Teens Face 55 Years for Killing They Didn't Commit

'Elkhart 4' case under review by Indiana supreme court
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 27, 2015 11:46 AM CST
Teens Face 55 Years for Killing They Didn't Commit
Indiana's supreme court will decide whether to review the case of the "Elkhart Four."   (Shutterstock)

Blake Layman, 16, and some friends were smoking weed and complaining about their empty wallets in October 2012 when the group had the idea to break into a neighbor's house and steal some stuff to sell. When no one answered Rodney Scott's door five minutes later, they put their plan into action, breaking in through a side entrance. Unbeknownst to the intruders, Scott, who had been sleeping upstairs, grabbed his handgun. Layman soon watched as his friend, 21-year-old Danzele Johnson, fell to the ground with a bullet in his chest. Hours later, police told Layman he was being charged with felony murder. "I was shellshocked," Layman tells the Guardian. "How could it be murder when I didn't kill anyone?" The "Elkhart Four," who ranged in age from 16 to 18, were tried as adults. One was given 45 years in prison in a plea deal; the three others were found guilty of felony murder and received 55 years in a case now under review by the Indiana supreme court.

Some 46 states have some form of felony murder law; 11 of those states allow anyone who commits a felony that results in a death to be charged with murder. Indiana's slightly more ambiguous law says a "person who kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit … burglary … commits murder, a felony." Lawyers for Layman, who was shot in the leg during the break-in, argue that wording "requires the defendant or one of his accomplices to do the killing. In Blake's case neither he nor any of his co-perpetrators killed anybody." Layman acknowledges, "I made a bad choice, and I gladly take responsibility for it." But "I'm not a killer." He adds, "I just want a chance to live" and will "go to work every day, and come home to my wife and kids ... I don't ask for much." If the court decides to take the case, it will decide whether to uphold or overturn the convictions at a later date, the Elkhart Truth reports. The group could instead face burglary charges in juvenile court if the convictions are overturned, WNDU notes. (More Indiana stories.)

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