Thursday was the last day of a jury trial in which three Elkhart teens were found guilty of felony murder.
And it was an emotional day for the family and friends of Blake Layman, Levi Sparks and Anthony Sharp, who each face a sentence of up to 65 years in prison.
The three teens were facing felony murder charges because of an attempted burglary that resulted in the death of Danzele Johnson, 21, one of the accomplices.
On Oct. 3, 2012, a group of five people broke into 1919 Frances Ave. The homeowner was in the residence at the time and fired some shots, killing Johnson. Layman, 17, was also injured during the confrontation.
The day started with testimony from Lt. Peter Svetanoff, a paramedic with the Elkhart Fire Department. Svetanoff was the paramedic that had initial contact with Layman shortly after first responders arrived at the scene on Frances Avenue.
Rodney Scott, the homeowner of 1919 Frances Ave., was also called to testify.
Testimony ended and the prosecuting attorneys rested their case shortly after noon. But the trial was still far from being over.
Attorneys took four hours to give closing arguments, and the jury took close to six hours to reach a verdict.
Friends and family members sat on the steps out near the courthouse’s entrance awaiting the verdict. Some brought chips, others brought pizza and ate their dinner outside the courthouse.
By the time the jury rang the bell, it was 11:40 p.m. About 10 minutes later the jury had been brought into the court room, and they handed the verdict to Judge Terry Shewmaker.
The courtroom was packed. Family members and friends held hands waiting. Shewmaker asked the audience to be respectful and to restrain themselves from any emotional outbursts. Several officers from the sheriff’s department stood all around the courtroom.
The judge read the verdict in Sharp’s case first, and when that happened, the audience in the courtroom let out a loud gasp. The same thing happened when the judge read Sparks’ verdict. By the time he reached Layman’s verdict, many in the crowd were sobbing. Many in the audience were shaking their head. Jennifer Huskey, the mother of Layman’s girlfriend, kept saying “they’re just kids,” in disbelief.
The defense attorneys had asked the judge to poll the jury, and as he did the audience learned all 12 jurors found the three teens guilty. At that time some people started making their way out of the courtroom.
I left the courtroom and went into another room nearby to type a story when I heard wailing, yelling, cursing, and then a loud “thump.” I’m not sure what caused that noise, but shortly after I heard officers yelling and asking the crowd to leave.
I have not covered many trials so far, and this was my first time covering a murder trial. But this was by far the most emotional trial I’ve sat through.
As I left the courthouse I saw the families and friends disperse. As I walked to my car I saw Tammy Dovel and Don Adams, Layman’s family members.
“I just can’t believe all 12 jurors found them guilty of murder!” she told me before we left.