JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A star witness for the state, Johnathan Quiles’ brother Joseph Quiles, took the stand late Wednesday afternoon. Joseph Quiles detailed conversations he had with his brother in which he said he described how he murdered his niece and disposed of her body.
Johnathan Quiles is on trial for the murder of his pregnant niece, Iyana Sawyer. The prosecution alleges the child Sawyer was carrying was Quiles’.
Joseph Quiles said that his brother contacted him four times on Dec 20, 2018. Joseph said Johnathan told Iyana they were going to run away together and she met him at Ace Pick-A-Part.
“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, transporting it in a dumpster, and destroying the vehicle,” Joseph Quiles said.
Joseph Quiles said he was told Sawyer was sitting in a car in the back of Ace Pick-A-Part where no one goes. Joseph Quiles told the court Johnathan Quiles told him he used a carpet to wrap the body and put it in a dumpster.
“The dumpster gets picked up today, this is one of the days it’s going to be picked up because it’s full,” Joseph said Johnathan told him in that conversation. Joseph said Johnathan also told him he would lose his entire family if Iyana had the baby.
When asked how long Johnathan Quiles said he planned this, his brother testified he had been planning it for months. Joseph Quiles said he wasn’t sure if Johnathan was telling the truth at first, but called the police in January when he learned Iyana 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.”
A witness, also took the stand Wednesday afternoon and told the court he and his cousin had a conversation with Johnathan Quiles while they were in jail. The cousin wore a wire provided by police but he has since passed away.
A nearly two-hour recording of their conversation played in court and the jury was provided transcripts of the recordings. In them, you could hear the three 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 Iyana.
At one point Quiles answered a question about the gun he used. He described a 9mm, one he said he shot at a gun range the same day Iyana disappeared.
Quiles also answered questions from the two about the timeline from when Iyana was dumped until they 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. He also indicated he dumped Iyana and her backpack separately. Quiles then described human decomposition and said his mom used to work in a morgue so he knows about it and the possibility of Sawyer’s body in a state of decomposition in the landfill.
An attorney not affiliated with the case the recording is an example of how anything you say can and will be used against you in court.
And in this case, that recording sounds close to a confession.
“In this recording, there is some correlated information that the defendant made statements to the recorder that at the same time, the police already knew about the information. That consistency of information can be a very difficult thing to overcome as a defense attorney,” said attorney Randy Reep who is not affiliated with the case.
After the recording was completed, the defense questioned one of the informants, indicating that Quiles may 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. He said he wouldn’t know how to do that.
Earlier Wednesday, the state called Johnathan Quiles’ ex-wife, Naomi Mobley, to the stand. Mobley 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 her niece’s baby. 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.” She said after that point, she no longer believed him.
After the lunch break, prosecutors called Damian Hatch to the stand. Hatch, a Bay County inmate, was previously at the Duval County Jail where he met Quiles. Hatch said Quiles told him he had sex with his niece and she became pregnant. He said Quiles told him he wanted to get rid of the baby and met up with her at his work.
Hatch said Quiles told him he started choking her then pulled out his gun and shot her. Hatch said Quiles told him he called his brother right after he did it. Hatch said the conversation with Quiles happened after a group bible study.
Quiles was indicted for the first-degree murder of his niece, 16-year-old Iyana Sawyer, and her unborn baby, believed to be his child, in addition to having sex with a minor because Sawyer was only a teenager at the time. Quiles was married to Sawyer’s aunt and they are not biologically related.
Quiles’ defense is arguing that prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he murdered his niece, or that she is dead at all -- because her body has never been found.
The defense said the state can’t prove that Quiles was indeed the father of Sawyer’s unborn child and there is no blood or crime scene. They said that DNA evidence presented by prosecutors does not prove Quiles is the killer.
Belkis Plata, a lawyer with Jacksonville law firm Plata Schott Law, said that although much of the state’s evidence is circumstantial, she thinks testimony from Quiles’ brother could potentially sway jurors.
“I think the jury will really hold on to what his brother’s saying because I can only imagine how difficult it must be for a brother to be called to testify against his own brother, but because of the nature of these charges, I think it will hold a lot of weight for the jurors,” she said.
To start testimony on Wednesday, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective Billy Abbott continued his time on the stand, reading disturbing text messages 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.
On Tuesday, Abbott 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.
Detective reads messages
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 wife, Sawyer’s aunt.
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 a call from Joseph Quiles.
In addition to texts between Joe and Johnathan Quiles, Abbott also read and described Snapchat messages between Quiles and Sawyer from August 2018. In the messages, Quiles wrote about how they were to be together when she turned 18, but also how he was heartbroken and angry with her.
Plata, who is not connected with the case, said it’s up to the defense to poke holes in the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses.
Sister testifies about abuse
Sawyer’s sister took the stand early Tuesday afternoon. The court referred to her as S.S. She 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. Her mother found out about the sexual abuse while her sister was missing.
Former boss testifies
Ace Pick-A-Part General Manager Gary Lindros, Quiles’ former boss, testified Monday 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.
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, 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 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.
Sawyer’s sister, who took the stand late Friday afternoon, testified that her sister was in love with Quiles and that he was “Jose.”
Her sister described the inappropriate touching, kissing and sexual encounters she said she witnessed between Quiles and Sawyer. She 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 said Sawyer and Quiles’ wife, who is their aunt, were both pregnant by Quiles at the same time and that Quiles wanted Sawyer to get an abortion. Sawyer refused, her sister said.
She also testified that Quiles gave her sister pills to try to prevent the pregnancy.
Sawyers’s grandmother testified that during Thanksgiving 2018, she saw Quiles intimately hugging Sawyer.
“He was hugged up, full embrace, when they seen me it startled him...Not a hug an uncle would give,” Winella Haynes recalled.
Haynes said she told Sawyer’s mother to not let Quiles around her kids and to her knowledge she did that.
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.
Court records reveal Sawyer was on her way to Quiles’ job at a salvage yard on the north side the day she vanished.
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. The general manager of the landfill testified Monday, describing the police search as looking for a needle in a haystack.
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 vote by the jury instead of the 12 to 0 previously needed.