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Prosecutors believe Quiles was the father of the unborn baby. He will now face the possibility of the death penalty.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville man is guilty of the first-degree murder of his underage niece and their unborn baby. A jury returned the verdict after less than an hour of deliberation.
Johnathan Quiles now faces the second phase in the death penalty case, during which the jury will decide whether he lives or dies. Under a new state law, the death verdict no longer needs to be unanimous. Only eight votes are required to send someone to Florida’s death row.
The jury also found Quiles guilty of sexual battery. Sixteen-year-old Iyana Sawyer, a Terry Parker sophomore, vanished in December 2018. Her body was never found, but investigators contend Quiles killed her because she was carrying his child and refused to have an abortion.
After the verdict was read, Sawyer’s family wept; her mother was especially emotional.
The belief that the child belongs to Quiles is backed up by his two confessions – one to his brother and one to jail informants on a secret recording. In those conversations, Quiles detailed attempting to strangle Sawyer at the automotive junkyard where he worked, but ultimately shooting her. He said he disposed of her body in an onsite Dumpster that he knew would be emptied at the Otis Road Landfill. Police searched the landfill for 16 days, and although they didn’t find Sawyer, they did find what investigators determined was her Victoria’s Secret underwear and a Terry Parker textbook, along with receipts from Ace Pick A Part, where Quiles worked.
In closing arguments, Quiles’ attorney returned to the fact that no body was ever found after the teenager disappeared in late 2018.
“Where is the evidence of this crime occurring at Ace Pick A Part?” defense attorney Christine Michel asked the jury. “How can someone be shot in the chest, bleed, and there be no evidence whatsoever?”
She said there were holes in the state’s case and noted that before she disappeared, Sawyer herself denied any inappropriate conduct by her uncle.
“[Her mother asked] if there was anything inappropriate, anything of a sexual nature, anything whatsoever at all. They both told her no. Never,” Michel said.
Prosecutor Dan Skinner pushed back, saying there was a “mound” of evidence, including dozens of sexual and occasionally threatening Snapchat messages from Quiles to Sawyer.
“The Snapchat alone tells you there was a lot of sex going on between the defendant and [Sawyer] under everybody’s nose,” he said. “It’s a horrible secret to put on a 14- and 15-year-old-child. It’s despicable.”
He reminded jurors that investigators found Quiles’ DNA on the crotch of Sawyer’s underwear, though they could not determine if it was from blood, semen or saliva. Skinner said that didn’t matter.
“The last place a 33-year-old man’s DNA should be is on the inside of a 15-year-old girl’s underwear.”