Society

Teen Imprisoned For Felony Murder Despite Never Killing Anyone

| by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

When Blake Layman was 16 he made a bad decision. He is now facing 55 years in prison for that mistake.

On Oct. 3, 2012, Layman and his friends Jose Quiroz, also 16, and Levi Sparks, 17, smoked some marijuana and decided to break into a house in their hometown, Elkhart, Indiana. They just wanted to grab a few things from the house they believed was empty and sell them for some cash. 

Danzele Johnson, 21, and Anthony Sharp, 18, joined Layman and his friends. As they raided the house, Layman heard a gunshot and saw Johnson bleeding — he had been shot in the chest and killed. Layman had also been shot in the leg by the home's owner, Rodney Scott, who was asleep upstairs when the young men broke in.

Although Layman had a clean record and had never held a gun before, he was charged with “felony murder” for Johnson’s death.

“I was shellshocked,” Layman told The Guardian. “Felony murder? That’s the first I’d heard of it. How could it be murder when I didn’t kill anyone?”

When someone commits any type of felony that results in a death, the person who committed the crime can be charged with felony murder, even if he didn’t kill anyone. Indiana and 45 other states have a felony murder law.

After a four-day trial, Layman, then 17, was tried as an adult, convicted of felony murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison. 

“The plain language of the statute requires the defendant or one of his accomplices to do the killing. In Blake’s case neither he nor any of his co-perpetrators killed anybody — this was a justified killing by the person who was protecting his home,” said Joel Wieneke, Layman’s attorney.

Layman was remorseful for Johnson’s death. When police arrived at the scene, he was lying face down on the carpet, saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” repeatedly. He’s adamant he didn't murder Johnson. “I’m not a killer,” he said.

He has apologized to Johnson’s mother. “I told her if I get the chance, whenever I get out, I promised her I’d do right. Danzele was 21 years old and he didn’t get the chance to live his life. So I said I was going to do right when I get out, not just for me but also for him.”

Layman is in a maximum security prison serving out his sentence. He takes classes on psychology, learned how to quilt and spends his time reading about the law. “I feel like if I have to do my time, why not better myself as much as I can while I’m here,” he said.

Layman hopes he’ll have a life after prison. “I just want a chance to live,” he said. “I’ll go to work every day, and come home to my wife and kids. When I think of my future that’s what I see. I don’t ask for much.”

Source: The Guardian

Image via The Guardian