Jury Finds Defendant Accused of Impregnating and Killing his Niece Guilty

October 5, 2023 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Violent Crimes

Nearly five years after the disappearance of Iyana Sawyer, a trial for the missing person-turned-murder-case took place in September 2023. The 16-year-old was reported missing while she was five months pregnant, with the father later being revealed as her uncle by marriage. Sawyer’s uncle was accused of killing the teenager out of fear of their secretive relationship and pregnancy becoming public. After the State provided evidence and witness statements for the jury’s consideration, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.

This page will provide the case details, along with the proceedings during trial which resulted in the guilty verdict.

Case Details

Iyana Sawyer, 16, was reported missing in December 2018 after she disappeared without a trace. She was five months pregnant at the time and was last seen on a surveillance video from Terry Park High School.

Although law enforcement conducted a multi-day search for Sawyer, her body was never found. Sawyer previously told her family she became pregnant by someone named “Jose,” but after her disappearance, other family members came forward to police claiming that the teen had been impregnated by her uncle by marriage, Jonathan Quiles, 33.

An investigation into Quiles began on December 18, 2018, for another alleged crime. He was arrested in early 2019 on charges relating to the suspected sexual battery of his underage babysitter. According to a local news source, a 14-year-old babysitter hired by Quiles stayed the night at the residence, where he allegedly “quietly came into the living room…where the child victim was sleeping on the couch,” and then got on top of her and sexually battered her.

When Quiles attended a court hearing relating to the sexual battery charges, there was a statement made referencing Quiles’ admission to a fellow jail inmate that he could be the father of Sawyer’s unborn child. Sawyer had already been missing for nearly a month by this point. A statement made by Kimberly Mobley, Sawyer’s mom, urged prosecutors and law enforcement to “thoroughly investigate and prosecute Jonathan Quiles.”

Quiles brother, Joseph Quiles, contacted the police after Sawyer’s disappearance, claiming that Jonathan had confessed to him about impregnating and then killing his 16-year-old niece. This changed the case from a missing persons case to a murder investigation.

Defense’s Argument

During the ongoing case and trial, Quiles’ defense team requested an acquittal on the grounds that the State did not possess enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Quiles killed his niece. They also challenged that Sawyer could still be alive and just on the run. However, the judge denied all motions for the defendant’s acquittal.

The three points that Quiles’ defense attorney was attempting to establish through their witnesses during the murder trial included:

  1. Sawyer was not killed and is still alive, due to a witness testimony of an individual claiming to have seen Sawyer walking down Philips Highway on December 26, 2018;
  2. Quiles’ was accused of admitting to the crime during a jail Bible study, so the defense called up the person in charge who claimed that Quiles never admitted to any murder; and
  3. Quiles was not the father of Sawyer’s baby and therefore had no reason to kill her, which they claimed using Kamar Humphrey, another person who was in a sexual relationship with Sawyer during 2018.

The prosecution countered all arguments on the defense’s side, claiming that the person who believed they saw Sawyer had mixed up the dates, that the head of Bible study was unable to remember his own felony charges, and that travel records showed proof that Humphrey was not in Jacksonville at the time of Sawyer’s disappearance.

The three main witnesses called to testify by the State included the jail informant, Quiles’ brother, and Sawyer’s sister.

Witness Testimonies

Joseph Quiles (Defendant’s brother)

In his testimony, Joseph Quiles stated that he received four calls from his brother the day after Sawyer’s disappearance. Quiles allegedly admitted to his brother that Sawyer met him at his job at Ace Pick-A-Part, where he promised they would run away together.

“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,” Joseph Quiles testified in court. “He couldn’t stomach it. So he shot her in the chest and he put the body…in a dumpster [and then destroyed] the vehicle.”

Quiles then told his brother that he had been planning the murder for months, due to the fear of his family finding out about him impregnating her. He allegedly detailed how he used a carpet to wrap the body, and how he left it knowing it would be emptied the same day.

