JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man suspected of impregnating his teenage niece who disappeared in December was ordered to be held without bond after he was indicted on first-degree murder charges in the death of the girl and her unborn baby.
Johnathan Quiles has been in jail since January on a felony sexual battery charge related to a different victim, who is also a relative.
Quiles, 34, is now charged with murdering Iyana Sawyer, who was five months pregnant when she went missing just before Christmas. According to Florida law, because Sawyer was pregnant, Quiles is also charged with the death of her child.
“If the mother is deceased, then naturally the child is not going to survive without the mother living, so that’s another human life that he’s going to be charged with," explained News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson.
When Quiles appeared before a judge Friday morning on the murder charges, he was denied bond.
Members of Sawyer's family were in court for the hearing but declined to comment on the development in the case. Quiles is scheduled to appear in court again next month.
According to the State Attorney's Office, Quiles is also charged with sexual battery in a familial or custodial sex act.
Quiles was being brought from the homicide office back to the jail booking department just before 6 p.m. Thursday when he walked by News4Jax cameras. But he was tight-lipped as News4Jax reporter Vic Micolucci confronted him.
Micolucci: "We want to hear your side of the story. Where’s Iyana? Now‘s your chance. Where is Iyana?
Quiles: "Any questions you can talk to my lawyer."
Micolucci: "Who's your lawyer?"
Quiles: "Christine Michel."
Micolucci: "OK. Do you have details about where she is?"
Quiles: "I can’t discuss anything at this time."
Micolucci: "Are you telling the detectives, investigators?"
Quiles: "I can’t discuss anything at this time."
Micolucci: "Did you impregnate her?"
Quiles: "Can’t discuss anything at this time."
Micolucci: "What about a message for her family? They’re obviously going through hell right now. She’s missing. She’s missing. No one knows where she is."
Quiles: "I cant. I can’t discuss anything. Any questions, you can go ahead and contact my lawyer. She’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you guys got."
Sawyer's family members have been told the 16-year-old girl died Dec. 19, 2018, the day she never made it home from Terry Parker High School. Despite weeks of searching a landfill in the Baldwin area, her body has not been found.
“Even though there’s no physical body that’s been recovered, the state still can pursue the death penalty in this case. They obviously have some compelling evidence to link him to this missing person," Jefferson said.
He compared this case to another high-profile case in Nassau County. Joleen Cummings disappeared in May 2018. Her former co-worker at the Tangles Hair Salon is charged in her murder, but Cummings' body has never been found.
“There are similarities in that there is not a victim to be found," Jefferson said. "The bodies are hidden somewhere."
Quiles had long been considered a suspect in both Sawyer's pregnancy and her disappearance.
The murder charge was likely not a surprise to Quiles, who had previously indicated in text messages that he was expecting to be charged in Sawyer's death.
"I love them like my own daughters," Quiles texted an apparent family member. "This is an act of pure desperation to put me away for the rest of my life."
The text was part of evidence obtained from the State Attorney's Office as part of the sexual battery case against Quiles.
The victim in that case said she was babysitting Quiles' 3-year-old daughter when he approached her sleeping on a couch, rubbed her back, removed her clothes and had sex with her. The victim reported the assault to her mother one year after she said it happened.
During a bond hearing earlier this year in that case, prosecutors disclosed suspicions of Quiles' possible involvement in Sawyer's disappearance, accusing him of admitting to a fellow inmate that he may have impregnated Sawyer.
Interrogation video released in April shows a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective telling Quiles that his brother told them Quiles admitted to choking Sawyer. The detective said Quiles' brother told them, "She wasn't dying right and it was making Quiles sick looking at her."
Detective: The question for you, Johnathan: Are you a monster? Are you?
Quiles: I’m not a monster. Not at all.
Detective: Look at her face. They need closure.
Quiles: I ain’t gonna look at her face. I’m not a monster. I had nothing to do with her disappearance.
Quiles admitted that Sawyer and other relatives stayed at his home for weeks, but during the interview, he denied having anything to do with the pregnant teen's disappearance.
He told investigators that he was accused of sexual assault by family members when he told them to stop causing conflict with his wife. He denied having sex with Sawyer, saying, "I have nothing to hide."
But detectives said they found a love note on Sawyer's computer they believe is about Quiles.
"(Police) were looking on her computer and said they were finding stuff on the computer that she is authoring that's implying a sexual relationship with you," the investigator told Quiles. "It's almost like a love affair."
Documents in the case show investigators also found a love letter, writing, "She's speaking from the dead. Four pages at different times ... professing her love and how she wants to run away and y'all are just going to be that little family."
A statement by attorney John Phillips -- who represents Kimberly Mobley, the mother of Sawyer, and the Mobley-Sawyer family -- was released just after the new charges were brought against Quiles:
"The family and our office met with the State Attorney and have been anxiously awaiting today’s news. Johnathan Quiles has been indicted for the murder of Iyana Sawyer and her unborn child. It’s been months of rumors and speculation, hoping she’d come home and then landfill searches and the worst days a family could ever live through. They still do not have the answers they seek because too many people associated with the case are talking about the case and justice starts with a conviction.
"We are communicating directly with the State Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office about the case and appreciate their dedicated service, including searching through landfills. The family has no further comment at this time.
"Ms. Mobley asks for prayer, peace and privacy."
In addition to Quiles, a Duval County grand jury on Thursday returned indictments, charging four other men with first-degree murder.
Quiles' attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.