . . . . there are many, especially in Elkhart Indiana, who want this case to go away. They don’t appreciate that this case has captured the imagination of the national and international press and they don’t understand why across the world people are advocating for Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony. But underlying the conversation around this case is a genuine debate not only about the Elkhart 4, but about justice. People who engage in a thoughtful and carefully articulated conversation about justice is good and should be encouraged. We believe we are engaging in such a debate. In our opinion this case revolves around many issues, but the for us the central issues are the felony murder rule, clarity of law and juvenile justice.

FELONY MURDER RULE . .. . if you read Emily Pfund’s article “MTV’s ‘One Bad Choice’ latest in national, international coverage of Elkhart Four Case” published on Wednesday March 4, 2015 in the Elkhart Truth you would have read “Indiana’s felony murder law says that if someone dies during the commission of a felony such as burglary, everyone involved in that crime can be charged with murder, even if it’s a co-conspirator who dies.” Pfund has chosen to present to her readers a very simplistic, and in many ways misleading definition of the Felony Murder Rule.We believe the reason this case has caught the attention of many in the Indiana legal world is the fact that as written the Indiana Felony Murder law is not how Ms. Pfund interprets in and should not be applied to the Elkhart 4. The law as written states:“A person who kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, (and a list of 12 other offences) commits murder, a felony”The argument in this case is that Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony did not kill anyone . . . the homeowner did.Ms. Pfund states, “even if it’s a co-conspirator who dies.” But here are the quotes of other experts on this law which suggest it is not as simplistic as Ms. Pfund believes.

Ryan Dvorak an Indiana State Representative and lawyer “If you actually read the statute, the language of the statute probably would not apply to the kids in this case (Elkhart 4).

Joel M. Schumm a respected Indiana Law Professor in a brief supporting the appeals to the Elkhart 4 wrote, “Indiana’s felony murder and accomplice liability statutes do not permit a conviction where a third-party not involved in the underlying felony commits the murder or when a defendant’s co-perpetrator is the victim.”

Most powerfully at the recent Indiana Supreme Court hearing (minute 26:58) Justice Massa stated in response to the argument of the state, “I think Counsel for the Appellant is arguing that we ought to construe the statute according to its plain meaning. Kills means kills and if the legislature wanted it to be broader then they should use language like ‘contributes to the death.’

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the meaning of the Indiana Felony Murder Rule. That controversy is central in this debate. We are arguing in this debate because we believe the law needs to be clarified, and right now only the Indiana Supreme Court (or the legislature) can do this. We believe that media in Elkhart has a responsibility to articulate this debate over the language of the law, rather than incorrectly define the law, which is what the Elkhart Truth continues to do.

THE LAW SHOULD BE CLEAR . . . no matter the outcome of the Indiana Supreme Court arguments we believe that there is a responsibility of legal experts and lawmakers to make the law clear. If Indiana want to have a felony murder law and wants to impose it in situations like the Elkhart 4 case then the State Legislature should compose the law in a way that makes this clear. Take for example the law in Florida . . . the law clearly sets out two forms of Felony Murder (1st degree and 2nd degree). First Degree Felony Murder is when one of the perpetrators kills an innocent. Second Degree is when someone not involved in the crime kills someone as a response to the crime. This legal construction is very different then the wording of the Indiana law, which is rather ambiguous when applied to cases like the Elkhart 4. In our opinion citizens have the right to know and clearly understand the meaning of the laws they are required to follow.

JUVENILE JUSTICE . . . . there are a whole group of people who use the word “men” when referring to Blake, Levi and Jose. We believe these are people who deep down need to convince themselves that how the justice system dealt with these boys was just fine. Blake was 16, Jose was 16 and Levi was 17 when they broke into Mr. Scotts house. These boys were juveniles. How do we know this? Well, they could not vote . . . because they were not 18. They could not own a gun . . . because they were not 18. They could not get married without parental approval . . . because they were not 18. They could not dropout of school without parental permission . . . because they were not 18. They could not drink alcohol . . .because they were not 21. So the state on Indiana in its wisdom has decided to limit the participation in all of these areas based on age. The notion that Indiana has presented is that humans before the age of 18 are not mature enough to own guns, vote, marry or leave school. The stricter rules for alcohol consumption shows the concern the State has with youth drinking.Blake was 16, Jose was 16, Levi was 17.

Do the Elkhart 4 deserve to be punished for burglary? YES!!! Do they deserve decades in prison because they failed to anticipate all the complex variables that might occur when they foolishly and selfishly decided to break into the house? This is an essential question that is being ignored in the media and needs to be explored in depth.We believe there are good reasons why the juvenile justice system was founded. We believe that these boys are good candidates to experience the support, education and guidance of the juvenile system with the hope of rehabilitation.

These boys did not set out to murder someone. They were unarmed. They were stupid, selfish, ignorant thugs that day, and need punishment, however, they were not murders. But they have been judged as such. This is wrong, and those who insist on using the word ‘men’ to describe them know this. If they truly felt that this was just they would have no problem saying that a 16 year old kid deserves decades in adult prison for the unintentional death of their friend.

These are the reasons we support the Elkhart 4. We believe that through debate, legal arguments and a bit of luck there might be a future of Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony away from Indiana Prisons.

