What Is Next For Jose?

Jose Quiroz plead guilty to a crime, felony murder . . . . a crime the Indiana Supreme Court now says he never should have been charged with let along convicted of. One day after the Indiana Supreme Court said this Jose is sitting in prison with a 45-year sentence while the three others have had their sentences vacated and are looking at the possibility of a maximum sentence of 20 years.

In October 2012 Jose Quiroz, Blake Layman, Anthony Sharp and Danzele Johnson broke into a house they thought was unoccupied. Levi Sparks stayed outside the house. Unfortunately the homeowner, who was in bed at the time of the break in, woke up, grabbed his gun and shot killing Danzele Johnson and wounding Blake Layman.

In response to the death of Danzele Johnson, Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill charged the four survivors with felony murder.   Jose Quiroz accepted a plea deal for 45 years while Layman, Sparks and Sharp went to trial. Layman Sparks and Sharp were convicted and sentenced to a significantly longer time in prison (55 years for Sharp and Layman and 50 years for Sparks). We covered Jose’s plea deal in detail in our article Jose Quiroz: A 16 Year Old Kid Who Was Given 44 Days to Decide the Rest of his Life.

In June 2011 the Indiana Law Blog reported that only about 2.5% of felony criminal cases are tried before a jury. 76% of felony cases are dealt with using plea deal, while 18% of felony cases are dismissed. As part of many of these plea deals the defendant is forced to give up many of their rights, including the right to appeal. This is what happened with Jose Quiroz. By giving up his right to appeal Jose was unable to join the appeals of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp.

So what happens next? Jose Quiroz has filed a request for a post conviction relief hearing. The context for that hearing was drastically changed yesterday with the ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court.

The Elkhart County Prosecutor and the Elkhart Courts have a few options.  These are the three we wish to highlight:

Curtis Hill Elkhart County Prosecutor refuses to re-open the plea deal and the court refuses to re-sentence Jose Quiroz:

This is the worst case scenario both for Jose Quiroz and for justice in Elkhart Country. The American Bar Association in their General Standards for Prosecutors states that the job of the prosecutor is:

( C ) The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict.
( D ) It is an important function of the prosecutor to seek to reform and improve the administration of criminal justice. When inadequacies or injustices in the substantive or procedural law comes to the prosecutor’s attention, he or she should stimulate efforts for remedial action

How Curtis Hill deals with Jose Quiroz is going to go a long way in showing how he views the moral imperative of his position and his responsibilities as expressed by the American Bar Association. If the Indiana Supreme Court decision is ignored and the plea deal is not re-considered Mr. Hill will show his community that he is not able to “seek justice” or address “inadequacies or injustices”.

The Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct states that a judge will “uphold and apply the law”. Further more a judge must be “objective and open-minded”.

The law in this case is very clear. In their ruling the Indiana Supreme Court unanimously stated:

By contrast the record here shows that when the group broke and entered the residence of the homeowner intending to commit a theft—a burglary—not only were they unarmed, but also neither the Appellants nor their cohorts engaged in any “dangerously violent and threatening conduct.” Jenkins, 726 N.E.2d at 271. There was simply nothing about the Appellants’ conduct or the conduct of their cohorts that was “clearly the mediate or immediate cause” of their friend’s death. Palmer, 704 N.E.2d at 126. Thus, while the evidence is sufficient to sustain a conviction for the underlying burglary, it is not sufficient to sustain a conviction for felony murder in the perpetration of a burglary. Accordingly, we reverse Layman’s and Sparks’ convictions for felony murder.

(Read the Layman/Sparks decision — Layman and Sparks ISC Decision)

Each time the Supreme Court wrote “cohorts” they are also referring to Jose Quiroz. Even though Jose was not able to participate in the appeals the Supreme Court has stated that no felony murder occurred in this case.  So it is easy to come to the conclusion that Jose Quiroz (according to the Indiana Supreme Court) did not commit felony murder.

The judge in Elkhart County has an obligation to “uphold and apply the law”. The Supreme Court has ruled that this case was not felony murder . . . the Elkhart County judge needs to follow the ruling of the Indiana Supreme Court. If the court does not do this then the injustice of this case continues.

Curtis Hill Elkhart County Prosecutor refuses to re-open the plea deal but the Elkhart Court vacates the plea deal:

This would be a better solution to option one. It would show that the courts understand the importance of justice.

The unfortunate aspect of this would be the reaction of the prosecution. The case of the Elkhart 4 has grabbed the imagination of people across the globe, many believing this to be a significant injustice. On Friday the Supreme Court confirmed what many of us knew – this was case was not felony murder.  This also confirmed that the way this case was handled in Elkhart County constituted an injustice.

It would not be fair for Jose to remain convicted of felony murder when the Indiana Supreme Court states that this case was not felony murder. Former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said:

“Fairness is what justice really is”

If Mr. Hill can’t be fair to Jose Quiroz, we question his dedication to justice.

Curtis Hill Elkhart Country Prosecutor sits down next week with Jose Quiroz’s lawyers and reaches a solution to this injustice:

A solution like this would show a commitment to justice from all sides. It would be respectful of the decision of the Indiana Supreme Court and it would help to bring finality to this case.

This would be an ideal way for this case to be resolved.

The notion that the Plea Deal with Jose should be vacated is supported by Larry Landis who is the executive director for the Indiana Public Defender Council.  In an Interview with the IndyStar Mr. Landis said,

“If he [Jose] pled guilty to an offence for which he could not have been convicted, due process required that it be vacated,”

So legally Mr. Hill might have an obligation to vacate the plea bargain with Jose Quiroz.

This website has always advocated for justice for all four of the Elkhart 4 . . . including Jose.  We will continue our advocacy and our work until we feel that this case has been resolved in a fair way.

There is a reason the Elkhart 4 grabbed the attention of the people around the world . . . that reason is that many feel what happened here was a huge injustice. There is a reason that Dr. Phil, The Huffington Post, The National Post of Canada, The Guardian, MTV and ABC looked into this story . . . they saw it as an injustice.

Now for the first time since 2012 the case is back in Curtis Hill’s authority. He has a choice . . .he can choose justice, or he can continue the controversy that has surrounded this case from the very beginning.

We hope Mr. Hill selects justice and gives Jose Quiroz a fair deal.