Judge to decide if man, accused of raping, killing niece, will have criminal history referenced in trial
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville man convicted of raping and killing his 16-year-old niece will be back in court on Monday where he will officially learn his sentence.

After convicting Quiles of two counts of murder and one count of sexual assault Thursday, the jury was charged to make either a life or death recommendation in Monday’s sentencing hearing. They recommended life in prison.

Jurors recommend a life sentence without the possibility of parole even though prosecutors sought the death penalty. Jurors found Quiles guilty of two counts of murder and one count of sexual assault in the death of his niece Iyana Sawyer.

Sawyer was five months pregnant when she disappeared in December 2018 – and investigators believe she was pregnant with Quiles’ baby. Police said Quiles shot her and placed her body in a dumpster that was taken to the Otis Road landfill in 2018.

RELATED: ‘Destined for greatness’: Iyana Sawyer’s loved ones share grief of loss during penalty phase for Johnathan Quiles

Investigators looked through more than 5,000 tons of trash, but never found her body.

After just over an hour of deliberation, jurors voted in favor of a life sentence. Afterward, Iyana’s aunt said while their family will never have closure, Quiles will never hurt anyone else.

“So are we satisfied? Completely,” Paula Dixson, Iyana’s aunt, said about the recommendation. “His death will do nothing for us. It won’t bring our loved ones back. It’ll never cover what we cost. So he can live the rest of his life knowing that he did not get away with what he did to our family.”

Quiles is expected to appear in court Monday at 2:30 p.m. News4JAX will bring updates throughout the day.

Death penalty

A 2023 ruling in Florida now allows a death sentence with only an 8 to 4 recommendation by the jury, rather than requiring a unanimous decision.

In a status conference on Friday, the judge and Quiles’ attorneys reviewed the aggravating factors jurors will consider in recommending life or death. Those include whether the crime was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel or was committed in a cold, calculated, or premeditated manner.

Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, said the jury only has to agree on one aggravating factor, but that decision on the aggravating factor must be unanimous. If it is, the jury can then move forward with deciding whether to recommend the death penalty — and that final vote only has to be 8 to 4.

Emotional trial

The verdict last week came on the sixth day of a trial that included emotional testimony and an avalanche of evidence against Quiles, including testimony from his own brother and a jail informant that Quiles confessed the crime to them and a two-hour recording made by a pair of jail informants.

According to testimony from prosecution witnesses, Quiles admitted that Sawyer, who was last seen on surveillance video at Terry Parker High School on Dec. 19, 2018, met him at Ace Pick-A-Part, where he worked, because he’d told her they were going to run away together.

While Sawyer was sitting in a car in a back part of the property, Quiles tried to strangle her, but when he couldn’t, he shot her in the chest and then used a carpet to wrap her body and put it in a dumpster that he knew would be emptied that day and taken to a landfill, the witnesses said.

RELATED: Prosecutors say Jacksonville man accused of impregnating, killing niece made incriminating statements to brother | Johnathan Quiles’ brother testifies he told him he shot Iyana Sawyer, put her body in dumpster, ditched her car

According to testimony, Quiles had planned the murder for months because he believed he would lose his family if Sawyer had the baby. Quiles’ then-wife, Sawyer’s aunt, was pregnant at the same time as Sawyer in 2018.

In the jailhouse wire recording, Quiles and two other inmates 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 and dumped Sawyer and her backpack separately.

Because Sawyer’s body was never found and there was no blood or crime scene, Quiles’ defense argued that the state didn’t have enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Quiles murdered his niece, or that she was dead at all.

The jury disagreed, convicting Quiles of the murder of both her and her unborn baby, who family members said was going to be named Hazel Michelle Mobley.

Several of Sawyer’s family members took the stand during the trial, including her mother, her grandmother, her aunt and her sister. They testified to the inappropriate relationship they saw between Sawyer and Quiles.

Iyana Sawyer missing poster (WJXT)

Her sister, referred to in court as S.S., testified that she was also sexually abused by Quiles when she was 13 years old.

On the stand, she said that Sawyer was in love with Quiles and that he was the father of Sawyer’s baby. She said she kept the secret about her sister and Quiles for at least two years to keep a good relationship with her sister and to protect her.

She said Quiles wanted Sawyer to get an abortion, but her sister refused.

RELATED: Sister of Iyana Sawyer says she knew about relationship between sister, accused killer but kept it a secret | Detective in Johnathan Quiles case reads defendant’s texts from brother, Snapchat messages with victim

A Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective took the stand during the trial and read disturbing text messages and Snapchat messages between Quiles and Sawyer. He said it was the details in their messages that led him to believe Sawyer and Quiles were in a relationship, but the missing persons case turned into a homicide case after JSO got a call from Quiles’ brother, who recounted Quiles’ confession to him.

Investigators spent 16 days looking through more than 5,000 tons of trash at the Otis Road Landfill. The search turned up items related to the case, but no human remains. No trace of Sawyer has ever been found.

Landfill search for Iyana Sawyer’s remains (WJXT)

After five days of prosecution testimony, the defense called three witnesses Thursday. Quiles did not testify in his own defense.

Sawyer’s family released a statement after the verdict, through their attorney John Phillips.

RELATED: ‘We are grateful’: Family of Iyana Sawyer expresses gratitude after ‘predator’ found guilty of her 2018 murder

“Today, a nearly five-year nightmare ends with another measure of justice,” the family said. “We thank the jury, law enforcement and judge, as well as all of our friends and family who reached out when we needed it most. Johnathan Quiles has now been found guilty of murder and will go back before a jury to determine his fate on earth, but he chose to end Iyana’s young life. He was a predator and the jury saw that with ease. We are grateful. Please keep our family in your prayers.”

Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.

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