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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After five days of prosecution testimony, the defense called three witnesses Thursday in the murder trial of a Jacksonville man accused of raping, impregnating and killing his niece in 2018.
Johnathan Quiles was indicted for the first-degree murder of his niece by marriage, 16-year-old Iyana Sawyer, who was five months pregnant when she disappeared in December 2018. The prosecution alleges the child Sawyer was carrying was Quiles’, and he is also charged with having sex with a minor because Sawyer was only a teenager at the time.
WATCH: News4JAX is streaming the trial live. Press play above or watch on News4JAX+. (Testimony may include disturbing content. Viewer discretion is advised.)
Quiles’ defense asked twice for an acquittal, saying prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Quiles murdered his niece, or that she is dead at all — because her body has never been found and there is no blood or crime scene. The judge denied the motions for acquittal.
The defense said that DNA evidence presented by prosecutors does not prove Quiles is the killer and that the state can’t prove that Quiles was indeed the father of Sawyer’s unborn child.
During defense testimony, Quiles’ attorneys tried to establish three things through their witnesses:
Sawyer is still alive because a witness testified to seeing her walking down Philips Highway on Dec. 26.
They called the man who runs the jail Bible study to try to cancel out the state’s witness who said Quiles admitted the crime to him at the Bible study.
Quiles wasn’t the only one in a sexual relationship with Sawyer. Kamar Humphrey admitted on the stand that he was also having sex with Sawyer and was accused of her rape in early 2018.
The state countered the defense witnesses, saying the witness who said she saw Sawyer got the dates wrong, the man who ran the Bible study couldn’t remember his own felony charges and that travel records show Humphrey was not in Jacksonville when Sawyer disappeared.
Quiles did not testify in his own defense.
Closing arguments will begin after the lunch break, and the judge hopes to give the case to the jury before the end of the day.
State’s star witnesses
Before the state rested on Wednesday, prosecutors called two of their star witnesses to the stand: a jail informant and Quiles’ brother, Joseph Quiles.
On the stand, Joseph Quiles detailed conversations he had with his brother in which he said Johnathan described how he murdered his niece and disposed of her body.
RELATED: Johnathan Quiles’ brother testifies he told him he shot Iyana Sawyer, put her body in dumpster, ditched her car
Sawyer was last seen on Dec. 19, 2018, and Joseph Quiles said that his brother contacted him four times the next day.
Joseph Quiles said that, according to Johnathan, Sawyer met Johnathan at Ace Pick-A-Part, where he worked, because he’d told her they were going to run away together.
Joseph said he was told Sawyer was sitting in a car in the back of Ace Pick-A-Part, where no one goes, and that’s where Johnathan said he killed her because he would lose his entire family if Sawyer had the baby.
“He said he took the young lady and had her sitting in a vehicle, waiting. He tried to strangle her. It didn’t work out. He couldn’t stomach it. So he shot her in the chest and he put the body… in a dumpster (and then destroyed) the vehicle,” Joseph testified.
Joseph said Johnathan told him he used a carpet to wrap the body and put it in a dumpster, knowing the dumpster would be emptied that day because it was full.
Joseph said Johnathan had planned Sawyer’s murder for months.
A Bay County inmate, who was previously at the Duval County Jail with Quiles, shared a similar story on the stand, saying that Quiles told him he’d gotten his niece pregnant and met her at his work because he wanted to get rid of the baby.
The inmate said Quiles told him that he started choking Sawyer and then pulled out his gun and shot her. According to the inmate, Quiles told him he called his brother right after he did it.
Joseph said when Johnathan first told him what happened, he wasn’t sure if Johnathan was telling the truth, but he called the police in January when he learned Sawyer was missing.
A message from Joseph to Johnathan read in court on Tuesday said: “I can’t talk to you right now. I have to stay firm on my decision. What you told me isn’t a joke or something. So yeah I told the police because they need to know. If you was lyin’, then you will be cleared and free, but if you wasn’t, then you won’t. I’m sorry I have to do the right thing for that girl and her family. Not the right thing for you and your selfishness. I hate to lose you, but I’d rather that girl’s family have some peace. If you’re innocent, then you don’t have anything to worry about. They won’t find her body. But if you are not, they are going to find her. And in that case, I’ve already lost my brother. I’m sorry.”
