In October 2012, 16-year-old Blake Layman and four friends made a very bad decision. Layman and his friends decided to break into a house in Elkhart, Indiana. Layman and his friends banged on the door of a property owned by Rodney Scott, and after getting no reply, they broke into the house.
Assuming no one was home, Layman, together with his buddies Jose Quiroz, Anthony Sharp, and Danzele Johnson, made their way through the house grabbing small items of property on their way while Levi Sparks kept watch outside. The teenagers were about to leave the house when the shooting started. Layman dived into a closet in a spare bedroom, and moments later, Danzele Johnson fell into the closet beside him.
Layman noticed that there was a growing stain of blood on his friends chest, and then he noticed that he too had been shot and blood was pouring down his leg. Householder Rodney Scott had not been out at all — he was asleep upstairs. Upon hearing the commotion, he grabbed his handgun. Not knowing that the intruders were unarmed teenagers, he opened fire, hitting Layman in the leg and Johnson in the chest. Johnson died.
So began the case that has become known as the “Elkhart Four.” According to the Guardian, when Police arrived at the house, Layman was face down on the floor saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” over and over. Layman and the members of the Elkhart Four were arrested and charged with felony murder.
According to ABC 57, Elkhart County prosecutor Curtis Hill explained the use of a felony murder charge.
“Under Indiana law when you are in the midst of committing criminal behavior and one is killed as a result there of, felony murder is an available charge.”
At their trial, three of the Elkhart Four were convicted and sentenced as adults to 55 years in a maximum security prison for a shooting that they did not carry out. The fourth member of the Elkhart Four, Quiroz pleaded guilty under a plea deal and was given 45 years.
In an interview with the Guardian, Layman explains how shocked he was to be charged with murder.
“He said “Felony murder? That’s the first I’d heard of it. How could it be murder when I didn’t kill anyone? I know I did wrong. I know I committed a crime. From the very beginning I’ve never disputed that. If they had brought me a burglary plea bargain I would have signed it, because I was guilty. I made a bad choice, and I gladly take responsibility for it, but I’m not a killer.”
The Guardian report says that Indiana is by no means unique, as 46 states have some form of felony murder statute and 11 states allow for individuals who commit a felony that ends in a death to be charged with murder even when they were the victims and not the killer.
An Associated Press report states that the case of the Elkhart Four is being brought before Indiana’s Supreme Court today. Sparks, Layman, and Sharp want the court to overturn their conviction for murder. Their attorneys will argue that Indiana’s felony murder law was incorrectly applied in the case.