Teen who didn't kill anyone faces 55 years in prison for felony murder

ELKHART, Ind. -- A teenager who didn't kill anyone, but was sentenced to 55 years in prison under the interesting felony murder law, is hoping the Indiana state Supreme Court will come to his aid when they hear his case Thursday.

According to The Guardian, Blake Layman was 16 when he and four friends broke into a neighbor's home on Oct. 3, 2012.  Thinking nobody was home, Layman and his friends were surprised when the homeowner came out of his room with a gun. Seeing he was being burgled, the homeowner opened fire with his legally owned handgun.

Layman's friend, 21-year-old Danzele Johnson, was killed by the homeowner. Layman himself was shot in the leg. Neither Layman nor his friends were armed.

But it was Layman, who had no criminal history and says he has never picked up a gun, who was charged with murder under the Indiana law for felony murder. The felony murder law mandates individuals who commit a felony that ends in death are charged with the murder, even if they were the victims, rather than the agents, of the killing.

Layman was found guilty in a trial and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

According to the Guardian, 46 states have some form of the felony murder rule.

Now, Layman's appeal has reached the state supreme court. He and his lawyers argue that the felony murder law is not consistent, since neither he nor his friends were armed or fired a single shot and the death occurred at the hands of a third-party. Why should he be put in jail for decades?

To be clear, no one is arguing the killing wasn't justified, the Guardian reports.

"In Blake's case neither he nor any of his co-perpetrators killed anybody," lawyer Joel Wieneke told the Guardian. "This was a justified killing by the person who was protecting his home."

Angie Johnson, Layman's mother, argues that stealing and killing are different things, and her son doesn't deserve such a lengthy sentence behind bars.

"My son doesn't deserve that," Layman's mother told the Guardian.

Layman himself apologizes for his decisions.

"I know I did wrong," he said. "I know I committed a crime... I made a bad choice and I gladly take responsibility for it."

But he maintains his innocence in the face of the murder charge.

"I'm not a killer," he said.

For more on this story, click here.