Before Joseph testified, another witness took the stand Wednesday afternoon and testified about a conversation he and his cousin had with Johnathan Quiles in jail. The cousin, who has since died, was wearing a wire provided by police.
Prosecutors played a nearly two-hour recording of their conversation in court and provided the jury with transcripts. In the recording, the three can be heard talking about the landfill where trucks from Quiles’ work would dump their containers, about Quiles’ brother calling the police and about the sexual relationship Quiles had with Sawyer.
In the recording, Quiles described using a 9mm gun, one he said he shot at a gun range the same day Sawyer disappeared.
When they asked about the timeline from when Sawyer was dumped until her family and police started to look for her, Quiles indicated there would be a lot of garbage to go through in the landfill and they probably wouldn’t find her.
On the recording, Quiles also indicated he dumped Sawyer and her backpack separately and then described knowing about human decomposition because his mom used to work in a morgue.
After the recording was played, the defense questioned one of the informants, indicating that Quiles might have been threatened before the recording started. The defense attorney also questioned him about whether the informant started and stopped the recording at any time. The informant said he wouldn’t know how to do that.
Earlier Wednesday, the state called Johnathan Quiles’ ex-wife, Naomi Mobley, to the stand. Mobley, who is Sawyer’s aunt, testified that in early 2018, she asked her nieces if anything inappropriate happened between them and Quiles and they told her no. She said she never suspected anything was going on.
She also testified she found out she was pregnant in June 2018, and then found out about her niece’s pregnancy on Dec. 3, 2018.
Mobley said her sister alleged that Quiles was the father of Sawyer’s baby. She said she didn’t believe it until Quiles was arrested and said to her, “I want to tell you the truth, but the people listening will take it the wrong way.” Mobley said after that point, she no longer believed Quiles.
Detective reads messages
During his testimony this week, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective Billy Abbott read disturbing text messages and Snapchat message between Quiles and Sawyer, including:
“Just making it so easy for me to leave you alone…goodbye yana.”
“Im just so in love with you. I’ll kill you and cry.”
“You’re stuck with me until you die. I love you way to much to let you go.”
Abbott said it was the info in their text messages that led him to believe Sawyer and Quiles were in a relationship.
RELATED: Detective in Johnathan Quiles case reads defendant’s texts from brother, Snapchat messages with victim
Abbott said that on Snapchat Quiles wrote about how they were to be together when she turned 18, but also how he was heartbroken and angry with her.
Abbott also read text messages between Quiles and his brother, Joe.
“This is Jan. 8, 2019, to Joe, ‘You can’t even talk to me really? I never did anything to that girl and now you put me through this and you call me your brother? After this is over I’m all the way done with you. You’re a real piece of (expletive) for what you’ve done,’” Abbott read.
Abbott, who said the missing persons unit exhausted all leads and thought Sawyer might be dead or “fell off the face of the earth,” testified that he went to Quiles’ house the day he was assigned the case and talked with Quiles and his then-wife.
Abbott said Quiles told him the 16-year-old missing girl only packed Victoria’s Secret underwear and bras. Abbott said that was a red flag and he asked for Quiles’ DNA.
Abbott also testified that Quiles told him he was at work all day on Dec. 19, 2018, the day Sawyer disappeared, and that he never left the property. Abbott said the case turned from a missing persons case to a homicide case after JSO got the call from Joseph Quiles.
Sister testifies about abuse
Sawyer’s sister, referred to in court as S.S., took the stand this week and quietly recounted inappropriate contact and sexual abuse by Quiles when she was 13 years old.
S.S. testified she didn’t tell anyone because she was embarrassed and didn’t want to upset her sister or make Quiles mad.
