The Controversial Felony Murder Case of The Elkhart 4: Should Teens Be Sentenced to 50 Years in Prison?


The 50-year sentence, for a burglary gone terribly wrong, has made the Elkhart Four a cause celebre, garnering national attention, including an appearance on “Dr. Phil” back in January. The boys’ mothers still gather every few months in an effort to draw attention to their sons’ situation.

Layman’s high school girlfriend Katherine refuses to walk away, and Layman recently proposed to her from afar.

“I went to his grandma’s house, she said she had a t-shirt for me. It was actually an engagement ring from Blake which was really awesome,” she said. “I’ve had people ask me why I do it. I don’t know what to say. I love him and I’m not going to leave him when things get hard.”

An appeal is in the works for the young men in the case. Joel and Cara Weineke from the Wieneke Law Offices in Plainfield, Indiana, are leading the charge in Layman’s appeal.

“Our point of contention is how much punishment they should receive and what they should be punished for,” Cara Weineke said.

“They were guilty of burglary and they should have been punished accordingly, and their age should have been taken into account,” Joel added.

Blake agrees. “I committed a crime. I committed a burglary. Serious things did happen. A man, the homeowner, has to live through life with what he did. And it's partly my fault Danzele’s gone. His mom lost a son. I understand I committed a crime and it was wrong. I mean I'm not saying I don’t deserve time. Twenty years is the max for burglary and I'd be fine if they gave it to me.”

With the appeals process still unfolding, last month, Layman – who had turned 18 – was told to pack up his things. He was going to the adult side of the prison.

“This caught me off guard,” Layman said. “I was about to go to sleep. Sergeant came and told me pack your stuff up.”

But while the walk from the juvenile housing unit over to the adult side was short, it was a world miles away from what Layman knew about prison life.

“They act like they are not scared, they act like they are superman,” said corrections officer Michael Feese. “But underlying, you can tell by the look in their eyes that they are a little intimidated.”

“I wouldn’t say [I’m] afraid. I would say anxious,” Layman said. “It’s just the environment… I could be put into some crazy place and a bunch of crazy people. So I am worried about that, but for the most part I don’t get into problems with a lot of people, so I think I will be all right.”

Sparks is now housed in Wabash’s Plus Unit, a housing unit with a peaceful reputation and job and education opportunities. He is trying to get Layman moved over with him.

“I’ve been trying to send word to him – tell him I love him, hoping he can get over there soon,” he said.

As for Rodney Scott, the homeowner who killed Danzele Johnson and shot Layman in the leg, he has never spoken publicly about the incident and declined “Nightline’s” requests for an interview. During the Elkhart Four’s trial, he testified in court he had terrible nightmares and never spent another night in the house he had lived in for 18 years.

This story was produced with the help of Calamari Productions, which is funded in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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