Joseph Quiles testified that he wasn’t sure he believed the admission his brother told him until Sawyer was reported missing. Joseph read the following statement in court to his brother:

“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.”

Bay County Inmate

An inmate who previously spent time with Quiles in the Duval County jail shared a story similar to Joseph Quiles. He told the courtroom that Quiles told him he’d gotten his underage niece pregnant and had her go to his work to get rid of the baby.

Quiles then told the inmate that he began to choke Sawyer until he decided to pull out a gun and shoot her. The inmate was told that after the murder he called his brother.

Sawyer’s Sister

Referred to in court by S.S. to protect her privacy, Sawyer’s sister took the stand to testify against Quiles. She recounted both inappropriate contact and sexual abuse by Quiles when she was 13 years-old. She said she never reported the sexual abuse due to embarrassment, and that she didn’t want to upset Quiles or her sister.

She also testified that Sawyer was in love with Quiles, who was in fact the father of her unborn child. The sister then explained the inappropriate conduct she witnessed between Quiles and her sister, including touching, kissing, and sexual encounters. The sister claimed to have known about the relationship for at least two years, and never said anything to maintain good relations with Sawyer.

Finally, she addressed that Quiles’ then-wife, and the girls’ aunt, was pregnant by Quiles at the same time. Quiles had wanted Sawyer to get an abortion to continue hiding their secret relationship, but Sawyer apparently refused to do so.

Jury Decision

Aside from the witness testimony, the evidence that helped the jury reach their verdict included a collection of Snapchat messages between Quiles and Sawyer, along with a two-hour recording of a secretly recorded conversation between Quiles and his then-cousin, who was wearing a wire from police.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective Billy Abbott read the following text and Snapchat messages between Quiles and Sawyer during his testimony, which included the following “disturbing messages:”

  • “Just making it so easy for me to leave you alone…goodbye yana.”
  • “I’m just so in love with you. I’ll kill you and cry.”
  • “You’re stuck with me until you die. I love you to[o] much to let you go.”

In the two-hour recording played for the jury, Quiles and the two other men can be heard discussing details about the case. Quiles indicated that he dumped Sawyer and her backpack in separate places, and that he was aware of the way humans decompose due to his mom’s job at the morgue. Quiles also described using a 9mm gun in the recording, one that he claimed to have shot at a gun range on the same day as Sawyer’s disappearance.

After six days of trial, the jury came to a verdict. Only after an hour of deliberations, the jury found Quiles guilty of the first-degree murder of Iyana Sawyer. He was also found guilty of sexual battery and the first-degree murder of her unborn child. The State has announced that they are seeking the death penalty.

Outcome of Trial – Death Penalty Phase

Now that the jury has found Quiles guilty of first-degree murder, he is facing the possibility of capital punishment. Under Florida’s newest death penalty legislation, a jury only needs to decide in an 8-4 majority vote to recommend the sentence of death.

With the trial over, the case moves on to the court’s decision. According to Florida Statute Section 921.141, after the jury recommends a death sentence, the court must then review and analyze any aggravating factors and mitigating circumstances. After such review, the court can determine to sentence the defendant to life in prison or a sentence of death.

Florida Defense Attorney 

Violent and sex crimes are both two types of criminal charges that should never be taken lightly. Even if you are certain of your innocence, the State will likely use whatever evidence and means necessary to prosecute you. Since violent crimes and sex crimes are both considered extremely dangerous, that means the state will try to impose the harshest of punishments.

With the new legislation in Florida, it is becoming much easier to send defendants to death row for a sentence of death. Additionally, new laws have been put into place to apply capital punishment for defendants convicted of certain crimes. This is extremely serious, as you could be facing the most severe type of punishment. The best way to protect yourself and your future is by hiring an experienced Florida criminal defense lawyer.

Pumphrey Law Firm is here to help with your legal needs. If you or a loved one are facing criminal prosecution, contact us today at (850) 681-7777 or leave a message online to receive a free case consultation.

Written by Karissa Key

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