Layman, Sparks and Sharp to be Re-Sentenced This Week
The upcoming week is going to be a big week in the case of the Elkhart 4. Three of the Elkhart 4, Blake, Levi and Anthony, are returning to Elkhart Country Courts to be re-sentenced for burglary after the Indiana Supreme Court quashed their felony murder convictions.
We have several questions and concerns about how this week is going to proceed.
Will the Juvenile Factor Continue to be Ignored by the Media, and Curtis Hill/Terry Shewmaker
One of the most astonishing aspects of the Elkhart 4 case has been the ignoring of the fact that Blake, Jose and Levi were all juveniles when this crime occurred.
During the initial trial and sentencing the ages were not considered. The media ignored the fact that they were juveniles. At appeals Blake and Levi had their case supported by the Marsha Levick of the Juvenile Law Center, but in the final ruling the Indiana Supreme Court seem to ignore this aspect of the case. What is fascinating is that the juvenile factor is one of the reasons that this case received so much attention nationally and internationally. Here are a few examples of this . . .
- Smoke and Apple Films are making a documentary featuring the Elkhart 4 entitled No Place for Children
- The Huffington Post Article by Steve Drizin entitled – The Elkhart Four and the Unjust Application of the Felony Murder Rule on Teens
- The Guardian from the UK wrote – Felony murder: why a teenager who didn’t kill anyone faces 55 years in jail
- The National Post of Canada wrote – Teen would-be burglars convicted of felony murder receive ‘extreme’ 50-year sentences for ‘crimes they didn’t commit’
- ITV (UK TV Station) Documentary – Kids Behind Bars
www.freetheelkhart4.com – has written several articles about the juvenile factor including:
- Layman and Sparks the Juvenile Question after the Supreme Court Decision
- Top Juvenile Justice Lawyer and Advocate Joins the Case of the Elkhart 4
- Elkhart Justice Ignoring the Juvenile Factor?
- Three Questions Curtis Hill Does Not Want Asked or Answered
- The Elkhart Truth Publishes an Article that Finally Discusses the Juvenile Factor
- How Would Canada Deal with the Elkhart 4?
It is astonishing that in Elkhart County Indiana the age of these defendants was a not a major issue. We are forced to conclude that the authorities (police, prosecution and media) in Elkhart are scared of having an honest conversation about how juveniles are dealt with in the justice system.
Will Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp be Treated Fairly in the Elkhart County Court System?
No one likes to lose. This is especially true in high profile cases like the case of the Elkhart 4. From the very start of the Elkhart 4 case the families and the Elkhart 4 have challenged the felony murder charge. From 2012 until 2015 Curtis Hill has been adamant that he correctly charged these boys and that they are guilty of felony murder. Judge Terry Shewmaker who never questioned the felony murder charge supported Curtis Hill. After three years of intense litigation and a high level of interest both nationally and internationally the Indiana Supreme Court rejected Hill’s argument and quashed the felony murder convictions of Levi Sparks, Blake Layman and Anthony Sharp. Now the case is back in the Elkhart Court system. Judge Shewmaker will decide upon a sentence and Curtis Hill and his team will demand a sentence length.
Judge Shewmaker and Mr. Hill need to be very careful that they act with the highest integrity as they proceed this week. It is imperative that they remember that the purpose this week is providing Blake, Levi and Anthony with a fair sentencing hearing. There is no room for hard feelings based on the loss at the Indiana Supreme Court. Judge Shewmaker is retiring and Mr. Hill is running for the position of Indiana Attorney General, this case will play an important role in both of their legacies.
JOSE, JOSE, JOSE, JOSE, JOSE – Next Steps???
The forth member of the Elkhart 4, Jose Quiroz, will not be re-sentenced this week. Jose, like the majority of people who appear before Indiana Courts, reached a plea deal before the trial of Blake, Levi and Anthony. For this reason Jose was unable to participate in the appeals.
There is a major risk of continuing injustice in the case of Jose. Jose plead guilty to felony murder based on the same facts that were later rejected at the Indiana Supreme Court. With the ruling at the court that this case was not felony murder there is a discrepancy in the status of the members of the Elkhart 4.
If Jose’s plea is not adjusted he will sever 45 years (22.5 years with good behavior) while at most Blake, Levi and Anthony will get 20 years (10 years with good behavior). It is incumbent upon Curtis Hill and Judge Shewmaker to rectify this injustice and honor the spirit of the ruling by the Indiana Supreme Court, even if they personally don’t agree with this.
Jose is currently before the Elkhart Courts seeking post-conviction relief. The next status conference in his case is on January 14, 2016.
What Role Will the Media Play This Week?
This blog has been very critical of much of the local media coverage of this case. In detail we have documented the failure of newspapers like the Goshen News and the Elkhart Truth to impartially discuss the merits of this case with experts. We have felt that some outfits (The Goshen News) have displayed a pro Curtis Hill bias, while other outfits (The Elkhart Truth) have been more interested in the sordid details of the case rather than an honest discussion of the law with experts. We have noted that local media coverage has changed as the case has gathered international attention. We have argued that outside attention has forced these news organizations to be more balanced in their reporting. We hope that this standard is maintained this week if not enhanced.
Ideally one of these newspapers might be able to interview Mr. Hill and someone like Joel Schumm (Indiana Law Professor who filed an amicus brief supporting the Elkhart 4 in the appeals case) to explore how the Elkhart 4 Supreme Court ruling changes the felony murder law in Indiana. This would be an interesting article because Mr. Hill and Mr. Schumm took opposing positions in this case.
Also it will be interesting to see if the media spends anytime addressing the juvenile factor in this case. The record of the local media on the juvenile factor is dismal when compared to media from outside Elkhart County (see above).
Decorum in the Court?
Courts are serious places where serious discussions should take place. Often what is being discussed in courts is controversial and adversarial. Within society there are many diverse opinions on courts and how they function. The Elkhart 4 case is a case of high emotion with many differing opinions. A court, which functions fairly and properly, is a place where those opinions can be expressed, but only in an appropriate way. It is imperative that members of the families and members of the general public behave in a way that respects the institution of the courts, even if they don’t like or agree with the current individuals who are running the courts.
We will continue to blog throughout the week documenting the major developments in this case.