The defense questioned the timing of the allegations and reminded S.S. that she told police and her family that Quiles never did anything to her. S.S. admitted not telling anyone and said it was something she didn’t want to keep thinking about.
She said her mother found out about the sexual abuse while her sister was missing.
Earlier, Sawyer’s sister testified that her Sawyer was in love with Quiles and that he was the father of Sawyer’s baby.
RELATED: Sister of Iyana Sawyer says she knew about relationship between sister, accused killer but kept it a secret
She described the inappropriate touching, kissing and sexual encounters she said she witnessed between Quiles and Sawyer and said she kept the secret about her sister and Quiles for at least two years to keep a good relationship with her sister.
She said she wanted to protect her and got emotional talking about her last interactions with her sister.
Sawyer’s sister also testified about Sawyer and her aunt, Naomi Mobley, both being pregnant by Quiles at the same time and said that Quiles wanted Sawyer to get an abortion. Sawyer refused, her sister said.
Surveillance video timeline
Ace Pick-A-Part General Manager Gary Lindros, Quiles’ former boss, testified this week that on Dec. 19, 2018, the day Sawyer was reported missing, Quiles clocked in at 8:08 a.m. and out at 5:09 p.m. On Dec. 20, 2018, he clocked in at 8:02 a.m. and out at 2:48 p.m. His time card shows he did not leave the premises on those days.
But the jury was shown surveillance video from the business and Lindros confirmed a red minivan left the lot around 11:17 a.m. on Dec. 19, 2018, and came back around 12:30 p.m. Quiles drives a red minivan.
Lindros said he did not give Quiles permission to leave, and Quiles did not clock out. Sawyer was last seen leaving Terry Parker High School on Dec. 19, 2018, around 11 a.m.
Lindros also testified that Quiles had access to unrestricted areas of the company property and to a large commercial dumpster.
RELATED: Prosecutors say Jacksonville man accused of impregnating, killing niece made incriminating statements to brother
During opening statements last week, prosecutors said Quiles made these statements related to the murder:
“I have to get rid of the body.”
“The dumpster is at my job. I control what gets dumped.”
The general manager also testified that on Dec. 19 or Dec. 20 of 2018, he saw Quiles carrying duct tape, even though there is no typical duty on the company property that would require duct tape.
Quiles’ attorneys questioned Lindros, making the argument that Quiles’ actions on Dec. 19 and 20 of 2018 were not anything out of the ordinary.
Teen’s family testifies
Last week, several of Sawyer’s family members took the stand, including her mother, her grandmother, her aunt and her sister.
Sawyer’s mother, Kimberly Mobley, testified about her daughter’s pregnancy, Sawyer’s relationship with her uncle and her disappearance.
Mobley said the unborn child was a girl and her name was going to be “Hazel Michelle Mobley.” She said she found out Sawyer was pregnant just 16 days before she was reported missing.
During cross-examination, the defense had witnesses admit Sawyer never told anyone Quiles was the father. But Mobley said her daughter told her someone named “Jose” was the father, and Sawyer’s sister testified that “Jose” was Quiles.
Sawyer’s grandmother testified to what she described as an inappropriate hug she witnessed during Thanksgiving 2018, and one of Sawyer’s close friends said the day Sawyer went missing, she told them she’d be going to stay with Quiles for two weeks.
Disappearance and investigation
It has been almost five years since Sawyer disappeared. On Dec. 19, 2018, Sawyer was seen on surveillance video at Terry Parker High School. She was never seen again, and no trace of her has been found.
RELATED: Jury selected in trial of man accused of impregnating, murdering teen niece
Police believe Sawyer, who was five months pregnant at the time, was shot and killed, then placed into a dumpster and taken to the Otis Road Landfill. Investigators looked through more than 5,000 tons of trash but never found her remains
A former CSI detective and former K-9 officer testified last week about the 16-day search at the Otis Road Landfill that turned up items related to the case, but no human remains.
Quiles could face the death penalty if he’s convicted of Sawyer’s murder. A new 2023 ruling now allows a death sentence with only an 8 to 4 recommendation by the jury.