GOSHEN – Three teenagers have been convicted on murder charges stemming from their accomplice being shot to death by a northern Indiana homeowner during a break-in.
Many in the packed Elkhart County courtroom sobbed as the verdicts were announced late Thursday against 17-year-old Blake Layman, 18-year-old Levi Sparks and 19-year-old Anthony Sharp Jr.
They could face felony murder charges under state law because they were taking part in a crime during which 21-year-old Danzele Johnson died.
Jurors deliberated more than five hours before reaching their verdict in the case regarding an October break-in and shooting in Elkhart, about 15 miles east of South Bend.
Defense attorneys pointed to the teens’ ages and maintained they didn’t expect to break into an occupied home, The Elkhart Truth reported.
Angry relatives and friends criticized the prosecutor for pressing murder charges against teens who didn’t kill anyone.
Family friend Jennifer Szabo said after the verdict that the homeowner didn’t need to fire numerous shots.
“I wish there would have been a different outcome because they did not commit a murder, they did not pull that trigger,” Szabo told WNDU-TV.
Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill said he believed pursuing the murder charges was the correct action.
“When we filed the charges we believed it was appropriate that when someone commits a felony, and a person dies as a result, Indiana law is very clear,” Hill said.
Hill cleared the homeowner, who wasn’t injured, of any wrongdoing.
A fourth person who entered the home, 17-year-old Jose Quiroz, pleaded guilty in December to felony murder charges and was sentenced to 45 years in prison.
A Sept. 12 sentencing hearing was scheduled for the three teens, who face possible prison terms of 45 years to 65 years.