Trial of Jacksonville man accused of raping, killing niece begins with the search for an unbiased jury

After years of waiting for his day in court, the trial of a Jacksonville man accused of raping, impregnating and killing his niece started on Monday in a Duval County courthouse.

Johnathan Quiles was indicted for the first-degree murder of his niece, 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.

It has been almost five years since Sawyer disappeared.

Her uncle is accused of killing her and could face the death penalty, but he said he didn’t kill her.

Now it all comes down to a key question: Will there be enough evidence to convict him, or will he walk free because Iyana Sawyer’s body was never found?

On Dec. 19, 2018, Sawyer, identified by her family, was seen on surveillance video at Terry Parker High School and would never be seen again.

Prosecutors believe there’s enough evidence to convict Quiles of murdering and raping Sawyer.

As the trial begins before Judge Anthony Salem, a search for potential jurors is now underway.

56 potential jurors were in court on Monday morning but 22 potential jurors were quickly dismissed after they said they had prior knowledge of the case.

Local attorney Randy Reep, who is not affiliated with the case, said though the case gained lots of local media attention, the court should still be able to find an unbiased jury.

“Certainly it will make it challenging, but not impossible,” he said. “In Jacksonville, we have had several high-profile cases in modern times when the court has been able to work through the process by having a large number of potential jurors.”

Once the jury is seated, prosecutors Daniel Skinner and Cameron French will have to prove that Quiles is guilty through witness testimony and evidence. However, Sawyer’s body was never found, and the defense team of Bob Davis and Christine Rochelle could attempt to use that to cast doubt on the case.

If Quiles is found guilty, he could face the death penalty. A new 2023 ruling now allows a death sentence with only an 8 to 4 vote by the jury instead of 12 to 0 previously needed.

According to the witness list, over 60 people could be called to testify.

Members of Quiles’ and Mobleys’ families could be called, along with about 30 members of law enforcement and businesses such as Chick-Fil-A, Victoria Secret, Navy Federal Credit Union, Verizon and Gun Gallery.

The trial could last two to three weeks.

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