Defense for man accused of killing niece argues 16-year-old is still alive

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Attorneys for a man on trial and accused of raping and killing his 16-year-old niece, whose body was never found, argued on Friday that Iyana Sawyer is still alive.

The defense for Jonathan Quiles said Friday in a motion hearing that prosecutors never said where Sawyer was allegedly killed, which contends it’s a matter of if she was killed at all.

The last time Sawyer was seen was on Dec. 19, 2018. She had traveled to her uncle’s job at a salvage yard on North Main Street after school, according to court records.

Police believe the 16-year-old was shot and killed and placed into a dumpster that was taken to the Otis Road Landfill. Investigators looked through 5,500 tons of trash, but her body was never found.

The defense asked Judge Anthony Salem to block the state attorney’s office from using the word “victim” or the phrase “crime scene” during the trial because the theory is that Sawyer is still alive and could walk into court at any time, according to the defense attorneys.

RELATED: Man accused of raping, killing niece, back in court Thursday as judge mulls whether to allow criminal history in trial |

The judge denied that motion.

The defense also entered a motion asking to suppress Iyana’s diary as evidence, which was taken under advisement.

Lawyers also argued over Florida’s new death penalty law.

The defense filed one motion to have Quiles sentenced under the law that required a 12-0 jury recommendation for a death sentence instead of the new 8-4 recommendation.

Defense lawyers repeatedly blamed Gov. Ron DeSantis for getting the new law passed, citing his anger over the jury in the Parkland school massacre not giving Nicholas Cruz the death penalty.

The defense has also filed another motion to declare the death penalty unconstitutional.

Chris Fallgatter, an attorney unaffiliated with the case, said the motion might not be something the judge sides with.

“My guess is Judge Saleem will follow that statute at least as such time the Florida Supreme Court reverses the statute and maybe they won’t. That’s a matter that’s up on appeal on the Supreme Court and it’s a very divisive issue.”

Salem made it clear he intends to start jury selection on Sept. 11. He addressed both sides, saying, it’s long past time to get closure in the case, and he doesn’t anticipate a continuance, even if one is requested.

The final pretrial hearing is set for Sept. 7.

About the Authors:

Khalil Maycock joined the News4JAX team in November 2022 after reporting in Des Moines, IA.