On September 12, 2014, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued an opinion on the appeals of Blake Layman and Levi Sparks. Both were part of the so-called “Elkhart 4” who were convicted of felony murder after one of their friends, Danzele Johnson, was killed by the homeowner during a burglary. For additional information on the Elkhart 4, see this prior post.
Much of the opinion centered on whether Johnson’s death was reasonably foreseeable to Layman and Sparks when they committed the burglary. The Court found that the “victim of an unlawful entry of or attack on his dwelling fighting back with deadly force is a natural consequence that has been justified by our State’s legislature. See I.C.  35-41-3-2. In addition our State Constitution gives the people a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves. Indiana Constitution Article I, [Section] 32. For these reasons, it was reasonably foreseeable that the victim’s acts of self-defense or defense of his dwelling were likely to create a situation leading to the death of one of the co-perpetrators.”
The Indiana felony murder statute (I.C. 35-42-1-1(2)) states that a “person who…kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit…burglary…commits murder, a felony.” The State does not have to prove intent to kill the person, but only that there was intent to commit the burglary. The Court noted that they were bound by the Indiana Supreme Court precedent of two other cases, Palmer and Jenkins, unless or “until it is either changed by that court or by legislative enactment.”
Finally, the Court considered the appropriateness of the sentences. Originally, Layman was sentenced to fifty-five years of incarceration and Sparks was sentenced to fifty years of incarceration. The sentences were modified such that Layman was sentenced to fifty-five years of incarceration with ten years suspended to probation, and Sparks was sentenced to fifty years of incarceration with five years suspended to probation.
Judge Bailey wrote the opinion of the Court affirming the trial court and remanding the case for resentencing. Judge May concurred with a separate opinion, and Judge Kirsch dissented with a separate opinion.
This case may continue through the appellate process to the Indiana Supreme Court, but as of September 21, 2014, no further action has been taken.