11 comments

  • These boys were young and made a horrible mistake and they will live with the worst punishment possible for their rest of their lives, they will always blame themselves for their friends death and that is by far the hardest punishment possible. They were young and didnt realize what was going to happen when they went into what they thought was an empty house. They need to be punished for their crime but the punishment Curtis Hill is pushing is insane and unreasonable. Justice for the Elkhart 4.

    • I have lived in Elkhart for 31 years and I worked in South Bend for about 10 years. The really crazy thing is, Elkhart County seems to prosecute everything and South Bend (St. Joe Co.) doesn’t prosecute enough. The other thing that I find terribly disturbing is the fact that the Elkhart Prosecutor’s office has absolutely no comprehension of the language of ‘felony murder’ nor does it seem to know case precedent in felony murder cases. as I have kept up with this case, I have come to the conclusion that Elkhart needs to change its motto from “City With A Heat” to “City With NO Heart”. I know the boys have a lot of legal help so there isn’t much I can offer in the way of assistance except to keep this case in front of my readers. Truly our community needs to know more about Jury Nullification. I believe that if the jury in this case had more understanding of this process, they would have had an entirely different decision. I am available for speaking on the subject of Jury Nullification if anyone is interested.

      • I agree with everything you said,except for one thing. Elkhart’s motto. The system is so unjustified here, Elkhart’s motto in my opinion is: “Elkhart, come here on vacation and leave here on probation.

      • I know the boys didnt think someone was home and they werent intending to hurt anybody. But breaking into a house and the intent to rob the person isnt that hurting them? The bottom line if the boys didnt rob the house all would be ok, but they did, their actions caused the issue. Folks you might not agree with the out come of the punishement but that doesn’t make the law makers in the wrong. We all need to over analyze our decisions at times think it through , Lets think for a minute. If the boys got away with this and robbed the house do you think they would have stopped? No they wouldnt —–robbing someone even if the intent is not to get anyone physically hurt is not enough to say the boys are not at fault. For the boy that sat and waited outside he knew what was going on. He is to blame as well. Example the Knoxville murders in 2007 Newsome / Christian—- one of the men prosecuted George Thomas he was there no DNA to link him to the rapes and torture of the 2 victims one victim shot and burned the other tossed in a trash can the guy sat and watched he knew what was going..You might think itis not the same iti s. A crime is a crime. So many examples can be given –to me the punishment is fair,

      • Lisa, this blog has always been very critical of these boys and their horrid decision to break into that house. You are correct when you state if they had not done this none of this would have happened. But murder????? Modern science has really examined brain development of teenagers and shown that there is a significant difference between juvenile and adult offenders. In 2005 the US Supreme Court in a ruling recognized that “that the majority of youth who commit crimes will not grow up to be lifetime offenders, and that even experts cannot differentiate between the offenders whose crimes are merely a function of their age and immaturity and those rare juvenile offenders whose crimes will persist throughout their life”.

        Take for example the case of former Wyoming Senator Alan K. Simpson who submitted a brief to the Supreme Court supporting juvenile justice. Simpson wrote “I was a monster”. His story is as follows: One day in Cody, Wyoming, when Simpson was in high school, he and some friends “went out to do damage.” They went to an abandoned war relocation structure and decided to “torch” it. They committed arson on federal property, a crime now punishable by up to twenty years in prison if no one is hurt, and punishable by up to life in prison if the arson causes a person’s death. Luckily for Simpson, no one was injured in the blaze.
        Simpson not only played with fire, but also with guns. He played a game with his friends in which they shot at rocks close to one another, at times using bullets they stole from the local hardware store. The goal of the game was to come as close as possible to striking someone without actually doing so. Again, Simpson was lucky: no one was killed or seriously injured.
        Simpson and his friends went shooting throughout their community. They fired their rifles at mailboxes, blowing holes in several and killing a cow. They fired their weapons at a road grader. “We just raised hell,” Simpson says. Federal authorities charged Simpson with destroying government property and Simpson plead guilty. He received two years of probation and was required to make restitution from his own funds – funds that he was supposed to obtain by holding down a job.
        … As he [Simpson] has described it, “The older you get, the more you realize . . . your own attitude is stupefying, and arrogant, and cocky, and a miserable way to live.”

        Simpson continued: I was just dumb and rebellious and stupid. And a different person.” And then added; “You’re not who are when you’re 16 or 18. You’re dumb, and you don’t care and you think you are eternal.”

        Simpson ended up becoming a US Senator.

    • Rebecca McKnight

      Thank u for your info on our boys to your blog. I greatly appreciate that as well as your reply to the support web site too. Thank u for your support.
      Rebecca McKnight
      Mother of Jose Quiroz

      • Betty Ray-Mydland

        Rebecca, I promise to keep this case as public as I possibly can till this horrible wrong is made right.

  • I certainly hope the Indiana Supreme Court takes a long hard look at the felony murder statute. I have posted all updates to this case on the Fully Informed Jury Indiana Web site at: http://states.fija.org/indiana/

  • We all have different opinions. Mine is a death occured where it was senseless and would not have happened if the boys didnt attempt to rob someone. Young, old rich, middle class, poor doesnt matter —-ignorance to knowing right from wrong is not and excuse. I apologize I didnt realize thiis to support them. Good luck