Sunny Hostin

Elkhart Teens Topic on 'Dr. Phil'

Three of the "Elkhart 4" on Dr. Phil


Goshen News | January 17, 2014
Article by Sherry Van Arsdall for Goshen News.

Three Elkhart County teens convicted of murder — part of the “Elkhart 4” — spoke for the first time from behind prison bars via satellite Friday on the Dr. Phil show.

“What the hell were you doing breaking into some man’s house?” Dr. Phil asked the three males, who were wearing orange prison uniforms.

The three young men, Blake Layman, 17, Elkhart, Anthony Perez Sharp Jr., 19, Goshen, and Levi Sparks, 18, Elkhart, were part of a group that broke into the home of Rodney Scott at 1919 Frances Ave. in Elkhart on Oct. 3, 2012. With them were Jose Quiroz, 17, Elkhart, and Danzele Johnson of Goshen. Quiroz and Sparks lived across the street from Scott and Sparks waited on the porch as a lookout.

After breaking into the home, the four men inside the home were confronted by the homeowner who fired a shot that hit Layman in the leg and then a shot that hit and killed Johnson.

The homeowner was cleared from any wrongdoing, but that wasn’t the case for the survivors of the group.

Quiroz, 17, Elkhart, who did not appear on the Dr. Phil show, entered a guilty plea with prosecutors and received a 45-year sentence.

Layman and Sharp were each sentenced to 55 years in the Department of Correction. And Sparks was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

The three were convicted in an Elkhart Circuit Court jury trial in August and have indicated they plan to appeal their sentences.

The three men did not testify at their trial and have never spoken publicly since the day the incident happened.

Speaking Up
“You’ve not spoken since this trial happened,” Dr. Phil said and then asked Layman, “How do you feel about the fact that you have been convicted of murder and yet were not armed, never pulled the trigger?”

Layman responded, “I felt like it was wrong. I felt like what we did was commit a burglary and we didn’t kill anyone.”

Dr. Phil spoke to Sparks second saying, “there was conflicting testimony whether you were even in the house or not. How do you feel about sitting there (in prison) with a murder conviction if you weren’t even in the house?”

Sparks responded, “I felt the same way and felt like we shouldn’t have been charged with it and I felt like it should have been a burglary charge but on my part, I can’t really say much about my part (about being in the house).”

Sharp was sitting to the far right during the interview, and Dr. Phil asked him, “How do you feel about the fact that you have a murder conviction on you at this point?”

Sharp responded, “I felt the same way that this is cruel and unusual punishment for us. What we should have been charged with should have been burglary instead of murder because we didn’t pull the trigger or kill nobody.”

Dr. Phil asked the teens what were they thinking when they decided to commit burglary.

Layman said, “Quite honestly I wasn’t thinking at all. The idea came up and I just kinda went with it.”

“What did you do in this, Levi?” Dr. Phil said.

Sparks responded, “I just felt like I didn’t want to do it. I just decided that I didn’t want to. It’s not like my environment to go in and break into people’s houses.”

Dr. Phil asked Sparks about street slang.

“What does it mean “do a lick?” Dr. Phil asked.

“It means break into a house,” Sparks replied.

“How do you know that?” Dr. Phil asked.

After some hesitation, Sparks said, “I just hear people like at school or where I hang out they would say that type of term and eventually I just got to know it.”

The mothers of the teens were guests on the show and talked to their sons.

Layman’s mom said, “I miss you so much. I love you son. I’m proud of you all for being strong because this is hard. You guys are strong. I want you guys to stay focused get your GED and get your education.”

Sparks mother added, “I love him very much and I miss him.”

‘Age Wasn’t a Part of It’
One of the jurors that convicted the teens was a guest.

Only identified as Walter, the middle-aged white male had tears in his eyes as he talked about the jury deliberation that lasted five hours.

“The judge told the jury in order to come to a conviction of felony murder, there were four points to consider — was a felony committed, were all the boys involved, did a death occur in the commission of a felony, and did the boys perceive imminent danger, meaning you have a received fear that someone might be hurt in the commission during that burglary,” the juror said.

“It was hard to look at them as adult criminals but when you had to look at the guidelines, age wasn’t a part of it and you had to put that off to the side,” Walter said. “It was a tough decision and you have to dismiss your personal feelings. From a human standpoint, it was absolutely horrible knowing you were sending 16 and 17 year old boys to 55 years (in prison). It was tough, it was painful.”

Dr. Phil discussed the Indiana felony murder law that led to the young men’s convictions. He had one of the teen’s defense attorneys, Vincent Campiti, along with Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor and legal analyst for CNN as guests on the show.

Under Indiana law, if someone dies during the commission of certain felonies, those who were engaged in the underlying felony can be charged in the person’s death. Burglary is one of the included offenses.

And during the trial, defense attorneys argued that the intruders believed no one was home at the time of the burglary. However, Scott heard the noise of the break-in and came downstairs armed with a .9mm handgun. He fired several rounds at the intruders.

Prosecutors charged the intruders with felony murder.

Taking Responsibility
Hostin listened to what had been said during the show and gave her reactions and comments.

What I find so shocking is I’m hearing everyone is to blame. It’s the law’s fault, it’s the defense attorney’s fault for not calling witnesses, it’s the homeowners fault for creeping down the stairs and opening fire,” Hostin said. “It’s everyone’s fault except the boys fault and that really is where the fault lies. They chose to burglarize a home. I look at this from the perspective of the victim — having five young men in your house, imagine the terror and trauma of something like that. Is it the boys’ fault that a friend is dead, is it the boys’ fault that their mothers are in pain? It is all their fault and I haven’t seen them once accept any responsibility. Everyone is holding this just as a burglary, well it’s not. It’s felony murder.

Campiti said the teens plan to appeal.

“We’re looking at changing the law under appeal and/or having the legislature change it,” Campiti said.

Dr. Phil asked for a show of hands from the audience if they thought that the sentences were a miscarriage of justice — and almost everyone raised their hands.

“I am big on accountability and they need be held accountable to pay for what they have done,” Dr. Phil said. “This is a sentencing that has gone crazy and is not a just outcome for the boys. I hope you get a second chance.”

Prosecutor Responds
Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill issued the following statement on Dr. Phil’s website:

“Indiana law contemplates that certain felonious conduct is inherently dangerous and that death resulting from such conduct, though not intended, may be a reasonable foreseeable result of that dangerous conduct.

Indiana Code Section 35-42-1-1 sets forth the felonies that qualify as inherently dangerous which include, arson burglary, child molestation, kidnapping, human trafficking, rape and robbery among others.

This standard provides for accountability for unintended death that would have occurred but for the initiation of the intended crime.

Burglary (breaking and entering with the intent to commit a felony therein) is a crime that can and often does have grave consequences.

To be secure in one’s own home is a significant measure of liberty we enjoy in America. When that liberty is threatened, there will often be consequences for both the victim and the offender.

Indiana law provides for the grave consequences of burglary and other inherently dangerous felonies to be considered in the determination of a just outcome.”

Photos

Three of the "Elkhart 4" are shown at an Indiana Department of Correction facility in this screen shot from Friday's episode of the Dr. Phil television show. The show focused on their convictions of murder that resulted from a botched break-in attempt in Elkhart. Pictured from left are Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp Jr.

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