- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana Supreme Court threw out murder convictions Friday against three Elkhart men whose burglary accomplice was shot and killed by the man who lived in the house.

The court unanimously decided that Levi Sparks, Blake Layman and Anthony Sharp shouldn’t have been convicted in August 2013 under the state’s felony murder statute, which allows for murder charges if someone is killed during the commission of another violent offense.

“The record here shows that when the group broke and entered the residence of the homeowner intending to commit a theft - a burglary - not only were they unarmed, but also neither the appellants nor their cohorts engaged in any ‘dangerously violent and threatening conduct,’” Justice Robert Rucker wrote.

The men will be re-sentenced by an Elkhart County judge on felony burglary charges, which would cut their prison sentences from the terms of 50 years or more for murder to a maximum of 20 years.

All three have been in prison since soon after their convictions in the October 2012 death of 21-year-old Danzele Johnson, who took part in the break-in and was shot by an Elkhart man who awoke from an afternoon nap and discovered the intruders.

Friday’s decision overturns a state appeals court, which upheld the trio’s convictions but found that their sentences of between 50 and 55 years were too harsh and recommended reducing those to 45 years.

Attorney Cara Wieneke, who represented the trio during arguments in February, said defense lawyers would consider whether to request that Layman and Sparks be re-sentenced under juvenile rules since they were 16 and 17, respectively, at the time of the crime. Sharp was 18, so his case will remain in adult court.

The court’s rulings don’t address another accomplice - Jose Quiroz, who was 16 at the time and pleaded guilty to felony murder. He is serving a 45-year prison sentence.

The Elkhart County prosecutor’s office said in a brief statement Friday that it was reviewing the court’s decisions.

Prosecutor Curtis Hill said in 2013 after the trio was convicted that 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 then.

Wieneke said members of Layman’s family were traveling Friday to see him at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility near Carlisle where he was receiving his GED certificate.

She said she would have to talk with Layman and review case law before deciding whether to push for his re-sentencing as a juvenile.

“I don’t like the idea of the felony burglary on him as a young kid, but he will readily admit that’s what he did,” Wieneke said.

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