JACKSONVILLE, FL – After an eleven-day trial, a jury has recommended life imprisonment for Johnathan Quiles, who was found guilty of first-degree murder and sexual battery. Quiles was convicted for the murder of his underage niece, Iyana Sawyer, and her unborn child. The state had initially sought the death penalty for Quiles, but Florida law requires at least eight jury votes to impose a death sentence.
Quiles was also convicted for sexually assaulting Sawyer. Although her body was never recovered, investigators believe Quiles murdered her due to her refusal to abort the child she was carrying, which they allege was his. The jury’s decision followed a day of sentencing hearings, during which family members and a neighbor testified on Quiles’ behalf.
Sawyer’s family also shared their grief and heartbreak over her loss. During the sentencing phase, Quiles’ defense team painted a picture of a man who had a troubled upbringing. They shared that Quiles’ mother passed away when he was ten, and his father was absent. A psychologist who had met with Quiles three times before testifying revealed that Quiles had only a sixth-grade education and suffered from an anti-social personality disorder. She also testified that Quiles grew up in a high-crime, poverty-stricken area, and his father was a criminal.
Several relatives and a neighbor, who considered Quiles like a son, spoke to the jury about his character. Sawyer’s family also presented victim-impact statements. Sawyer’s sister, Samiya, shared the emotional trauma of being asked by schoolmates if her sister was the “dead girl.” She also spoke about the pain of seeing only one bed in their childhood bedroom, where there used to be two.
The prosecution’s case against Quiles was bolstered by his two confessions, one to his brother and another to jail informants on a secret recording. In these confessions, Quiles detailed his attempt to strangle Sawyer at his workplace, an automotive junkyard, before ultimately shooting her. He confessed to disposing of her body in a dumpster at his workplace, which he knew would be emptied at a local landfill. Despite a 16-day search of the landfill, police only found items believed to belong to Sawyer, including her underwear and a textbook.
In her closing arguments, Quiles’ attorney, Christine Michel, questioned the lack of physical evidence, given that Sawyer’s body was never found. She pointed out inconsistencies in the state’s case and noted that Sawyer had denied any inappropriate behavior by her uncle before her disappearance. Prosecutor Dan Skinner countered these arguments, citing the numerous sexual and occasionally threatening Snapchat messages from Quiles to Sawyer as evidence of their illicit relationship.