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Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ind. Courts - State files petition for Supreme Court to rehear Elkhart Four cases [Updated]

Tom Fater reported last evening in the Elkhart Truth:

The state of Indiana has filed a petition asking the Indiana Supreme Court to rehear the cases of three members of the Elkhart Four who had their convictions overturned.

In September, the state Supreme Court tossed out the felony murder convictions of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp Jr., who were involved in a 2012 burglary that resulted in a fatal shooting in Elkhart.

Elkhart Circuit Court was instructed by the high court to find the three guilty of burglary as a Class B felony, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Prior to the Indiana Supreme Court overturning the decision, Layman and Sharp had received a sentence of 55 years in prison after an August 2013 trial in Elkhart Circuit Court. Sparks was sentenced to 50 years.

Court records show the state of Indiana, represented by the county prosecutor’s office, mailed a petition to rehear the cases on Monday. WNDU reports Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill filed the petition.

ILB: Here is a copy of the 16-page Petition for Rehearing, filing by Attorney General Zoeller. The "Statement of the Issue" is on p. 5:
Whether the evidence as a whole, including facts which this Court's opinion overlooked, is sufficient to sustain the jury's finding that Defendants were the mediate or immediate cause of Johnson's death.
The ILB has had a long list of posts on the "Elkart Four" cases. The most recent, from Sept. 24th, quoted a long story headed " "Elkhart Four felony murder convictions overturned by Indiana Supreme Court," reported by Kristine Guerra of the Indianapolis Star, which included the following:
In response to the Supreme Court's decision, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller issued a statement, saying the "Legislature — and not the courts — is the proper forum for changing our statutes."

"The Attorney General's Office also respects the decision of the Indiana Supreme Court to bring this tragic case to an end by amending the convictions while holding these young men responsible for their very serious and dangerous acts," Zoeller said in the statement.

Now, the cases will be sent back to Elkhart Circuit Court Judge Terry Shewmaker, who will re-sentence Layman, Sparks and Sharp for burglary. As their cases stand, they will be re-sentenced as adults. That includes Layman and Sparks, who were both juveniles when the crime occurred.

The ILB is unable to locate the AG's Sept. 24th statement in the list of news releases for Sept.

[Updated 10/25/15]
From the Indianapolis Star, a story by John Tuohy that quotes at length from the petition for rehearing [that is linked above]. A sample:
The state in its petition said the court wrongly interpreted what the state statute requires when perpetrators die during crimes. The court said that the perpetrators must engage in violent or threatening behavior beyond what was involved in the original felony, in this case, kicking down the doors for a burglary, according to the petition.

But the attorney general argues that the violent entrance to the home was sufficiently threatening that the intruders knew that it could end violently.

"Defendants did not merely commit burglary,” according to the petition. "Defendants committed a ‘home invasion,’ a shattering, violent attack on Scott’s home.

“Defendants conduct was threatening; it communicated to Scott that they intended to commit a violent attack.”

Failing to apply the statute to the Elkhart Four minimizes Johnson's death because he was a criminal, the state argues.

“By limiting felony-murder liability for co-perpetrators' deaths, this court’s opinion says that the culpable deaths of criminals is less worthy of the law’s notice and less deserving of punishment than a ‘real crime.'”

“Our legislature did not intend Indiana’s courts to close their eyes to such tragedies,” according to the filing.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 24, 2015 10:17 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts