Posted by: alexswallow | August 13, 2014

Kids Behind Bars- An Incredibly Unjust Case


The other night I watched a programme on ITV called ‘Kids Behind Bars’- in a US jail. You can see it here.

There were lots of shocking things in the programme- children being given sentences of up to 65 years, (some of them for admittedly horrible crimes, but it was still hard to watch when they had thrown their entire life away).

The strangest case, however, and the one which I can’t get out of my head, involves one of the people  featured on the programme, Blake Layman.

I found his case one of the most incomprehensible and tragic stories I’ve ever heard.

Before I explain more, I want to make it clear that while my politics  on most issues are left-wing or liberal, on crime I am quite a traditionalist. I think that the justice system should be geared around the needs of the victims rather than the perpetrators, I think that prison should be hard, I believe in the right of someone to defend their own property.

I’m also not a lawyer (though I often say that if I could be one thing in this recession, to really help people, I would be a lawyer doing lots of pro-bono work). Perhaps I’m missing a critical ingredient in this case or I don’t understand an aspect of the law.

Anyway, as I understand it, what happened in the case of Blake Layman, was this. Along with a group of friends, he decided to rob a person’s house. They selected a property where they believed no-one was home.

To their horror, they found that someone was indeed home- and he was understandably terrified at being robbed. He picked up his gun and killed one of the boys. Blake also got shot.

If I was told about this case I would have predicted two things would then have happened:

– The homeowner wouldn’t be charged, because it would be considered that he was defending his property. I imagine he would be more likely to be in trouble in the UK but that US gun culture would mean that his actions would be seen as more understandable.

– The boys involved in the robbery (no violence on their part) would have got a light sentence- (whether a short custodial sentence or not).

However, what actually happened was that there is a law in their particular state which essentially says that if a crime is committed, the guilt for anything that happens during the course of that crime is shared among all the participants.

Blake and the other three boys, were charged with MURDER. Blake got 55 years.

Let me repeat that again. They were charged and found guilty of murdering their own friend, during a non-violent burglary, where the person being burgled shot him.

You can read more about the case here. Or you can watch the ‘Dr Phil’ episode above.

I’m pleased that this case is currently still being fought. I wish there was something I could do. If you are a lawyer and there is any way you could lend your support, that would be amazing.

I just felt I needed to write this, such a sad story.



  1. Wow, what an unbelievable story! Where on earth did that law originate from and how can they apply it in a case like this…Hopefully highlighting this case will result in a successful appeal.
    Did the homeowner also get 55 years for his part?

    • You mean the homeowner who was defending his own home?

  2. Thank you for sharing and this story is not surprising to me to be honest. The laws by state are different and frankly some stronger than others and it truly does not seem fair. I am not a lawyer and I am also not a parent and what i have difficulty understanding at times is “does the punishment fit the crime is especially with children/minors”.

    We could talk for hours and hours to discuss minors but for this case regardless of the statue , the 55 years of punishment does not fit the crime for the individuals who really did not commit the crime but were responsible. That is like saying i lit a cigarette while in the building and tossed it down the stairs and the building went on fire. Get the point? Anyway, after watching so many programs and reading so many books ( i have interest in law) I would imagine it will take a lawyer or group to help reduce the sentence ( appeals and the like) and then change the law. Further, I could also imagine going to the governor or maybe president to help with this case as this really does not make sense at all.

    thanks for sharing truly wish i could be of help.

  3. Great comments both- I know they are fighting the case hard, but not sure what sort of backing/legal representation they have.

  4. The appeals filed by Blake and Levi have attracted the attention of many national juvenile advocacy groups. Amici briefs (supportive briefs) were filed by the Juvenile Law Center and other groups. Some of the most prestigious juvenile law experts in the USA have joined the case to support Blake and Levi. Unfortunately things will be more difficult for Jose who signed a plea deal and for Anthony who was 18 at the time of the incident and cannot claim juvenile status. Thanks for your support and a wonderful article.

    • So pleased you noticed this article! I don’t know if we can do much in the UK apart from raise awareness of the case but I am very happy to help do that.

      • Raising awareness is the main focus of this blog. Thanks so much for your support. We have been so pleased to get support from all over the world . . .the UK, Netherlands, Australia, NZ, South Africa, Germany, Canada and many other countries. Getting the story out is the goal.

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