How 4 teens became murderers without killing anyone

Full Article

Indy Star on 04/20/2015

— April Sparks was waiting in line to pre-pay for gas at a 7-Eleven store when she overheard a conversation she didn’t want to hear.

“They don’t deserve that,” the cashier said.

“They should spend their lives in prison,” the customer in front of her said.

Sparks knew exactly whom they were talking about. The small community 160 miles north of Indianapolis seemed split on the fates of four teenagers catapulted into unwanted fame because of one stupid mistake. One of them was her son.

Sparks left, quietly, and went elsewhere to buy gas.

Her son’s life changed forever on the afternoon of Oct. 3, 2012, when he and four friends broke into a house, hoping to steal some money.

They thought the house was empty. None of the teens expected an armed homeowner to be inside. None of them was armed. None foresaw a shooting. But the homeowner, who was sleeping upstairs, did rush downstairs and did fire a handgun — killing one of the teens.

And all four of the surviving teens were charged and convicted for the death. Levi Sparks, now 20; Jose Quiroz Jr., 19; Blake Layman, 18; and Anthony Sharp Jr., 20, are each serving a five-decade sentence in the Indiana Department of Correction.

They may not have pulled the trigger. But, as far as the law is concerned, the rash decision to try to score some cash turned them into murderers.

The story of the Elkhart Four — as they have come to be known — brings attention to a decades-old controversial and highly criticized, but widely used, doctrine of criminal law.