- Associated Press - Thursday, January 7, 2016

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) - Three northern Indiana men originally facing 50 or more years in prison before the Indiana Supreme Court overturned their murder convictions could be out of prison before the end of the year after being sentenced on felony burglary charges.

Elkhart Circuit Judge Terry Shewmaker on Thursday sentenced Levi Sparks to nine years in prison and Blake Layman and Anthony Sharp to 10 years for breaking into an Elkhart home in 2012. Each had faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The men’s attorneys say because of time served and credit for good behavior, they could be released from prison this year.

Authorities said Layman, Sparks and Sharp, who were ages 16, 17 and 18 at the time of the break-in, were trying to burglarize an Elkhart home in 2012 when homeowner Rodney Scott opened fire, killing 21-year-old Danzelle Johnson, an accomplice of the men who broke into the house. They originally were convicted under a state law that allows murder charges if someone is killed during the commission of another felony.

The attorneys for the three had argued in appealing the murder convictions that the law was incorrectly applied because the youths were unarmed, believed the home was unoccupied and could not have foreseen that one of them would be fatally shot.

The Supreme Court in September threw out the murder convictions, saying the men didn’t engage in “dangerously violent and threatening conduct.”

“We’re pleased,” said Angie Johnson, Layman’s mother. “We were hoping he was going to walk out today, but that’s OK. We’re happy.”

Scott, the homeowner, testified about the impact of the burglary and shooting, saying it “turned his life upside down.”

A fourth man, Jose Quiroz, 19, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. He could not appeal because of his guilty plea but has filed for post-conviction relief.


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