By ROGER SCHNEIDER
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — One of four murder defendants from a home invasion in Elkhart pleaded guilty to the charge Thursday morning.
Jose Quiroz, who was 16 at the time of the incident, entered a guilty plea to murder as part of a plea agreement. The deal will result in a 55-year prison sentence with 10 years suspended for Quiroz. He will also have to serve another 10 years on probation. Judge Terry Shewmaker will sentence Quiroz on Dec. 13.
Quiroz admitted to being among a group of five young men who burglarized the home of Rodney Scott Oct. 3 at 1919 Frances Ave. The Scott home is across the street from the Quiroz home.
Scott was upstairs in his locked home sleeping when the four of the five broke down two doors to gain entrance and woke him. Prosecutor Curtis T. Hill Jr. said last month that Scott grabbed a handgun and went downstairs, where he met the burglars. Scott fired five shots from his handgun, killing Danzell Johnson, 21 and wounding Blake Layman, 16. Hill said at least one of the intruders had armed themselves with a knife taken from the home.
Hill charged Quiroz, Layman, Levi Sparks, 18, and Anthony Sharp Jr., 18, with murder because their actions led to Johnson’s death. Johnson lived in Goshen at the time and the others lived in Elkhart.
Judge Shewmaker read long passages of Indiana criminal code as part of the plea agreement rules, stopping to ask Quiroz if he understood each passage. “Yes sir,” was the repeated response. Then Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker quizzed Quiroz about his involvement and the events that led up to the burglary and shooting. Quiroz answered almost every time with a “Yes ma’am.”
He agreed to Becker’s assertion that Sharp, Sparks, Johnson and Blake had plotted with him to burglarize a home in the Frances Avenue area and that Sparks had knocked on the front doors of at least two other homes to see if anyone was home. Quiroz said one home had dogs in it and someone was home at the second residence, so it was decided to burglarize Scott’s home.
He said at first Johnson did not go to the home but the others called him over from across the street because they needed help in breaking into the home. He said Sparks role was, “Just to watch out.”
Quiroz, Johnson, Sharp and Blake broke in, according to Quiroz.
“Do you realize that if you had not engaged in that burglary that Danzell would not be dead?” Becker asked Quiroz.
“Yes ma’am,” Quiroz said.
A 17-year-old Elkhart teen was sentenced Thursday by Shewmaker on a charge of robbery, a Class C felony.
Juan A. Mora, agreed to a plea deal after originally being charged Class A felony robbery.
Mora admitted he was in a car with three other young men when they stopped and confronted a 13-year-old boy who was riding his bike. The prosecutor’s office contended Mora and another teen threatened the boy with a knife and then stole his iPod and headphones and struck the boy in the face.
Mora’s attorney Sharon Bilbrew told Shewmaker, Mora “got himself involved in this robbery pretty much due to peer pressure.”
She also contended this was his first criminal offense.
Shewmaker questioned that, saying Mora has a history of truancy and tardiness at school, even after his arrest, and that last year he was expelled for fighting.
The victim’s father read a letter to the court, which said the boy is continuing to experience fear of being randomly attacked and that he is afraid to be in crowds.
Mora told the father that he was sorry for his role in the attack. “I have a sincere apology to you and your son. I wish your son was here so I could shake his hand and apologize,” he said.
He told Shewmaker he committed the crime because his co-defendant asked him to.
“I was afraid they would make fun of me or call me a punk,” Mora said.
Shewmaker reminded Mora that his co-defendant said Mora struck the boy and that Mora has said the co-defendant struck him.
“If I believe him and I believe you, how did this happen?” Shewmaker asked.
Mora stuck to his story that the co-defendant struck the boy.
Shewmaker told Mora, “You are a bully.”
Shewmaker accepted the plea agreement hashed out by Bilbrew and the prosecutor’s office. Mora was given a five-year suspended sentence and ordered to serve another five years on probation.
A man who admitted he smoked marijuana while on probation for a theft offense, told Shewmaker he just wanted to get his probation behind him so he can receive a liver transplant.
Timothy E. Stafford, 58, South Bend, entered the courtroom using a walker and his attorney told Shewmaker he is living in an assisted living facility and is awaiting a liver transplant.
Stafford is behind on his court and probation costs, and his income is coming from Social Security disability, according to Shewmaker, who wondered how Stafford had money for marijuana under such a circumstance.
“Your honor, it was a stupid mistake,” Stafford said. “I just stopped by to visit some old friends and it was something I shouldn’t have done.”
Stafford recounted his serious illnesses for the judge. He said one condition, “Puts me in a fog and I don’t know where I’m at.”
“All the more reason you shouldn’t be smoking marijuana,” Shewmaker said.
“I am hoping and praying I can make it down and get my liver. And I will never do anything like that again,” Stafford said.
“Well, that makes two of us,” Shewmaker said.
The judge decided to extend Stafford’s probation for six months and offered to reduce the length by two months if Stafford pays all his back court and probation costs.
Jasmine Mullenix of Elkhart entered a plea agreement for a Class B felony charge of manufacturing methamphetamine and a Class D felony of battery on a police officer.
The deal calls for her to serve 10 years in prison, with four years suspended and four years on probation. She will receive a six-month sentence on the battery charge.
Kiran Jackson, Elkhart, entered a plea agreement admitting to dealing cocaine, a Class D felony. The deal calls for Jackson to receive a 12-year sentence.
Christopher Chase Lee, Elkhart, entered a guilty plea to a Class B felony, of dealing in methamphetamine.
Lee said he had been using meth for the past nine years and said since he has been in jail his life has begun to improve.
“Ever since I was put in jail I consider myself a new man,” he told Shewmaker. He said he wants to better himself and renewed his relationships with his children.
The proposed sentencing is a 14-year prison term with six years suspended and a $7,000 fine.
Rochelle Keys asked for a modification in her probation fees, telling Shewmaker she cannot afford her medications and the fees.
Shewmaker denied the request, telling Keys that she knew about the costs involved at the time she agreed to a plea deal at her sentencing.