by Robert A. Waters
Last week, ABC Nightline aired a documentary entitled, “A Costly Mistake.” The story is a good example of why I never trust anything I see on television. Heavily biased toward proving that the sentences of four home invaders were too harsh, the producers ignored much of what was significant in the case.
On October 3, 2012, in broad daylight, Danzele Johnson, 21, Blake Layman, 16, Anthony Sharp, 18, and Jose Quiroz, 16, broke into the home of Rodney Scott. Levi Sparks, 17, waited across the street as a lookout. Scott, sleeping upstairs, was jarred awake by his back door being kicked in. He grabbed his handgun and, seeing four strangers inside his house, opened fire. He killed Johnson, and wounded Layman.
ABC treated the real victim, Scott, as a mere afterthought.
Rodney Scott had lived in his home on Frances Street for eighteen years. Unemployed at the time of the break-in, he took a nap about noon. Due to sleep apnea, Scott slept with a mask hooked up to a machine beside his bed. At about 2:30, he awoke to the sound of a “boom and the whole house shook.” (In fact, there were three loud “booms” as Johnson repeatedly kicked the door.) Scott took the reasonable step of arming himself—he grabbed his handgun, loaded it, and went downstairs to investigate. He stated that as he descended toward his living room, he “ran” down the steps in an attempt to alert the intruders that someone was home. He hoped they would hear him and leave. They didn’t.
Once downstairs, Scott entered the living room. He saw no one. In the kitchen, however, he suddenly encountered four strangers. Scott later testified that he was in fear for his life “because when you see that many people in your house, that you didn't invite into your house, fear comes over you. You don’t know if you're going to be hurt or you’re going to be killed.”
Scott said that as he entered the kitchen, one intruder ran out the back door. Two or three others stood in a downstairs bedroom. Scott fired several rounds at the group, hoping to herd them into the bedroom closet. As they hid in the closet, he called 911. The closet door kept opening and closing, as the invaders searched for a way out. Finally, the door popped open again and Danzele Johnson fell out onto the bedroom floor. While speaking with the dispatcher, Scott asked for an ambulance to be sent to his home.
When police arrived, they first treated Scott as a suspect, but eventually his actions were ruled justified, and he was not charged.
After the home invasion, Scott was so traumatized that he moved away from his home. To this day, he has trouble sleeping because of the distress he suffered. The real victim, who was simply at home minding his own business, barely rated a mention in the ABC documentary.
In ABC’s portrayal of the case, the five friends are depicted as innocent schoolboys who, on “impulse,” happened to make a “mistake.” (Those words are used at least a half-dozen times in the 20-minute segment.) What went un-mentioned in the ABC story is a statement Quiroz made at a court hearing. “…Quiroz testified that on the day of the shooting, he and co-defendants Blake Layman and Levi Sparks were identifying homes in the neighborhood to target for burglary. Quiroz testified that Levi Sparks had gone down Frances Avenue knocking on doors. After recruiting the assistance of Danzele Johnson and Anthony Sharp, the group of five acted on the victim’s house across the street from Quiroz. Quiroz further testified that Sparks remained on Quiroz’s front porch across the street from the victim’s home while Quiroz, Layman, Johnson and Sharp proceeded to break in to the home…”
It could reasonably be concluded from Quiroz’s confession that the five friends were experienced in committing home break-ins. In fact, residents complained to reporters that police did not actively investigate numerous reported burglaries in the area until after Johnson was shot.
According to the prosecutor, several of the home invaders armed themselves with kitchen knives once they entered the home. Again, this was never mentioned in the documentary.
In the hail of gunfire, one round struck Layman in the leg, and another mortally wounded Danzele Johnson. Never mentioned in the story was the fact that the homeowner’s wallet was found in the closet where several of the suspects tried to hide. Court testimony revealed that a kitchen knife, stolen from a neighbor during a previous burglary, was also found near the invaders in the closet.
Also never mentioned is the fact that at least one of the “boys” had a history of drug abuse and had been suspended from school for fighting.
Layman, Sharp, and Sparks were convicted of “felony murder” and sentenced to 50 years in prison. Quiroz pled guilty and got 45 years.
Is 50 years a just sentence for the crimes the four teenagers committed? Maybe not.
But ABC should at least give its viewers all the facts so they can make an informed decision.