'Elkhart 4' Arrested For Murder in Burglary Gone Wrong: Part 1

Levi Sparks, Jose Quiroz, Blake Laymon and Anthony Sharp were arrested for the death of their friend Danzelle Johnson.
8:05 | 02/18/16

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Transcript for 'Elkhart 4' Arrested For Murder in Burglary Gone Wrong: Part 1
Tonight the story of five young men who did an admittedly stupid thing. They broke into what they thought was an empty home and one of then ended up dead. Critics say what happened next was injustice. The boys were charged and convicted of felony murder even though none of them pulled the trigger. My "Nightline" coanchor juju Chang had been following this case for years and tonight she's right there for major new developments. Oh my gosh. I don't want him sitting there another minute. Reporter: For April Erdos, the drive to wabash prison is one she knows far too well. Three years, three months, some-odd days. Reporter: The many long days this mother's been fighting for the freedom of her 20-year-old son Levi. You can't explain what it feels like. It comes down to the love you have for your child. That's what makes it hurt so bad. Reporter: Levi was sentenced to 50 years in prison for felony murder, even though he didn't pull the trigger. He didn't even have a gun. I just want to see his face. That's going to be a kodak moment right there. Reporter: More than 250 miles away in Elkhart, Indiana, Levi's life was forever changed on a fall day in 2012. He was hanging out with four of his friends. Among them 21-year-old Denzel Johnson and 16-year-old Blake layman. Got off school that day. We ended up talking. Coming up with dumb-ass plans. Excuse my language. Reporter: The plan was to rob an empty house. Why an empty house? It was just a plan to get quick money, it was never a practice to hurt anyone or confront anyone. Were any of your armed? No. Reporter: They settled on this house across the street. You're convinced nobody's inside? We had knocked beforehand. I mean, not like -- not just rung the doorbell, knocked. Reporter: While the four teens entered the house they thought was empty Levi stayed on the porch at a lookout. You didn't say, hey, fellows, this is a bad idea? I could have. But no, I didn't. There was a boom and my whole house shook. Reporter: The testimony of Rodney Scott, homeowner. He was home. Upstairs taking a nap. Fear coming over you and you don't know if you'reng to get hurt or if you're going to get killed. That's when I decided I was going to fire my gun and try to trap them. I heard a bang. And then I heard another bang. And then I heard a couple more bangs afterward. Turn around and run away from the gun. Felt something warm. Came up with a handful of blood. That's when you realized you were shot? That's when is. Ed I was shot. That's the hole. The entry wound there is -- Reporter: Then Blake realized his friend Denzel was slumped next to him, shot in the chest, bleeding heavily. He died in your arms? He died in between, like right in between me and Jose. I remember screaming "I'm sorry" over and over again. To whom were you sorry? The homeowner, I was sorry period. You know. It was a bad situation. I was sorry for it all. Reporter: His friends called him for help. I stepped inside the door, looked over, the guy was holding the gun at me. I threw my hands open, he told me to get out of his house, I said I'm sorry and took off. Reporter: One week later -- They called me and said he'd been arrested for murder. Reporter: That's right. Murder. Felony murder. Because when someone's killed during certain crimes, in this case burglary, everyone committing that crime can be held responsible. Even though none of them pulled the trigger or even had a gun. Even Levi. Who was just the lookout. I didn't really comprehend it. I didn't put my mind around what I was really about to go through. The point of the felony murder law is basically to say, you bring a gun to a robbery? And someone ends up getting killed? Then you're going to be held responsible for that person's death. What makes this case different is that none of them had weapons. None of them were violent. And anyone of them killed anyone. Reporter: In this case the homeowner, Rodney Scott, the man who pulled the trigger, was never charged with wrongdoing. Scott was so haunted by what happened there he never lived in the house again. One of the four, 16-year-old Jose cueros, took a plea bargain. The other three teenagers, with no history of violent crime, decided to stand trial, placing their fate in the hands of a jury. What is your thought on how fair or not this charge is? To me, we all should be charged for what we done that day, but nobody committed murder, why should we be charged with it? Serious things did happen. And he's gone. I'm not saying I don't deserve time. Reporter: The trial lasted four days. The teenagers were all found guilty of an adult crime. The decision was real hard for me. I'm still torn over it. I have a hard time talking about it, really. Reporter: 17-year-old Levi was sentenced to 50 years in prison. 16-year-old Blake and 18-year-old Anthony sharp each got 55 years. I think it's insane. I think it's overkill. And I think it's unjust. And needs to be remedied. Reporter: Their controversial sentences drew national attention from Nancy grace -- You've got a dead body. Reporter: To Dr. Phil. Were these boys thugs? No, not at all. Reporter: Their mothers mobilized, filing appeals to overturn what they believe to be unjust and cruel sentences. We want to keep the word out. We want people not to forget about these boys that are locked up and need our support. Reporter: At the center of their appeals, that felony murder charge. I think the argument of just a layperson is, those boys shouldn't have been committing burglary in the first place. Right. Yeah. We don't disagree with that. Our point of contention is how much punishment they should receive and what they should be punished for. Reporter: The outraged moms insisting they'd take the case to the supreme court. These kids aren't murderers and they don't deserve 50, 55 years for something they didn't do. Reporter: When we first visited the prison in 2014, Levi was 19. Living on the adult side. Separated from Blake, who's still a juvenile. Show me your ink. Reporter: He is time in prison literally etched on his skin. Tattoos he illicitly got behind bars. The hourglass is broken. To show that it's wasted time. That's your sentence, 50 years. Yes. Being behind bars ain't nothing like being on the outs. This is constantly what we see every day. This. Depressing. Horrible. Reporter: And sometimes dangerous. Fight? Reporter: While we're there an alarm. There's an incident. Weapons team assemble. I hate hearing that. Somebody's hurt. When you hear that tone ring out it gives you chills. It could be you any day. Reporter: We find Blake on the juvenile suft prison. This is your world, basically. Yeah. Reporter: Blake is about to turn 18 and will soon join Levi on the adult side. I want to make a cake. I'm going to clean this out and just take honey buns and stuff like that, make a layered cake. Reporter: Both teenagers still hold out hope they'll be free soon enough to make studying for their ged pay off. I'm trying as best I can. I don't want to be the same person when I get out. I want to be a different person. All this stuff that I was doing out there, drinking, smoking, not doing good in school, ignoring my family, I don't want to go back to that same stuff. Reporter: For Blake and Levi, time stands still. While their mothers fight on the outside, fueled by the possibility of freedom. Oh, my heart's a-pounding. Reporter: A breakthrough when

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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